Friday, November 26, 2010

Natives of the Outside by K.L. Kivi

“The street is a world where people in flight from the traumas that happen inside houses become natives of the outside.”
Rebecca Solnit

This line from Solnit’s book “Wanderlust: A History of Walking” reached out and grabbed me the other day. Solnit has a knack for a trenchant turn of phrase as was evidenced in the brilliant first essay in her book “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” as well as in “Wanderlust.” She seems to be preoccupied by similar topics as I am: the way our modern culture has caused us to diverge from a more basic, physical and conscious state of being, the dichotomy of inside/outside being a key concern.

I think myself as a “native of the outside” but not because of traumas suffered within houses. I suppose each of us has our own route to the places we end up. I’d say I’ve had an inexorable draw to the outdoors that is probably encoded in my peasant DNA. That said, I also have felt like an outsider to mainstream culture most of my life. Did that propel me to connect more profoundly with non-human life or was it the other way around. Solnit’s traumatized natives of the outside are people for whom the world is turned upside down; once the notion of safety of home is undermined, then perhaps it’s not difficult to cast off its companion notion that outside is dangerous. Or maybe, the unveiling of the lie of home sweet home puts other mainstream notions in question, creating an easier avenue of exit from said mainstream.

Solnit’s book is certainly good at unveiling aspects of our culture that often remain unexamined. She delves succinctly into the twists and turns of our culture and their impact on us as individuals and communities. I love the way she speaks of the human body as a “sensing, breathing, living moving body (that) can be a primary experience of nature too: new technologies and spaces can bring about alienation from both body and space.” I too have pondered the impact on our psyches of having bodies whose primary functions are recreational rather than utilitarian. Instead of our feet carrying us to gather food and shelter, we now drive to work and take our bodies to specific places for specific activities, be they hiking, soccer, etc, for them/us to get their/our necessary movement. Bitingly, she writes, “the body that used to have the status of a work animal now has the status of a pet;…(it) is exercised as one might walk a dog.”

She goes even further, noting that in our modern car culture, walking could be seen as an “indicator species” for our physical, psychological and psychic health. Walking can be seen as “an ancient and profound relationship between body, world, and imagination.” She draws on the relationship between writing and creativity, talking about the walking habits of writers from Dickens to modern day adventurers. When we are no longer able to walk because of a scarcity of time, a scarcity of walking spaces, a scarcity of cultural values that honour walking, the gym becomes “a kind of wildlife preserve for bodily exertion” which accommodates something essential after we abandon the original modes of human physical activity. But what kind of wildlife preserve can a gym be in you think of bodily motion being as much about a beckoning to the imagination and an experience of place as physical exercise? In teasing apart too many strands of this rope, one might end up with a pile of tattered, useless sisal instead of a functioning whole.

I could go on, as this subject has strands that connect to so many other topics. In the meanwhile, I highly recommend Solnit’s work, especially if you’re interested in erudite, thought provoking and well researched non-fiction. But, a better conclusion yet might be to spare your eyes and sitting weary body and get out for a walk.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Qat’muk, Qat’muk, Qat’muk Wild! by KL Kivi

I’m repeating it to myself, this new/old Ktunaxa name for the Jumbo Valley and Jumbo Pass area, wondering just exactly how to pronounce it. Qat’muk, Qat’muk, Qat’muk. In the mere naming of it, something has been returned to us all and as I mutter Qat’muk, Qat’muk, a bubble of glee rises in my chest.

This naming was released today, as the Ktunaxa Nation of Southeast British Columbia was received by the BC Legislature to make a declaration. Their 50-member delegation was in Victoria to assert the importance of the stewardship of the land in its traditional territory. "I think it's the importance of Qat'muk, the Jumbo area, how important it is to our people, and the animals that live there, the grizzly bear, he holds everything for us," delegation member Herman Alpine told CTV Calgary. Interestingly, this comes on the heels of Friday’s announcement that Canada has finally signed on to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And though I cheer on the delegation and applaud the signing of the Declaration, the cynical part of me wonders what these developments add up to.

In the case of the Ktunaxa, they have been left holding some of the few cards that might have any clout in the work to converse the ecological integrity of the Central Purcells. For the past few years, while enviros for Jumbo Wild! have been blocked from any formal process with the government around the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort, the Ktunaxa have been at the table. And although the Ktunaxa Nation Council have been publicly against the Jumbo Glacier Resort development for some time, their alliance with the environmental movement hasn’t always been strong.

I understand this. Or at least I think do. These same environmentalists haven’t often been in the forefront, or even allied, in First Nations struggles for recognition, self-determination and validation of the ongoing cultural genocide of their people. Suddenly, we need them. Suddenly they are useful to us. What’s to say that this relationship, which has never been reciprocal, will suddenly become reciprocal? Colonizers and settler cultures are notorious for using then abusing indigenous peoples world wide. Though it can be agonizing to not be able to reach across this historical gulf, at the same time, I cheer on any First Nation that claims their power. Part of that power is to define the terms of their engagement.

Even so, they still have to deal with the dominant political culture that wishes First Nations would simply shut up or go away. For example, the article in the Toronto Star entitled “Canada endorses indigenous rights” was small and buried deep in the News section. No photo, just three columns of print halfway down the page, with a few quotes from First Nations leaders. This article placement in the main newspaper of Canada’s largest city certainly reflects political attitudes toward the indigenous people of Canada as well.

Canada was one of four countries to vote against the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples when it passed in the UN General Assembly three years ago. Not that these non-binding “statements of principles” add up to much other than the symbolic, but the lack of even lip service to the symbolic has been a blot on Canada’s once shiny human rights image. Perhaps we should even thank the Harper government for three years of showing their true colours – brown for “we don’t give a shit about Indians.” There is still something to be said for honesty.

I await the unfolding of this story. It feels like, just maybe, First Nations have gained enough strength to rise up out of the wallow colonization has ground them down into. May those of us who honour the importance of land, belonging to land and the role of indigenous people in this connection, have the courage to put our hands paddles and participate in getting this big canoe moving.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What, me worry, by Luanne Armstrong

“Everything worthy is under fire.” Wendell Berry

Like many people these days, I watch the world with some puzzlement and dismay. This is not the world my generation thought we were making. When we were marching against the Vietnam war, or fighting against nuclear war, or marching for women’s rights, we thought we were working for, and we talked about its coming into being, a bright peaceful future where everyone would be fed, housed, cared for, fulfilled.
And the odd thing is, we won most of these battles – sort of—(and they were battles, however peaceful they looked.) The Vietnam war finally ceased; women moved out of their kitchens and into work and jobs; the environmental movement was created; all kinds of social services were also created; nuclear weapons stopped being tested in the South Pacific and in the American desert; the Berlin Wall was torn down; the Soviet Union disintegrated and the Cold War was over. We thought.
But that peaceful global future we envisioned has yet to appear.
I get up every morning and while I am drinking my coffee, I cruise through various websites; what is the price of oil doing, what are people saying about global warming, what is up with those one hundred dolphins being held for slaughter in Taiji, Japan? And so on. Clicking through. Good news and bad. Facebook, where more and more people seem to have taken to putting up links to news stories they deem important. Click. Click.
And then I get on with my day. I’m not marching anymore. But worrying, oh yes, indeedy.
But what is there to march against? And with whom? The problems coming down the pike in some unknowable and largely unvisionable future are so big, so vague that most people don’t talk about them, and don’t even seem able to talk about them. Global warming – what will that do? When will it happen? Is it happening now? Well, sure the Arctic ice is melting, but hey, last winter was really cold. Wasn’t it? Things seem normal? Don’t they?
Peak oil? The oil industry says one thing, the peak oil doomers another. Everyone agrees that oil will get much more expensive in the future but how much, and when? And everyone agrees that the higher price of oil will have a drastic effect on our economy and the North American suburban-drive-everywhere-all-the-time way-of-life, but when and how much and what to do about it is never discussed in the political arena. The only people I really talk to about all this are a few women my own age, in our sixties now, and watching the future for our grandchildren grow darker.
Our children are busy with careers, jobs, bank accounts, school, raising their children, buying houses, mortgages. Busy doesn’t even begin to describe it. They worry sometimes when they have a moment and then they rush off to the next appointment.
And me? I stay put. I grow food. It’s not much and it has no impact on anyone but myself, and the friends and family members I can supply with food. If there were more to do that I thought would be effective, I would do it. If there was a march I thought was heading in the right direction, I might join it. Or not. Maybe I’ve been on too many marches and spent too many hours in meetings to really believe there is a right direction anymore.
I grow food, I read, I write and I worry.