The truth is that the colonizers have always had the same intention: to steal our land. And we have always done what is in our laws to do: protect it. We have never asked for more than what is ours. Something we have taken to the highest courts in so-called canada and won. We have never lost our rights and title. I think about everything from residential schools and the extraction of children from our homes and the territory. And the government’s mandate to kill the Indian in the child. The extraction of our Indigenousness and, of course, everything on our territories, from the trees and animals and minerals, to hydroelectricity dams and my grandfather’s community that was completely burned down and flooded out to power the Alcan aluminum smelter here on the West Coast. And, of course, there is the fight against the Coastal GasLink pipeline that is currently being built and has been proposed to go under our sacred headwaters, Wedzin Kwa.
I fell in love with Wedzin Kwa in 2012 and decided to move home. This first poem is a love poem for Wedzin Kwa, which is the name of our river. Nk’ësiy’ means I love you in Witsuwit’en.
Nk’ësiy’ Wedzin Kwa
She is my healer
a consoling friend
a life giver, a grandmother
a sister to the ancient ones
she heard the songs and touched the skin
of the Original Witsuwit’en
sacred knowledge in every drop,
but we forgot
we try to listen with our ears
time has made us deaf to her
there’s too much background noise.
the smog is in our souls
shhhhhh . . . . . can you hear her cry for you?
I need a job, I need a new car
I just bought a new eco-friendly travel mug from *fill in the blank* . . .
It’s funny right?
The love of my life is not my cell phone a flat screen tv or my shoes
Nk’ ësiy’ Wedzin Kwa!
I don’t need to tell you how beautiful she
is how her clear blue/green sparkles in the sun
or how her glacial currents take your breath away
and jump starts your soul and every cell in your body how her voice
sings you alive
this isn’t that kind of love poem
Let’s get back to listening . . . .
What are the names of your rivers? Can you hear them inside you?
Let’s resurrect those words together
ALL our words, all at once
I want to feel all those hard and soft sounds hitting me at the same
just let me absorb the words of our ancestors
like Wedzin Kwa
but I’m not a river
I am a Witsuwit’en woman
my purpose is clear
Like ancient protocol and boundaries
I’ll show you where the line is
we were born her guardians
warriors watch over Wedzin Kwa
I have found writing about these experiences really serves two purposes for me. One of them is a way to put it down, to put down the trauma and the violence that has been happening on our territory. The second function of poetry for me is delivering information about what is happening out on our territories in a way that people are able to process maybe in a different way. Many of the videos we put out are really triggering and traumatizing for people and sometimes it’s easier to receive information in the form of poetry.
This next one I wrote after the first militarized raid in our territory, which was January 7, 2019. We set up Gidimt’en Checkpoint in 2018 as a way to protect our territory as well as our neighbours, the Unist’ot’en, who have been blocking the construction of multiple pipelines for the last ten years. My sister is Sleydo’ Molly Wickham, and she was arrested in 2019.
What If I Told You
What if I told you that
“we are the land, and the land is us”
is not a metaphor
our DNA is in the trees
and even if we leave,
our bodies mourn this place
We’ve been torn and uprooted
scattered and broken
but we are STILL HERE
What if I told you that canada wants to kill us
Not just our ‘indigenousness’
our ceremonies and languages
our stories, laws and songs
they want us in the ground
because our spirits are too strong
and they’ve been trying to steal our land for too long
we’ve had ENOUGH
and when we stand up, rise up, war cry with our fuckin fists up
it’s time to throw down with the crown
they send the army in
because that’s the only way they think they can win
and what if I told you they moved in
not knowing that my 3-year-old niece had been moved out
because they don’t care about our children
Skïy ze’ Ye’ toh yez
our future matriarch
one more Witsuwit’en bottoming out their bottom line
she is unbreakable
just like her mother, and her mother and her mother
her bloodline is the mountains, rivers, and trees
what if I told you
that we are ALL the answer to our ancestors’ prayers
and what if you believed me?
Knowing that TC Energy, the parent company of Coastal GasLink, the RCMP, as well as the Ministry of Children and Families were all working together in order to remove my sister, and they showed up with sniper rifles, attack dogs, lethal force. They keep trying to steal our children and our land. As my sister said during that raid, “Nothing has changed in 150 years.” And it’s true even today.
This final poem is something that is on my mind often. It’s not a current fight, but it definitely informs, and contributes to, my passion for what we’re doing currently.
My Soft Heart Herds
My ancestors ate caribou
and yet there is no one in my family to tell me what they taste like
Alcan drowned what was left after the CN railway cut them off
I mourn them often
full chest heaving painful sobs like I’m being crushed by the loss
but when I talk about them my words just dissipate
Maybe it’s too painful
like admitting that we have lost something so sacred makes it real
and we all turn to elk and moose to fill our plate, in silence
I feel it all
and it’s a joke that I cry about everything but I can’t hold it
the pain of the land and the water is too loud to ignore
They’re in my bones
and the strength in my DNA fed from millennia of these beautiful
and the land that sustained them fuels my resistance
I wear their memory as a shield
protecting whatever it is we have left and shaking the rest of you
I’ll show you every day even when you hate me
Our survival depends on it.
As we approached the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa Supreme Court decision on December 11, 2022, I was reminded of how long our ancestors have been fighting to protect our territories. Every generation of Witsuwit’en has done their part in their time to fight back. It’s not just our rights that we are enacting, it is our responsibilities. We will not allow industry and government to continue their colonial tactics to divide and conquer, manipulate and oppress us into despair. We have a duty to our grandchildren and all those yet to be born. That includes to all of you.
Jennifer Wickham is a member of Cas Yikh (Grizzly Bear House) in the Gidimt’en (Bear/Wolf) Clan of the Witsuwit’en people. She fell in love with Wedzin Kwa in 2012 and moved home to defend her against the multiple pipelines proposed through her traditional territories. Jennifer has been the Media Coordinator for Gidimt’en Checkpoint since 2018 and is currently co-producing/co-directing the documentary film Yintah about the Witsuwit’en fight for sovereignty.
Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.