How we treat people is how we will treat the forests, and vice versa.
While writing an article about bullying in Maple Bay recently, I asked friends to look it over. Not for the first time some said: “Make sure you say your family goes back to the late 1800s in the Valley and that you were born here.”
“I did that once before in a forest article,” I said, “and felt ashamed. It plays into the mentality that people born here have special status over those who weren’t; it reeks of tribalism, and I have friends here whose ancestors go back several hundred years here. There’s no way I’m doing it again.”
But friends insisted it would give me credibility and given what I was about to expose, I needed all the credibility I could get. (My Name Is Icel. No, I’m Not A Terrorist wheredowestand.ca)
I asked more friends and then, I blush to say, included my ancestry in the piece. It made no difference; after it went out there, the group didn’t belittle me (unless calling someone age 58 “elderly” is age shaming), but did continue to verbally attack a woman running a community Facebook page, including for being American — not from around these parts like we good ol’ boys and gals, and how dare an outsider ban locals from her page just ‘cause of a few “joking” comments — all in good fun.
So, friends were right — at least about the nativism that is alive and well in some parts of our community. Therefore beginning with myself, I’m pointing the finger, because as I have now admitted, I behaved like a nativist.
Up until writing this article, I’d never heard of “nativism” — or if I had, I thought it referred to people whose roots went back hundreds of years. It doesn’t. It refers to anyone born in a place who feels superior to newcomers. I mention this not as the point of this piece but as an ironic part of what feels like a monster unmasked and unleashed from out of the Pandora’s Box I didn’t know I was opening.
After the bullying piece was published, I was talking with a friend about it. His ancestors happen to go back many hundreds of years here, and yet he is not a nativist; he is a humanist. This friend and I have often walked and talked through the local forests we have been advocating for and yet I’ve never heard him speak of anyone who has arrived here in the past 200 years as being less entitled to be here than he and his family. When he heard about the bullying he paused and then said, “It’s on the rise. It’s happening everywhere. It just happened to my two grandchildren.”
Then he told me the terrible story. In short, his grandchildren, age 10 and 12, were biking through a Duncan neighbourhood. A group of adults started yelling, calling them “black skins” and telling them to get back to the reserve.
For the second time in a week, I felt shock and horror. Anyone who has studied history knows there is a fine line between verbal bullying and the lynch mob mentality, and it applies to all places, people, nations and tribes. All shaming, aggression and abuse is one.
Friends warn that if I publish this piece, exposing the underbelly of the Valley, the forest movement begun by Where Do We Stand may lose supporters; they advise I focus on advocating for the forest only, but for me they are inseparable. How we treat all people is how we will treat nature, vice versa, and to be silent is to be complicit.
The grandchildren of a friend are traumatized — they are not the only ones. As when children are attacked by a dog and grow to fear and hate dogs, a terrible seed had been planted. The grandfather and I talk about this seed growing in the hearts of other children and families who have heard the bullying story, and others like it, that if not rooted will grow deep, mutating from fear to hatred growing in our Valley.
In our hearts, we all know the story. Aggressions between divided groups not brought into the open and addressed will grow to become the sins of the fathers inherited by the children. It is happening now, beyond our valley, taking the form of rioting and violence. There is never justification for violence that only begets more violence and fear. However, violence is inevitable when people who know better do not speak out. It begins with individuals. As I said about the bullying in Maple Bay, I’m putting my name on the line by telling not a political story but one that is personal, about you and me.
Many of you have heard the grandfather in this story speak at council and forest meetings. (He has given his blessing for this to be published and for the sake of his family will go by “grandfather.”) A teacher of nature and traditions born of thousand of years of relationship with nature, he is invited all over the Southern Island to speak and is respected wherever he goes. He has taught his family the ways of loving kindness; however, his message will not be enough to stop the disease of fear from growing cankerous.
Parents come into the story — mothers and grandmothers join together to take steps to protect their children. What do they do? Warn their children of all people who are not of their tribe — and, furthermore, also of their own? Bullying and abuses are going on here as much as there, say friends living on the Reserve. It is a reality we all share. Like maternal instincts that transcend cultural differences and extend to all children, there are growing reasons many women are saying it is time for mothers of all communities to come together.
We meet in parking lots and grocery stores, regard each other’s children with tenderness and then each other, in turn. Between mothers and children, moments of connection have gone on forever.
Our children watch us with eyes open wide. In my friend’s neighbourhood are four children, age three to 12, who play with his grandchildren — for years I have loved them like my own grandchildren. Together we have walked through the forests. (When I feel exhausted from advocating for the forests I think of these children, my grandchildren, and other children, to remember why I’m doing it.) To their mother, a close friend, I speak about the recent bullying incident. She says it happens all the time.
She and her friends wrestle with what to do. Must mothers rob their children of their innocence so early?
The friends I’m describing to you are some of the gentlest, kindest people I’ve known so, as I’ve said, the bullying is personal — it breaks my heart and compels me, after the last bullying article, one story occurring on top of the other, to write this plea. I reach out to you in hope and faith that the hundreds of people who have connected through the forests, who I have no doubt represent the majority, and who, opposed to the destruction of forest ecosystems, if they knew about bullying happening in our community would want to do something to make a difference if they only knew how.
There is something we can all do. The timing is perfect, as if poised. We are paused within a pause. As we watch the pandemic on the rise, as our worlds shrink, as we question what we have taken for granted, as we wait for public consultation about the forests to finally begin in the way we asked for (with experts on the forests in no way profiting from logging, and for the real story about the profit and jobs to be put forward), what happens next will require that people in two separate and yet physically connected communities come together as has never before happened in our Valley.
Because of the forests, an unprecedented, profound, potential healing may be about to occur — voices from our different communities uniting to protect the paradise where we live.
The pandemic prevents us from coming together physically in a walk of solidarity against bullying and abuses of all people and nature, but there are many ways to overcome the divide.
For myself, I see a Dr. Seuss image — our little community isolated, metaphorically floating on a dust speck poised over a boiling vat, the future held in an elephant’s trunk. (Such is the power of childhood stories and events to become transfixed, for good or for evil, forever in imagination.) There are dark forces but they are the illusion and all it takes to break through is the courage to raise our voices together.
Whether our roots go deep or have been recently transplanted in the Valley, through social media we can take a stand; we can call out to all people being shamed: “We are here, we do not tolerate bullying and we stand in front, beside and behind you!”
And for those who are not on social media, in 2019, in two weeks, 700 people wrote in to WDWS to stop the “blowdown harvest”/logging on Stoney Hill: What if 700 people took one minute to put their names on the line again, this time to support two children, their families, reaching outward to friends, neighbours, community…
You think it is not enough to make a difference? Maybe it is not quite enough. Maybe the years of our busy lives and busy minds have eroded the depths of our collective grown-up consciousness. But we’re not talking about having the courage and consciousness of an elephant to stand alone — we’re talking about taking a stand together.
What if only two children heard our voices? What if, upon reading — hearing a resounding “we are here”, suddenly feeling fearless and free, these two children climbed back on their bikes to ride across the mountain tops calling: We are here!
You think your voice cannot break through the darkness? Change in the world has always begun small.
What if you spoke out and your voice reached only one child hiding in the dark, and that child were to whisper, I am here, I am here… Would you put your name on the line?