Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Soul Has No Nation

The World Urban Forum isn't actually for everyone in the world to attend as of course I thought I would be welcome - couldn't even get past the info desk and the enforcement line of very organized and well informed women positioned in the lobby of the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre. Forgoing my usual M16 approach to all things I life, I politely left to go find some more sun. It is summer here now and really during the 2 brief months of July and August - Vancouver is an absolutely stunning place. I have a theory about this too - I think it's how the light reflects off of all the pale green glass bouncing off the ocean and the sand out towards Spanish Banks and then back again filtered through the haze making everything and everyone look beautiful and happy.

A few weeks before I left Nairobi I saw on the news a piece about Canada - which is absolutely rare - an ancient totem pole was being handed back to the Haisla First Nation from the Swedes who thought it would be a good idea to obscond the thing for it's own purpose (like no one was going to notice?) fifty years ago. In typical nature of BC's first nations peoples who are growing much more savvy and businesslike - much more forthright in taking back what is rightfully theirs - they managed to get the thing sent over in return for a new pole which the Swedes are extremely happy with.

So there I am wandering away from the World Urban Forum and into the open space of the art gallery lawn when I spot the thing. The totem pole - in some sort of mystic alliance there it was again right in front of my eyes. So I sat down on what must have been a douglas fir tree and listened to the Haisla Chief talk about how the totem poles tell the stories for children to learn their histories in the future. And that the 'soul has no nation' - for these poles tell of a tragic period for the Haisla's, that they are the 'great silent storytellers' of their culture to be passed down thru the generations. The stage is full of BC legends - all the Haisla in their beautiful costumes, the Premiere Gordon Campbell and David Suzuki who must be welcome anywhere people respect nature. What a treat. And there is a fellow from the Sudan beside me - I can tell because he is very dark skinned and he has scars across his forehead.

As I sit in the warm sun on a felled tree carved flat and smooth to sit on, I feel a deep deep spiritual connection to this place. A Squamish woman jokes with me and asks if I am from here because I know the names of the bands, I know the Mosquito Creek church, I know about Dead Man's Island - and I tell her that my grandfather was the manager of the Hudson's Bay Company. She smiled a big smile that showed her teeth and then said, "Well now that has changed". Standing next to her I felt like I do in Kenya - connected to a more ancient people, a more gentle culture that celebrates and sings. There is a little girl in a pink jumper who stands at my feet and looks up at me smiling - native, aboriginal, first nations. This day is for her.

One of the speakers tells the story of how for years Canada has lobbied with success to create within the new United Nations Human Rights Council a unique and bold bill to ratify the 'Rights of Indigenous Peoples' of which there are 370 million living on the planet. But since our new government, Harper's government, Canada has suddenly - today even, withdrawn it's support at the very last minute. The 3 other countries who do not support it are Australia, New Zealand and America - 2 of which are non-supporters of Kyoto which seems bitter and ironic. Our first nations people have such reverence for nature that it's painful to understand the link between the destruction of their habitat and the lack of recognition for their rights. And how they must have expended so much energy over the past decades, speaking and yelling and fighting for people in power to listen to them just so they could have the right and the voice to say - let us be in peace, let us be.

I find some wonderful sokeye salmon and bannock which reminds of Mandazi in Kenya - a fried cheap flatbread to use as a shovel for all the softer more valuable foods. Sitting on the steps of the art gallery in the sun eating the salmon from our beautiful waters I think about the idea that the 'soul has no nation' and I wonder maybe if it's more like we have forgotten that nations are made up of souls which cannot be held within borders or contracts or treaties. The soul wanders to places that call to it - it leads us instantly towards something that makes us feel. Our souls make us human. They connect us. In moments like this I am deeply connected to my soul and I am never anything but content.

Getting off the Arbutus bus I walk up the abandoned train tracks towards the house I am renting. For a brief few moments I see no cars. I hear no cars. Just the soft old grass that grows wild in this narrow corridor of abandoned land running through the city. For years I have walked and run this railway track grateful that over time the city has decided to let it fall into some wonderful time-trapped decay. It's a secret avenue I travel to most of the places I need to go. My father used to ride the little train that ran up this line to his uncles house with his dog. He told me one day the dog managed to get himself on the train all alone and was ushered off at the right stop by the conductor who recognized him.

Maybe in some way the stories we tell are a part of what makes up our souls. And without these stories we would not understand what we were meant to be.

National Aboriginal Day - June 21st, Vancouver British Columbia.


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