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Healing is greater than logging in St'át'imc territory

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Photo: AJ Klein

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A Voice for the Voiceless Camp is nestled in St'át'imc (pronounced "STAT-lee-um") territory in an area long inhabited by the Xwisten ("n-HOY-shten") community, also known as the Bridge River Band. It's a beautiful place in the Yalakom Valley, where the trees are tall and the rushing of the Yalakom River heartily replaces the hustle and bustle of the city. As described in this video, the area has long been significant to several First Nations. The Secwepemc (often called the "Shuswap" but pronounced "Se-KWEP-umk-wh") and the Tsilhqot'in ("chil-CO-tin") traditionally came to trade, meet, reach agreements and hold ceremony with the St'át'imc. The area holds immense cultural significance and its value extends far beyond whatever profit could be derived from any lumber taken out of the territory. Whether you look at the issue through a lens of cultural heritage, Indigenous sovereignty or biodiversity, it's clear that the land must be prioritized over and protected from industry.

I've come across few people in my life who embody both strength and softness at the same time the way Christine Jack does. Though my travel companions and I only had a few hours with her and the other people at camp on our quick run to drop off supplies, she made an impression on each of us.  Jack is the person who started Ulluilsc (pronounced "oo-LOOSH") also known as A Voice for the Voiceless Camp on March 16 of last year after her elders asked her if she would. "I used to be one of those people sitting on my couch, getting so angry wondering why nobody did anything about all the things that made me angry," she said, referring to the destruction of the land, specifically logging, happening in her traditional territories. An Elder in her community pointed out to her the ways in which the logging being done was reckless and with bad technique. This on top of the fact that there is an ancient village site nearby, which was buried in gravel to allow logging trucks to drive over it, has been a call to action for many. At this point, Christine has lived at the camp for a year and a half, and she hopes to see her great grandbabies living off the land in the area one day.  

The ingenuity in the camp is everywhere you look. Upon first arriving, there are rock piles with steel rods holding flags to narrow the roads such that industry trucks and machinery can't just barrel through the camp. There is a makeshift kitchen and even a separate gluten- and dairy-free kitchen so folks who spend time there with gluten and dairy allergies and sensitivities don't have to worry about cross contamination and getting sick. There's an area in a nearby creek set up for gathering water, and when we arrived, two of the folks spending time at the camp were digging a new outhouse. They've erected a cabin to weather winters in, and there are also a tent and a tipi where folks can sleep. They have not only a vegetable garden that we ate peas from, but also a root cellar built into the side of a hill.  We were welcome to pitch our tent if we preferred, but we opted for the generous offer to sleep in the tipi. I hadn't had that experience before and really loved the way it felt inside, looking up the fabric walls, all the way to the opening at the top where the recently full moon shone in. In my short time there, I found Ulluilsc to be an exceptionally peaceful place.  

We were told upon arriving that the philosophy at camp was to keep as many doors open as possible, and it was clear that this is a driving force there. I was happy that LGBTQIA+ politics were a topic of discussion at dinner, and it felt like a second warm welcome. Intersectionality and inclusion in any effort are always a good sign. My partner and our friend, both longtime contributors to social justice work agreed that there was a good feeling at camp, and all the people there seemed to be coming from a genuine place of wanting to defend the land and honour the culture inherent there for centuries.  

"You're the most powerful person in your life," Christine said to us all after dinner by the fire. It felt as though she was speaking directly to my own heart, though her words were for everyone. Her kind wisdom landed squarely in my soul, time after time, as she told us stories about her time at the camp, and what it's meant for her and others to return to the land. Later, we were invited into the cabin, where Christine told stories until bedtime. I could have listened to her until dawn. We heard time and again about the healing that has happened there. From personal epiphanies, to people no longer needing medications, to emotional ills passing after enough time on the land, the stories just kept coming. "Heal the land, heal yourself" is what she told us. She also invited to leave our troubles with one of the trees there so we wouldn't have to keep carrying them with us any longer. As a white settler, I found that offer exceptionally generous.  

My time at A Voice for the Voiceless Camp left me feeling deep gratitude for the work happening there, both to defend the land and heal the people who spend time on it. If you'd like to contribute to the work, there are several ways to do that.  

1. Talk about the camp and share some of the information here and elsewhere about why it's there and people who have lived there since time immemorial. Click here for more information about the St'át'imc people.  

2. Contribute to a supplies drive such that the folks there have what they need to live and carry the work forward.  See below for a list of needed supplies and click here to be taken to a facebook event page for a supply drive happening through August 30 in Vancouver.  

3. If you're too far to send supplies, please consider sending funds so supplies can be purchased. Cheques can be made out and mailed to:

Christine Jack
PO Box 1188
Lillooet, BC
St'at'imc Territory
VK0 1V0

Here's a list of supplies needed:

  • Candles
  • Batteries (size AAA, AA, and C)                                                                                 
  • Matches (not long ones)
  • Barbecue lighter
  • Plastic bins with lids that lock into place (all sizes!)
  • Buckets with lids
  • Building materials
  • Shovels
  • Axe handles

Non-perishable foods including but not limited to:

  • Rice
  • Canned foods
  • Canned meats
  • Canned vegetables
  • Almond milk
  • Evaporated milk
  • Honey
  • Sugar

Foods that can be stored in a root cellar including but not limited to:

  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Fruits and vegetables that last a long time (apples, cabbage...

Gluten-free.dairy-free non-perishable foods, including but not limited to:   

Gluten free, dairy free brown rice pasta

  • Beans and lentils (not from bulk due to cross-contamination)
  • Gluten free, pasta sauce
  • Tomato paste
  • Old dutch potato chips -- regular or BBQ flavours
  • Canned vegetables

For more information about the camp, check out their facebook page at: http://bit.ly/2beib1W

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