Category Archives: Activism

Mixed Feelings on Halloween

I LOVED Halloween when I was a kid. Getting dressed up? Getting free candy?! What’s not to love?

But now I know how dangerous and addictive sugar is. Given the epidemic of obesity in children, it seems completely irresponsible and harmful to be dolling out candy to children. Not only for the huge sugar-hit itself, but because it further entrenches the idea that candy, sugar, is a reward.

And chocolate bars from big corporations are popular to give out. But the bitter irony about some of these sweet treats is that child labour, which can include deplorable exploitation and abuse, is what helps keep those mini chocolate bars cheap to be handed out to relatively lucky Canadian children. I need not belabour the point that exploiting one child to give candy to another is wrong. And actually bad for both kids!

And some costumes are very offensive to certain cultures and ethnic groups. This is a fun video about avoiding racist costumes.

And, isn’t odd we give kids junk food, and the healthy food, the pumpkin, often gets thrown out? Nowadays in Ottawa, at least it is more likely the pumpkin will be composted in the Green Bin. A few years ago I used to write blog posts to encourage people to use the pumpkin, with recipes for the flesh and seeds. I also used to take part in Trick or Eat, which collects non-perishable food for local food banks on Halloween.

All in all, the way we now celebrate Halloween in Canada seems pretty misguided to me. It just makes me want to opt out. Given I have a new baby, I will this year.

But when I am ready to meet the young goblins, ghosts, and super heroes at my door again, I’m thinking of giving out a non-candy treat. I’d like to acknowledge each child and their creativity, and then offer them something they will like, but won’t rot their teeth or guts. Or make them fat. I’m not sure what this would be, but perhaps marbles or stickers? That weren’t made in a sweatshop? Any ideas?

Mind-expansion about Halloween?
Mind-expansion about Halloween?

So Happy Halloween, and when I’ve figured out the trick to a good treat, I’ll participate, too.

Shine,
Julie

Comments: How do you feel about Halloween? What do you give kids who come to your door?

Note: A friend directed me to a lovely project to make Halloween more inclusive for kids with food allergies: The Teal Pumpkin Project. Click here for their non-food treat ideas. A positive step to Halloween evolving?

Opportunity to Honour Sacred Chaudière Falls and Nearby Lands

Do you love waterfalls? I know I do! I love being near falls and rapids. Recently, I feel I understand better why I love waterfalls. Of course they are beautiful and powerful and sound amazing. But Elders in Ottawa and in Guyana have taught me that waterfalls and rapids, the places where waters roar, are the places where Spirits gather. Here in Ottawa, we have a very special waterfall that has been mostly hidden from view by industrial development: Chaudière Falls. Now there is a proposal to redevelop the area, which offers an opportunity to make wise decisions about the future of this sacred area.

Background

For thousands of years, the ancestors of the Algonquin people prayed and offered tobacco at “The Kettle of Boiling Waters”, the mighty Chaudière Falls. But over the past 200 years, the islands and shores nearby were developed for industry. The Ottawa River’s flow was dammed up to operate paper mills and power stations. This place of Spiritual Power was harnessed to yield Hydroelectric Power.

Though in a weakened state, you can still feel the Spiritual Power of the Falls. And late Algonquin Elder William Commanda had an inspiring Vision, a Plan for the area, that would restore it as a spiritual place. A place for peoples to converge and learn about Indigenous Peoples. A place where people can heal.

Turning this Vision into Reality has so far been a slow process. But now there is an opportunity – if we all get engaged and work together!

Current Situation

Windmill Development Group recently signed an “Agreement of Purchase and Sale” for Domtar’s property, which includes Chaudière Island and part of downtown Gatineau. Chaudière Island is right next to Chaudière Falls, and was part of Commanda’s overall Vision for the area. Windmill Development Group also has a Vision for the area, expressed by co-founder Jonathan Westeinde: “Our vision is to create Canada’s most sustainable mixed-use community right here in the nation’s capital.”

Are these two Visions for this area competing or compatible? Let us take a look by going through the four main aspects of Grandfather Commanda’s Vision:

Elder William Commanda's Vision for the Chaudière area1. Free the Chaudière Falls. I think that is a separate process, and could happen regardless of Windmill’s proposed development. What do you think?

2. Create a City Park and Historic Interpretive Centre. For me, this is the point of potential conflict, because the Park and Historic Interpretive Centre were envisioned to be on Chaudière Island. I feel this is a very different use of the land than Windmill’s proposal to build a sustainable mixed-used community (with residential and commercial areas) on Chaudière Island. The only remaining condition of the “Agreement of Purchase and Sale” is that the area be rezoned for “a mixed-use community-scale development”. Personally, I think the area should be rezoned as “Sacred”!

3) Build a Peace Building Meeting Site; and 4) Build an Indigenous Centre. Both the Peace Building Meeting Site and Indigenous Centre were envisioned to be on Asinabka (Victoria Island). Asinabka is not part of Windmill’s proposal for the area, and could still go ahead regardless of what happens with Chaudière Island.

Quick recap: Windmill’s redevelopment sounds great and green, but would be on sacred land next to the sacred Chaudière Falls. What impact would the redevelopment have on achieving the Grandfather Commanda’s Vision for the area? What are Algonquin leaders, elders an community members saying? In my humble opinion, this project requires genuine, fair, and thorough consultation with Algonquin communities. It means really listening to what Algonquins want for their Land and Water. And then supporting their decision. Below are a few Algonquin views that I know of, please add more in your comments on this blog!

Some Algonquin Views

Windmill Development held a Public Consultation on 11 December 2013. Claudette Commanda, Elder William Commanda’s granddaughter, opened the Consultation event and spoke powerfully about her Grandfather’s Vision for the area. I have not been able to find any quotes in the media about what she said. Here’s what I recall. She told Windmill Development: “Now you know who we are. You know how to reach us.” And invited Windmill to meaningfully consult with the Algonquin Community about the proposed redevelopment.

Kitigan Zibi Algonquin Chief Gilbert Whiteduck stated in the Citizen that “I don’t believe this project should go forward without the indigenous centre. It should be the jewel in the crown” of any redevelopment of the area. Chief Whiteduck also said he and his community members are concerned about the future of Chaudière Falls, and “we will ensure to the best of our ability that our voice is heard.”

Algonquin Elder Albert Dumont just released a blog post about the sacredness of Chaudière Falls. One of his key concerns is that no matter what happens with the Windmill proposal, people need to have better access to the Falls to perform Ceremony, to pray, and to offer tobacco.

What You Can Do

This is the time to seize the opportunity to reclaim the Chaudière lands and waters that have languished under the toxic weight of Industry. It is a time to honour the spiritual power and importance of the Chaudière Falls and adjacent lands. It is time for everyone to express our views, hopes, and Dreams for this sacred place, right in Canada’s Capital. Will Canada’s Capital also be Canada’s Heart? It is a time to listen deeply and then act in solidarity with what the Algonquin community wants for the area.

Windmill developments is inviting feedback about their proposed redevelopment, called (for now) “The Isles/Les Îles”, until 31 December. Rodney Wilts from Windmill Developments (rodney@windmilldevelopments.com) responded to my question about whether there would be future opportunities for input after 31 December: “Regarding additional opportunities for input, we see community consultation as an ongoing process. Much of our ongoing consultation is happening now with direct meetings with groups such as Ecology Ottawa, the Ottawa Riverkeeper, Heritage Canada, Just Food, the Algonquins etc. Our next full public meeting will be sometime in the spring.” Do send in your views now (see below). And please stay tuned!

Keep Shining,
Julie.

Please send your feedback to Windmill Development Group about the proposed “The Isles” redevelopment of areas near Chaudière Falls to Rodney Wilts at: rodney@windmilldevelopments.com
Or snail mail comments (postmarked Dec 31):
Attn: Sheena Whitten
PACE Public Affairs & Community Engagement
Suite 201, 145 Spruce Street
Ottawa ON K1R 6P1 

PS – I would like to share a lovely note Judith Matheson posted on FB about sending in feedback to Windmill:

“Please emphasize the importance of honouring the history, the sacred and the spiritual significance of Chaudière Falls not just to the Algonquin people but to the deep spiritual needs of these times to remember the wisdom of our own ancient ancestors. Who lived in harmony and connection with nature and the Earth. If you wish contact Rodney Wilts of the Windmill Development Group as they welcome constructive feed back. Suggest he check out http://albertdumont.com/the-kettle-of-boiling-waters-chaudiere-falls-algonquin-territory/ and express how what you read made you personally feel around the significance of how this project is done and its affect on our world.

View of Parliament Hill from AsinabkaPlease share this info on Facebook and via e-mail as the old year ends and the new era begins. This project is not just about us. It is about our future generations and how we can play a role in helping Windmill and our own society relate to and in some way also experience by reading and being reminded of the true history, spirituality and sacredness of this area, as shared by Elder Albert Dumont. To relate to and ourselves connect with a deeper understanding of what he is talking about is what we have all lost. In nature the great healer we must strive to create deep spiritual understanding that all original peoples keep hoping we will remember.

That what we do to the Earth is reflective of what we are doing to ourselves. It is time we work together towards bringing back the harmony and flow of nature and this project has extraordinary potential and possibilities for Canadians to do just that.”

#TarFree613 Song & Video Project!

I was minding my own business, diligently doing data analysis, when a Song came along. And one thing lead to another. And now its a project I hope you can help with!

Like many people in Ottawa, I first heard about the risk of the Tar Sands coming to Canada’s capital from an Ecology Ottawa email on 25 June:

“It has just been reported that TransCanada Corp is hoping to build a massive $5 billion pipeline that will transport 850,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil through the south end of the City of Ottawa and across the Rideau River. The plan is to retrofit a natural gas pipeline into a pipeline that will carry crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the East Coast of Canada and they want to run the pipeline through our city!” – Ecology Ottawa

This is a Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Idea. Go to http://tarfree613.ca to see why.

While sitting in Ecology Ottawa’s first public forum about the pipeline on 15 July, I was already writing a song. Then it was announced the twitter hashtag for this campaign is #TarFree613. I thought, “That’s a great song title!”

A few days later while making curry for Kevin Guerette and Rebecca Lantz, we jammed on the #TarFree613 Song. In walked Fedor Ilitchev, who just happens to make videos. Kevin just happens to be a music producer and gifted guitarist. Rebecca just happens to be awesome. We realized in that one kitchen, we had all the ingredients for an awesome project: to record the song and make a music video that will support Ecology Ottawa and other fabulous organizations with their public outreach about the proposed pipeline. Well, all the ingredients except one: cash. So a week later, we shot the live demo of the song for this Indiegogo funding campaign: http://igg.me/at/tarfree613song/x/1011401

The lyrics and demo video are below! NO to the Energy East Pipeline is YES to the future WE define!

Keep Shining (& Stay Tar Free),
Julie
UPDATES: We got our funding! And released the track. See below! 

#TarFree613 Lyrics – Vela, August 2013

Open my email
And what do I see?
Energy East is
Heading towards 613

BC stopped the pipelines
Heading out West
Big Oil’s new target
Is the East Coast instead

I don’t know about you, but me
I just wanna be TarFree
Its our chance to stop the flow
Raise our voices, and here we go!

Chorus: TarFree613! TarFree613! TarFree613! TarFree! X2

No to this Pipeline
No to all Pipelines
Dec-Line 9
Step away form the fault lines
We don’t have time
For this crazy climate Crime x2

Chorus: TarFree613! TarFree613! TarFree613! TarFree! X2

1.Cuz’ we don’t want
Tar Sands kills
and Pipelines spills
2. We don’t want
A Canadian Mordor
And all of its horror
3. We don’t want
Dead wildlife
And Indigenous strife
4. We don’t want
Corporate greed
And manufactured need
5. We don’t want
Fossil fuel addiction
And all its afflictions
6. We don’t want
Toxic leaks
And poisoned creeks
7.We don’t want
Climate Chaos
That will surely slay us
8. And we don’t want…

Bridge: More things, more bling, more rings, more cha-ching X2

Cuz’ what we want is blue skies above
And what we want is endless fierce love
And what we want is clean energy
And what we want is a green economy
And what we want is sustainability
And what we want is reciprocity
And what we want is Ecojustice for all
And what we want is to answer the call

And we get what we want….
TarFree!


Video Credits: #TarFree613, by Vela (Julie Comber) Aug 2013. Guitar composition by Kevin Guerette. Performed by Vela, Kevin, & Rebecca Lantz. Video by Fedor Ilitchev.

We released the track on 10 October!

Sacred Fire: Song for Chief Spence

I had the honour of singing “Sacred Fire” to Chief Spence yesterday. I hope it gave her Spirit energy, and gave her yet more evidence of all the Love and Light being sent her way. I hope many songs will be written to honour her and the Elders fasting in solidarity with her, Raymond Robinson and Jean Sock.

IMG_20130109_104132At “Camp Spence”, I’ve had the privilege to spend time at the Sacred Fire getting to know the wonderful wise people there. I helped tend a Sacred Fire for the South March Highlands in 2011, so this Sacred Fire felt like a natural entry point to get to know the community on Victoria Island supporting Chief Spence. While praying at the Sacred Fire, I got the first stirrings of the song in honour of her, below.

I learned so much and will write more later, but for now would just like to mention that what Chief Spence is doing is more accurately called a ceremonial fast, not a hunger strike. I changed the lyrics of “Sacred Fire”, below, thanks to Thomas explaining this to me. Greg MacDougall also touches on this in his article about the meaning of Chief Spence’s fast.

I would also like to encourage everyone to pray for Chief Spence.  Pray that the meeting between Prime Minister Harper, the Governor General, and the Chiefs tomorrow truly is a baby step towards meaningful change. And whenever you can, counter the vile negative press and racist remarks about Chief Spence and about Indigenous peoples. Drown out the hate with Love!

Keep Shining,
Julie

Sacred Fire – 4 Jan 2013 (not recorded yet)

The brave warrior woman waits
In a Teepee on Sacred Land
The North wind outside so harsh and cold
But inside her strong heart brilliant to behold

Chief Spence is a new true Leader
While Harper is stuck in colonial ways
Personal attacks and negative press
Cannot dim her courage and goodness

warming fire at Camp Spence 9 Jan 2013 (pictures should not be taken of Sacred Fires)
warming fire at Camp Spence 9 Jan 2013 (pictures should not be taken of Sacred Fires)

Sacred Fire
Sacred fire burning bright
Sacred Fire
Sacred fire day and night

She gets physically weaker
But her spirit and heart grow strong
Her message is calling for Unity
Love is the answer, love is the answer!

Chief Spence, in ceremonial energy
harnessing ancient earth mother wisdom
The Creator wants us happy and grateful
Work with the Land, work with the Land!

Sacred Fire
Sacred fire burning bright
Sacred Fire
Sacred fire day and night

What if it was all up to you?
What if fasting was all you could do?

Would you sacrifice
roll the dice
pay the price
risk your life
for the ones who needed you?

Silver Frost at Camp Spence 9 Jan 2013Sacred fire on Victoria Island
You can hold that flame in your heart
The world is changing and shifting around us
With our hearts and souls connected, we can trust.

Sacred Fire
Fire burning in my heart
Sacred Fire
Fire burning in your heart
Sacred Fire
Fire burning in our hearts
Sacred Fire
Fire burning in one heart.

For Our Sisters: Release on Solstice, #IdleNoMore, and the Shift!

14 Feb 2012 Day of JusticeI’m delighted to release my first single on Solstice (Friday 21 December 2012).  For Our Sisters is an unflinching heart-felt call to compassion and action from a non-Indigenous, non-Family member Ally to encourage others to become Allies of missing and murdered Indigenous women and their families.

On this darkest shortest day of the year (complete with a blizzard here in Ottawa!), I hope this song will shed light on the issue of the disproportionate amount of violence Indigenous women and girls face. It is an auspicious day for the release, a day to set intentions. Such as to continually contribute to efforts to change our society so that no one is at risk of violence.

I also chose to deliver this labour of Love & Rage today so I could do one small thing, as a non-Indigenous Ally, in solidarity with #IdleNoMore and Chief Spence on the Day of Action. There were hundreds on the Hill!

And it happens to be the end of an Era, according to the Mayan Calendar (NOT the end of the World!). Many of us have felt there is a Shift happening, in our consciousness, in the energy, in the way we are relating to one another and to other species. I hope we are shifting towards a more compassionate, beautiful, and fair World, where everyone can flourish to their full potential. A World where violence against Indigenous women would no longer exist. Where violence against anyone would no longer exist.

The track is on BandCamp. Any profits from sales of the track will be donated to organizations working to end the violence against Indigenous women and girls. As the days grow longer again, let us keep shining more and more light on ending the violence.

Julie at Umi Show, Nov 2012. Photo Credit: Kevin J. Tikivik
Julie at Umi Show, Nov 2012. Photo Credit: Kevin J. Tikivik

Keep Shining,
Julie

PowerShifting from the Heart

Nothing crystallizes your resolve to make the world a better place quite like cradling a newborn.

Holding my niece for the first time made me think of how different the world is now compared to when I was born. So much beautiful land has been lost. Including land right here in Ottawa, that I fought to protect, which has been destroyed for short-term profit. My niece will not be able to play in the forests her Dad and I loved so much. At the global level, hundreds of species have been lost since I was the size of my niece. There is so much inequity, injustice and suffering for humans and other sentient beings. And underlying so much of this loss of biodiversity and beauty is Climate Change.

Then I sang the lullaby I wrote for her, “All Your Relations Love You”. The song is about interconnectedness and being a beloved part of a the biotic community, of the more-than-human world. It also shows how we can move forward: with Creativity. With Beauty. With Courage. With Humility. With Love.

My niece is one example of someone who helps remind me of my purpose. For you, perhaps it helps to hold in mind the image of someone you love, a place you love, a community you love. And when you feel yourself straying in this world of information-overload and distraction, go back to that image. Better yet, ground yourself in the presence of that which you love. Then expand that sphere of love ever outwards to encompass this whole precious blue and green Earth.

Including other species within our sphere of moral concern is part of what I’ll speak about on the not to be missed PowerShift Panel “Starving Injustice, Hungry for Change: How Climate Change Impacts Food Systems, and Pathways Towards Solutions“. I’m so excited to learn from my fellow Panelists! Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN will explore the global scale impacts of food systems on climate change, and how in turn, our food system is impacted by climate change. Chris Bisson will dig into how we can build resiliency through permaculture at a local level. And I’ll speak about what Industrial Animal Production reveals about the human relationship with other species and our effort to combat climate change. We’re on at 11:30am on October 27th, in Desmarais 1110.

It is love that fuels our fight against climate change. It is love for my niece, for All My Relations, that moves me to care beyond my own brief existence on this planet, to care about more than my own immediate wants and needs. Love fuels the Action. It is opportunities like PowerShift 2012 that help us learn how to make our Actions effective.

That’s why I’m going to PowerShift. How about you?

Keep Shining,
Julie.

Can a candle reach you?

Canada’s Shame: 582 Indigenous women and girls have been reported missing or murdered since 1980. That estimate is low. We each have the responsibility to demand justice, and to work for change. One small thing you can do: Tell Prime Minister Stephen Harper what you think.

Is this message compelling and coherent to you? Can it blaze through the cacophony of messages competing for your attention? In this age of information overload, anyone can share their voice, but we are each competing for your mindshare. For your willingness to pay attention to the message.

These were the questions I asked myself on October 3rd, in an earlier version of this post. I was doing my small part to promote the 7th Annual Families of Sisters in Spirit National Vigil, held on October 4th, 2012, on Parliament Hill (Unceded Algonquin Territory).

In Canada, Indigenous women are at a greater risk of violence than non-Indigenous women (as you can see in the above image, courtesy Amnesty International). Families of Sisters in Spirit (FSIS) is a volunteer, grassroots, non-profit organization led by families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Their annual Vigil gives the families of these loved and lost women and girls the chance to speak, to be heard, on the Hill. It is an opportunity for everyone to listen, to be there is solidarity, and to show that the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls is unacceptable and must stop.

In the mainstream media, “if it bleeds, it leads”, so most of us have heard the sensationalized versions of some of the murdered women’s stories.

But when do we hear about the inspiring work of FSIS, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), Amnesty International, KAIROS, and others, to demand justice and change? NWAC started the original Sisters in Spirit Vigil in 2005 based on Bridget Tolley (co-founder of FSIS)’s idea. Since then, more and more Vigils are held in solidarity with the FSIS Vigil on the Hill. Mainstream media coverage of the Vigils has been scant in past years. On the morning of October 3rd, NWAC issued a press release calling on local and national media to cover the October 4th Vigils.

This year, more families than ever from across Canada made the trip to be there on the Hill, thanks to FSIS. It was that much more important to show them that people do care.

I’m unknown. I don’t have big money to amplify my message. I don’t have a platform. I don’t have a job that pays me to craft compelling messages, or the personal resources to grant me the time to craft these messages.

But a flame burns inside me to draw attention to issues I feel are neglected. Despite my day job, I write songs. I can’t help it. And against the odds, despite the fatigue, despite wondering if it is a wise use of my energy, I try to create works of art that may shine brightly enough, despite the humble origins, to reach you.

So friends and I made a video to encourage people to attend the Oct 4th Vigil, and to draw attention to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. It was launched on September 14th, 100 views on the first day.

But no comments, and only a few likes. It was like dropping a pebble into a still pond, with barely a ripple.

Then it picked up again. It did not go viral, but had a respectable 540 views as of 3pm the day before the Vigil.

Myself and many others sent emails, posted on FB, and tweeted the night before and the morning of the Vigil. But mostly there was nothing more for us allies to do but see if the energy, effort, and all those messages would actually translate into people attending.

Suddenly, it was 6pm, time for the Vigil.

And it was well attended. And beautiful. And heartbreaking. And honoured our Stolen Sisters.

At dusk, I wondered what the Vigil looked like from the perspective of the Families. So I climbed the Parliament Hill steps to get behind them. As Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said that all the supporters present were like Medicine for the families of the missing and murdered women, I could see and feel this was true. I saw hundreds of people indeed Filling the Hill, with Love and Light.

The Families’ view of the crowd’s Love & Light at the Families of Sisters in Spirit Vigil, October 4th, 2012. Photo: ©juliecomber.com

Let’s make this blog post interactive! What do you think of the video (below)? How effective do you think it was compared to the Poster and FB Event to encourage attendance at the Vigil? What about compared to partnering with the Take Back the Night (the 34th annual Ottawa March started right after the Vigil)? This is a shifting game of weighing the effort and money it takes to create a promotional message against how effective it is. A low budget but carefully done video is like a candle to illuminate a neglected issue. How do we coax that candle’s flame to catch, to blaze the message out and achieve positive change?

Keep Shining,

Julie.

 

 

Falling Feathers: Pick Them Up and Fly Again

As the feather falls, my heart falls. The pain and sorrow of Algonquin Grandmother Louise Wawatie and her brother Joseph, in a video of them just released from prison, radiates off the screen. They were imprisoned for 8 days, and the Land they stood up for has been logged in the meantime.

While I suppose it is fitting they were released on International Day for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the fact they were arrested at all and held for so long is proof Canada has a long way to go when it comes to respecting Indigenous Rights.

Louise and Joseph were arrested on charges of mischief and breaking an injunction forbidding them from protesting the clear-cut logging by Resolute Forestry Products near Lac Poigan. They both refused conditions of bail, asserting their sovereign rights over their unceded territory where Resolute continues to clear-cut. The sister and brother were held in Maniwaki, Quebec, until this morning when they appeared in court and were released. The video of Joseph explaining the conditions of his release means he can’t even go home, and of Louise dropping the feathers, were shot outside the courthouse.

Louise’s brother, Jacob (Mowegan) Wawatie explains that “the meaning of the feathers falling is: Who is going to stand up for the collective nation that walks upon Mother Earth? This Grandmother is calling to all Nations to stand for the future generations. It is for the world of the future and may the youth of this world voice their own destiny.”

While our hearts sink to see Elders treated with disrespect, and to see beautiful Land destroyed, this is a call to action, not to wallow in despair. The feathers must be picked up, and we must fly together to a future where we live in harmony with the rest of Creation, a future where we can each flourish.

Will you answer this call and stand up for future generations? One small but important step: share the video and Louise’s message, far and wide.

Keep Shining,

Julie

Note: see this post for more background, and a video illustrating why they sought to protect this Land.

Mamwi: will we come together for Nature?

In the bright Sunday sun in Strathcona park, Jacob (Mowegan) Wawatie draws maps of Algonquin territory, of his family’s territory, as rivers that branch off a main artery, just like the veins of a leaf branch from its stem. This is the land he is fighting to protect, for his family and for future generations.

Huddled in a circle on parched grass under the shade of huge Oak, we have just watched the video from the July 26 confrontation on the logging site near Poigan Lake, on unceded Algonquin land, on Jacob’s land. Mr. Dion (representing PF Resolute, a logging company from Montreal, Québec) and Sergeant St-Louis from the Sureté du Quebec, confronted the people protecting the wildlife and culture being destroyed and displaced by the company’s logging. Although the police officer claims to not take sides, it is clear in the video he is standing with the people from the PF Resolute company and mediating on their behalf, though paid by peoples’ taxes.

Eight minutes into the video, Jacob brings forward the baby hawk he found in one of the clear-cut areas: “This is the reason. How many nests have you knocked down this summer? Did you even consider that? How many other creatures have you dislodged from this territory? So what are we going to have to eat? What are we going to have to show to our children? This is why we were trying to do something about it. Its not because we are against the system. Its not because we are against your logging. We are trying to make you aware of this thing. To bring it into the consciousness of the Forestry Industry. And the government. And you that represent Justice [speaking to the Sergeant], supposedly. Now you understand our position. You see our goal. Our dream.”

Jacob told the loggers’ representative (who refused to go get his workers to see and hear Jacob in person) that they were not seeing these things, the terrible impact they are having on the Land. Insulated within their giant machines, or deafened by their chainsaws, they work on the land but are hardly more grounded in the land than the average corporate employee under fluorescent lights in a cubicle.

Jacob spoke to them, but his message in the video is for all of us who have lost our connection to the Land.

He and many others who still understand and thrive from the vitality only Nature can give are calling us to our true selves. To be human beings who are grounded in and grateful to the Land, grateful to all the other beings we share her with. Each animal and plant species is a unique expression of the energy that animates us all. Each species has a unique way of being in the world.

When we let ourselves see them, truly connect with them, feel what it might be like to be them, we open up the doors of our own perception. Can you imagine what it would be like to fly? To senses things through electricity? See through sound or with heat? Breathe water?

Will we truly SEE beyond our collective materialism and indifference? See the people and wildlife who are still connected to the Land? We may forget in our Cities, but we still depend on Nature for our life.

The baby hawk could not survive without her parents. She was named Mamwi for “Together”. Here is your chance to come together to defend this one part of the Land, part of the larger goal of shifting our relationship with Nature so that we can all flourish on this one precious Earth. Please share the video: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xsimtg_mamwi-unedited-uncut-version_news

Keep Shining,

Julie

UPDATE, 9 August: Louise and Joseph were released after 8 days of imprisonment.

2 August: Please SIGN & SHARE this petition to free Louise and Joseph Wawatie: http://www.avaaz.org/fr/petition/Free_Louise_and_Joseph_Wawatie_without_conditions/?cKQhPab

1 August 2012: Sureté de Québec arrested Elders who were standing for the Land. Grandmother Louise Wawatie and Joseph Wawatie were arrested this morning.

I will keep updating this blog post when we know ways you can support Jacob and everyone protecting the Land. Meanwhile, PLEASE SHARE the petition and the video, and you can see more shorter videos over several days at the Standoff here: http://www.youtube.com/user/CDurare. For Jacob’s speech alone, see http://youtu.be/r5TuHM9AE2w

text for “6 Minute Speech Project” Rio+20: end factory farming

I made a video for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20. It will be part of “The 6-Minute Speech Project“, a unique speech built by people from all over the world through the power of social media which will be delivered at Rio+20 later in June.

Here’s the text of my video:

Hello my name is Julie Comber. I’m a singer-songwriter, activist, dancer, capoeirista, writer, Dreamer, and PhD candidate in environmental education. But more than anything else, I’m just someone who cares deeply about the world, and I truly hope that I can contribute to making this world a better place. Our World is so beautiful. But there is so much suffering and injustice, and the destruction of our natural world seems relentless.

So I felt compelled to share my thoughts for the 6 minute Speech project for the UN’s Rio+20 about “The Future We Want”. I will just quickly situate myself so you know where I’m coming from. First of all, I wish to acknowledge that I have created this video in Ottawa, Canada which is on unceeded, unconquered and unsurrendered Algonquin Land. I have lived in Canada, Guyana, Australia, and Tanzania, and traveled through Europe and the Caribbean. My background is in zoology, genetics, bioethics, and animal welfare, and my current research is on Wildlife Clubs in Guyana with the Makushi, one of the indigenous tribes there.

There are so many issues we need to work on, but I will focus on an important issue I feel is still neglected: factory farming. Also called intensive livestock farming or intensive animal production. This is an issue that I first found out about when I was 15 years old, right at the time of the first Rio Summit. I was a kid who loved animals, and not just cats and dogs, I had a lot of experience caring for horses, rats, and cockatiels, too. So someone gave me a book about animal welfare and that’s how I found out about factory farming. I was shocked. I couldn’t understand how humans could treat nonhuman animals so horribly. And I knew immediately that there was no morally relevant difference between a horse and a cow, a dog and pig, or a cockatiel and a chicken. So why was our society allowing so many millions of these animals to suffer? And what does that say about us as human beings?

Over the past 20 years, I’ve come to understand this really is a crosscutting and essential issue for us to deal with as a species. Factory farms are not only horrible for the animals that are raised within them, they have a huge impact on our environment and a terrible impact on human health and well-being. The numbers are truly appalling, and I think many of us numb out or tune out. We humans don’t seem to be very good at responding appropriately and compassionately to large numbers of “others” that do not seem close to us, to our daily life and family. As Stalin said, one death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic. When we hear of one animal, one cow escaping from the slaughterhouse, for example, most people cheer.  But the fact that 9 billion chickens are raised and killed for meat each year in the U.S. alone, is not discussed. 112 million pigs are killed in the US each year. And the list goes on and on.  So worldwide, billions of animals are raised in horrendous conditions and then don’t even get a good death. And we don’t do enough about it. So I’ll move on to ideas about how to eliminate factory farms.

Ten years after the Rio Summit I was doing my Master’s in bioethics and my interest was in the HIV AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. It just so happened that Dr. Solomon Benatar, a doctor and AIDS activist from South Africa, came to McGill University, and he gave an incredible talk and was a guest at one of our classes. I’ll never forget one of the things he said, which was directed at those of us in the West, in Developed Countries: “We have to stop living our privileged existence based on the suffering of unseen others.”  He was speaking about the social and economic inequality that fuels the HIV pandemic. But I could see how his comment applied to so many other problems in our world. Especially to factory farming.

But a positive way to look at this is that when we truly see and appreciate “Others”, then we can heal ourselves and the World. When I say “Others” I don’t just mean other humans. I mean other species, too. We are not fully human except in relation to other species. Animals, plants, bacteria, all forms of life have a distinct and unique way of being in this world. Through appreciating them, spending time with them, we expand the realm of possibility for ourselves.

There certainly is scarcity of some natural resources, but one human resource that seems scarce is actually completely renewable, and inexhaustible: empathy.  Empathy and compassion for our fellow humans and for all other species. I had the privilege of meeting Jane Goodall in Tanzania 15 years after the Rio Summit. And what really struck me about her is that she has a warm heart and a sharp mind. She also has a very strong sense of purpose, of what she is trying to achieve with her life. She embodies the characteristics that we are trying to nurture within children through humane education. By humane education I mean the broad definition which emphasizes the interconnectedness of social justice, the environment, and animal welfare.

So I think if we really do want to have a future that is fair, and beautiful and joyful, and where everyone can flourish to his or her full potential, then we need to get very clear as individuals and collectively as communities and societies about what is our purpose. Why are you here? What is the Gift that you want to give the World? And when you know that, then every day it’s a matter of seeing if your actions are aligned with your purpose and your values.

But I also don’t want to get stuck thinking that it’s just an individual’s responsibility. Our societies, especially in the West, are currently structured so it’s very difficult for individuals to make the choices that are better for themselves, other species, and out Planet. For example here in Canada $1.4 billion of our tax payer’s money subsidizes the already rich oil and gas companies. Imagine what we could do with $1.4 billion! We could invest in children and youth, in green jobs, in honoring our Treaties with our indigenous peoples. There are so many possibilities that would better reflect our values as Canadians. That is just one small example, well, 1.4 Billion is pretty big! But one example of how our collective decision making is so off—base.

So in closing, one thing that those in Developed countries can do is to reduce our consumption of animal products in general, and to categorically refuse to buy factory farmed animal products. Of course we can use our reason to know this is the right thing to do by taking a hard look at the numbers. For example, we know climate change is a huge threat, and livestock account for nearly 20 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. But I’m also arguing we need to do this because that allows us to be aligned with our life’s purpose and values, to take our sharp, critical mind and link it to our warm heart. We might be able to fool our rational mind that it is Ok to buy factory farmed products, but do you really thing you fool your heart and soul when you consume those product? Do you really think your body doesn’t know, doesn’t feel the suffering and destruction contained within the meat, milk, or eggs that comes from animals that suffered? Would you raise an animal the way they do in a factory farm? If not, why are you willing to pay someone to do it for you?

Every dollar is a vote. When we buy a factory farmed meat, milk or eggs, we are saying with our actions “Yes. I like that. Do it again”. Tell me, do you really like the horrors within factory farms? The pollution and contamination of our drinking water? The terrible soul-crushing working conditions for workers? That our landscape is being turned into a soy and corn monoculture to feed miserable animals hidden away from our view?

Or would you rather more compassion? More kindness? Better health? Soul-enriching jobs? To spend time in intact ecosystems where you can appreciate other species in all their beauty and splendor?

I know the future I want: a future where each of us humans, and all other species, can thrive, shine, and flourish in our own unique, beautiful, and irreplaceable way. I think shifting away from factory farming helps us get to that future.

Thank you, Merci, Obrigada, Asante, Miigwetch for listening.