By Will Falk
It is almost time to go.
I am going to the Unist’ot’en Camp in northern British Columbia. The Unist’ot’en Camp is a resistance camp built by the Wet’suwet’en people on the path of seven proposed pipelines from the Tar Sands Gigaproject and where corporations are extracting liquid natural gas from the Horn River Basin Fracturing Projects.
I am nervous. I am excited. I am scared. Mostly, I just want to get started. Writing helps me organize my thoughts, sift through my emotions, and steel my heart, so I offer this up as my trip approaches.
Friends and family are asking me, “Why are you doing this?”
The short answer is: To stop the pipelines. First and foremost, we have to keep pipelines carrying fossil fuels off of First Nations’ land. Corporations have no right to be there. The Canadian government has no right to be there. None of us – but the Wet’suwet’en and whomever they allow – have a right to be there.
After that, we must stop the pipelines from being built anywhere. The cost of fossil fuels fluctuate tremendously and the longer we can delay these projects the less profitable they become and the more likely the corporations will give up. In a world suffocating from the burning of fossil fuels, increased consumption of fossil fuels is simply something life cannot afford.
Of course, it may be too late to save the planet. We may have pushed the world past the tipping point while we squabbled amongst ourselves asking whether climate change was really happening, while we placed our faith in a false God that told us we’d find reality when we were dead, and, finally, while we listened to a seductive science that told us we were too smart to let this happen, even while it was happening.
One thing is for certain, though, it is not too late to go down swinging. It’s not too late to die with honor. It’s not too late to achieve the satisfaction of a spiritually peaceful death that can only come with the dignity of earned bravery.
Another answer is my spirit tells me I have to go.
When I read the calls for volunteers from groups of people putting their bodies on the line to save their corner of the world, I feel like a liar ignoring them. My spirit recoils and I begin to feel that dark sickness that only comes from lying to myself.
Jack D. Forbes, in his diagnosis of western culture Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Imperialism, Exploitation, and Terrorism explains it better than I can. He writes, “Religion is, in reality, living. Our religion is not what we profess, or what we say, or what we proclaim; our religion is what we do, what we desire, what we seek, what we dream about, what we fantasize, what we think – all these things – twenty-four hours a day. One’s religion, then, is ones life, not merely the ideal life but the life as it is actually lived.”
I say I love the world. I say I love pristine snow on towering, rocky peaks. I say I love the feel of pine nettles on my bare feet, the sight of a baby black bear pawing a bee hive for honey, and the sight of two lover hummingbirds chasing each other around purple and yellow flower patches. I say I love drinking clean water, the taste of salmon, and the gentle wash of sunshine on my bare chest.
I say I love the world. But, when I know the world is being destroyed, when struggling people call for my help, and when I ignore them failing to act, how can I be anything but a liar?
Before I go, I know I must be adequately prepared. I just finished reading Simon J. Ortiz’s prologue to his book of poetry, Going for the Rain, and he explains what this preparation may look like, “A man makes his prayers; he sings his songs. He considers all that is important and special to him, his home, children, his language, the self that he is. He must make spiritual and physical preparation before anything else. Only then does anything begin.”
So, I ask myself, what is important and special to me?
The most important thing to me is a livable world. Breathable air. Drinkable water. Soil that can grow food. What could be more important than these things? Without a livable world, we have nothing. And all these things are under attack.
I consider my home.
I’ve written that I have given up on finding a home in North America. For me, a home built on the backs of conquered peoples and tortured natural communities, in uninhabitable, and I refuse to claim it as mine. I will not lay roots in a soil fertilized with the blood of the murdered.
This does not mean, however, that the world in general is not my home. In fact, it is the only home we have.
I also have no problem claiming my interpersonal relationships as types of abstract homes. My dependence on my parents for life as a child, my dependence on my parents and little sister for human connection, and my dependence on my friends for companionship all form a type of home for me. I must be careful to explain, however, that the current arrangement of power makes many of these relationships shabby imitations of what they would be if it were possible to grow true roots in a true home. My sister, for example, lives in Tennessee and my parents in San Francisco making it more likely that I associate their voices with my cell phone instead of their real bodies.
Oh, yes, I could move in with my parents. I could forsake the resistance to build a home (and by home I really mean a shoddy imitation of a home, or a home made available to me through murder and slavery which as I have said before is no home at all). I could settle into a permanent relationship with all the compromises that come with one, settle into a full-time job where I would spend most of my waking hours working to make someone else money, and sign a long-term lease committing myself to paying someone for letting me stay in one physical location.
But these types of home – if that’s what we can call them – are a luxury we simply cannot afford right now. When the hangman’s noose slips around your neck, your only worry is removing the noose.
I do not have any children, so the next thing I ponder is my language.
First, though, I think it is important to explain that Ortiz is an Acoma from what is now-called New Mexico and his language and culture have been under attack for over 500 years. Knowing this adds significance when Ortiz says we must consider our language. For the Acoma, maintaining their language, in the face of a culture hell-bent on silencing it, is an act of resistance in itself.
The only language I know how to speak is English and oftentimes I hate it. English has long been the language of conquerors from the colonization of Ireland and the outlawing of Irish Gaelic to American forces in Afghanistan screaming at villagers to “Face the wall! Face the fucking wall!”
But, nonetheless, I love my language when it is used in defense of people and natural communities. My deepest love of language comes in the form of poetry and I agree with the poet Lew Welch when he wrote, “For I think that poetry is the intense telling of a thing, and that the intense way is always the clear way…” Additionally, my friend, the Poet Laureate of Milwaukee, WI, Jim Chapson, once told me “poetry is like a prayer. You just do it.”
I love writing poetry and I love the English language when it forms a good poem. Borrowing from Welch, I see my own poetry as my intense telling of my search for a spiritual connection to the land. Borrowing from Chapson, I pray through my poetry that we can save the world and poetry will still be possible. But, to return to Forbes’ statement about religion, I know that poetry and prayer are not enough. I must go to the Unist’ot’en Camp to make chopping wood, digging post-holes, and preparing food my religion.
The final thing Ortiz considers before his poetic journey in Going for the Rain is “the self that he is.”
Who am I? I am my history, of course. I am my childhood, my Catholic upbringing, my father’s son, my mother’s son, the suicide attempts, the kisses I’ve given, the tackles I made on college football fields, several surgeries, a whole lot of Phish shows (48 to be exact), nights in Joshua Tree under the stars, and the tears streaming down my face seeing yet more destruction.
I am my body, too. The dark brown hair I wear long so that the wind can play with it. The blue eyes that seem to get red too quickly causing people to think I’m perpetually high. The long legs – too skinny – and shoulders that slouch – can’t help it. I’m a big nose that develops an unexplainable white line on the bridge when I get sunburnt.
More importantly, I am my relationship to everything. I am the air that you exhale and I breathe in. I am the coffee I just drank. I am the sun that grew the coffee bean, the soil that housed it, and the water poured over it. I am those two lover hummingbirds that are still chasing each other around making me laugh.
It would be correct to say that everything that I have written here is the self that I am, but it certainly is not all of it. The truth is, I am not sure how to guide a reader through my process for finding the self that I am.
I hope it will suffice to say: All of this is me. And more.
It is time to go, now.
I am as ready as I can be to get to work. Please join me in fighting for what you love wherever you are. Life needs all the help it can get.