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May 13, 2018

Companions at the Gate

Here is a letter I wrote to fellow writers and friends in my community after my arrest on Burnaby Mountain last Saturday. Also click here for a news article in the National Observer.

 

Dear writing friends,

Since I last wrote to you – about craft, or workshops or, most lately, what has been happening on Burnaby Mountain in the fight against Kinder Morgan – I have been arrested!

(I ended that last sentence with an exclamation mark, but it probably deserves a period. Because my emotions since have been intense and serious. Nothing bright and exclamation-markish about them.)

On last Saturday I went once again to Burnaby Mountain in support of the ongoing protests against the pipeline expansion. As you probably know, over 200 people have been arrested up on the mountain, blocking the pipeline that would import toxic bitumen, which would then be loaded onto tankers. One spill could kill off the marine life of Burrard Inlet and the George Strait.

It was moving to arrive there once again, and to see the faces of a number of the people I’d interviewed on previous Saturdays. Women and men from all walks of life who had zap-tagged themselves to the gated entrance of the oil tank farm, to stop trucks from entering. I saw, for instance, Tracey Carlisle, a feisty film costume designer, and her mother, the Montessori school teacher, Jeanette Paisley.

To the drumbeat of Watch House Guardian Will George’s Wolf Song, the group marched from the soccer field, past the Coast Salish Watch House. The Watch House is an iconic and powerful presence on the Mountain. It was originally a vision of the late Leonard George, the famous Tsleil Waututh former chief, and son of Chief Dan George – a vision to return to watch houses on this coast, to protect his people from enemies. This red cedar Watch House now stands at the East Gates of the Kinder Morgan tank farm, in a grove of alder trees.

Burnaby Mountain has been so beautiful this spring. I have walked the trail from Watch House to Kinder Morgan gate so many times, often with a wonderful ornithologist, George Clulow who is concerned about what the tank facility expansion would do to migratory song birds. Burnaby Mtn is, among so many other things, a bird sanctuary. He has pointed out where the hummingbirds are coming to the blossoms of salmon berry, how the first blooms of Indian plum are an important signal of incoming migrations. And how the birds themselves come by night, following the magnetic fields and the stars.

Now I walked the path – once again — with a group of committed people, determined to blockade the gate.

Chained to the fence, mid-afternoon, I discovered that I was beside another writer. A fascinating Iraqi born poet and memoirist, Lozan Yamolky, whose family escaped Suddam Hussein in 1991. We chatted, our arms close to each other, zap-tagged to the chain links of the fence. She told me about her Kurdish family who fled across Iraq’s northern mountains toward Iran, sleeping for several months in an RV that held 35 people, one of whom was her wounded brother, laid out on the table top, groaning. Another was her demented grandmother who, Lozan told me, would not stop screaming. “If I can withstand that,” she told me, “I can certainly fight Kinder Morgan.”

On my other side sat Kat Roivos, a tall and striking Chippewayan woman in a leather jacket, clutching a crutch. She has been so stalwart in the anti-Kinder Morgan fight. She has been arrested three times, and I was worried for her now facing jail time, but she just kept winking at me. “I know what I’m doing,” she said. “Don’t worry about me. I’m in this for future generations.”

The four police officers who arrested us were a model of civility. They read us the injunction, then returned to tell us that if we remained at the gate we would be under arrest. They then arrested us and led us to a facility for processing, taking our photos and arranging for a day in court.

When it was all over, I was shocked and tired. I drove home and had a bath. Then I slept a long time.

It felt surprisingly hard for me, a law-abiding citizen, to break the law. It was not an easy step. It will have consequences. I woke in the night and felt afraid, running over in my head my list of worries. Was it worth it? What was I thinking? My friend Gillian Johnstone helped. She was arrested mid-March, with her husband and daughter, and her kind and wise words started to help me calm down.

But it was only this morning – six days later – that I felt something begin to rise in me. You know that slight reclamation of self that happens when you put your hands on the keyboard? That began to happen, slyly, on its own. And with it, for the first time since the arrest, came a sense of happiness. Something joyful that began to mix with the bird call outside my window.

Life is so short and the planetary crisis we face is so severe. I felt my writing hand telling me this, and telling me how glad it was that I had taken this action.

So, I thought I would share my journey with you. And send you love. Let’s keep writing to Trudeau. Let’s keep going to the mountain. Let’s keep taking the action we each, personally, feel called to take. As Kat said, ‘we’re in it for the future generations.’

With love to you all,

 

Shaena