Category Archives: Inspiration

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

Flourish Youth Centre: First Investment!!!

I was supposed to be working on my Thesis. But when Lissa Rankin’s newsletter sailed into my Inbox, I couldn’t resist reading her post. The ever-inspiring Lissa’s uber-inspiring post was about what she was going to do with Chris Guillebeau’s surprise $100 investment in each of the participants at his World Domination Summit (this is Good Domination, folks, not Dark Side Domination). He asked everyone in the audience to invest the $100 he gave them in changing the World.

Lissa decided she would pay it forward and invited everyone reading her blog post to share how they would use the $100. So I patted my Thesis on the head and told her I’d be back later, and posted how the $100 could be used to help spark one of my Dreams: to found Flourish Youth Centre in Georgetown, Guyana, for disadvantaged children and youth.

The idea is a youth centre that would provide a loving, inspiring, and enriching environment for youth. It will be a drop-in centre to offer supplemental programming to existing homes and orphanages in Georgetown (such as Joshua House, where I have volunteered).

Kids (& a puppy) at Joshua House who could benefit from Flourish Youth Centre. Sept 2011

There are so many kids out there who just don’t get a good start to life. Maybe they are AIDS orphans. Maybe they are abused at home. Maybe they live in grinding poverty.  Whatever the case, if they have a safe, loving, stimulating environment to go to, that can go a long way to helping them flourish, to become everything they can be. I want to be part of a place like that, in partnership with local friends who believe, like me, that things can be even better in Guyana.

Part of the mission of Flourish would be to help children and youth connect with the more-than-human-world, so with animals and plants. There is little infrastructure in Guyana to take care of unwanted animals, and I do not know of any therapeutic use of animals there (for example, caring for horses, dogs, and so many other species has been found beneficial to traumatized children and youth). There are so many possibilities to create an enriching environment for young people; I see especially animals, permaculture gardens, and lots of music and arts.

I see Flourish Youth Centre as part of a network with other similar organizations, projects and centres. For example, I am inspired by Projeto Sol and Boikarabelo (featured in documentary, Angels in the Dust), and the rural residence of the Dogo Dogo Centre I visited in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

Today, I was supposed to be working on my Thesis. But when Lissa Rankin’s newsletter sailed into my Inbox, I couldn’t resist reading her post. And discovered Flourish Youth Centre will get one of the $100 investments generously donated by Lissa’s readers!!!

I cried. This is the first investment in Flourish. One more beautiful step towards the Dream becoming Real.

To Lissa and the generous donors inspired by her post, thank you with all my heart and soul!

Keep Shining,

Julie

Working horses in Georgetown, Guyana, could also benefit from linking youth with the more-than-human-world through Flourish Youth Centre.

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.

Hitching a Ride to the Rally with Grandfather Commanda

The snow fell steadily as we assembled, Ogui duct-taping posts to the beautiful signs Stefan had created for our rally. As I tried (unsuccessfully) to figure out how to use the megaphone, a SUV pulled up and I spotted Grandfather William Commanda and his assistant, Romola. I raced over to greet them. We had not known if 97 year old Grandfather Commanda would be up for the journey over to join us.

Once people had their signs, we formed a circle, with Grandfather able to stay seated in the vehicle. Elder Albert Dumont gave a beautiful opening Blessing for our rally and march, reminding us to be mindful with every step we took that it was a step to help save the Forest. Paul Renaud then gave an impassioned speech, challenging the City of Ottawa to do the right thing and demand a new Archeological Assessment, which would halt destruction of the Forest until spring.

Then Grandfather Commanda prayed for the land (in three languages) and offered tobacco. Those of us who have worked together to save the Beaver Pond Forest over these months (and for some, these decades), were moved and grateful. In a letter to City Council, the Premiere, and others, Grandfather wrote that the Beaver Pond Forest is “[a] living temple, a place of Manitou, a special place of nature, and that precious reality also demands immediate protection and reverence.”

As the protesters marched off, all the more eager due to the cold, I went to thank Grandfather. I reached out to shake his hand. He took my hand… and didn’t let go! He held my hand and spoke to me mostly in French, looking deep in to my eyes with warmth and kindness. At first it was difficult to hear his words due to the good-natured clamour of those marching to the Urbandale Sales office. As it became quiet, only a few of us with Grandfather, I could hear and understand his words. But his message went beyond words. It went straight to my heart. It was about living a good life. More than anything, I felt his words validated my efforts. And this inspires me to continue to put my energy into helping nurture a sense of interconnectedness with each other, the land, and other species.

After Romola gently reminded him a few times that I was the Rally’s emcee, he finally released my hand, and they gave me a lift to join the rest of the group. But I would have happily listened to him for the rest of the day.

Many more powerful words, drumbeats, and songs were shared at the Urbandale Sales Office.  The crowd was eager to keep fighting, to keep our candle of hope burning bright for this Land. We each know Beaver Pond Forest has a powerful and beautiful energy that fuels and inspires our efforts to save it.

Elder Albert Dumont at 8 Jan 2011 rally. Stefan Thompson’s artwork in background.

Green Heron Rescue at South March Highlands

Pressed gently to my heart, swaddled in my sweater with only her head visible, the young Green Heron’s startling yellow eyes seem to hold ancient understanding of this land. She must be in pain, with two broken legs, but those eyes betray nothing. No hope, no fear, only an intense interest.

injured green heron just before capture. photo credit: Bertie Xavier

I brought my Guyanese friend, Bertie, to the Beaver Pond Forest part of the South March Highlands in Ottawa the morning of our Panel Discussion on Research, Transformation, and Indigenous Societies. Bertie, from rural Guyana, S.A.,  is his village’s leader (amongst many other roles!). It was important to bring him to this beautiful and vibrant old growth forest which is slated to be cut down by Urbandale and Richcraft to build yet more houses.   Bertie has faced similar struggles. I hope his visit will make more connections between North and South to help find ways to protect vital, irreplaceable land like the South March Highlands.

We only have time for the loop around the Beaver Pond (sadly for Bertie, no beaver to be seen). We reach the road and head back towards the parking lot when we notice a small commotion in the forest just off our path. We investigate: it is an injured bird. Bertie identifies it as a kind of heron. At first it seems like a wing injury, then it becomes clear it is the legs.

What to do?  Should we intervene?  Or let Nature take her course?  I struggle with this question. If we don’t help, is it really because “we shouldn’t intervene”, or just because we have a lunch appointment and are looking for an excuse to walk away from a fellow creature in pain?

“She’ll be fine,” offers Bertie. But I don’t think so.

“I think we should catch her.  I’m pretty sure there’s a wild bird rescue place.”

“You have things like that here?!”

So Bertie wades further into the bush and grabs the heron, which I wrap into my sweater.  It goes so smoothly, you could ALMOST be fooled into thinking we know what we are doing.

The sun shines but the breeze is cool as we walk to the car. I don’t dare take a hand off my charge, so Bertie mans the cell as I try to figure out where to take the heron.

who’s afraid of a little “incredible recoil action”? photo credit: Bertie Xavier

“Hi, we’ve just rescued an injured bird, some kind of heron…”

“OK, where are you?”

“Well, actually, I’m calling for directions so we can bring her…”

“You mean you caught the heron?!”

“Um, yah…”

“Watch the beak, they’ve got incredible recoil action!!!”

I’m not exactly sure what the volunteer means, but it sounds worrisome that only my sweater is between my heart and this “incredible recoil action”.   However, her beak is actually facing Bertie, on my left holding the cell to my ear.  I warn him, but he’s pretty confident the heron is too injured to “fight up”.

The heron is calm for the 10 minute drive to the Wild Bird Care Centre.  Once brought inside, it turns out she is a Green Heron, only the third to be brought into the Centre over the past 5 years.  I find out about the policies there: they only rehabilitate if it looks likely the bird can be released back to the Wild. Two broken legs is not good. But the volunteer tells me to call back in a few days. At the very least, our intervention means the heron will get a gentle death.

************

I call the Centre on 14 Sept, anxious to find out the green heron’s fate.

Good News!  The heron is doing well!!!   The volunteer thinks the heron will recover in time to be released for the fall migration.

But will she have a home to return to?

It’s up to you.   Ottawa City Council votes on 6 October 2010 on whether to save this land.  Please tell your City Councillor to vote FOR buying/expropriating the Beaver Pond Forest.

Beaver Pond in the South March Highlands, Kanata, ON. Photo credit Rob Hambly, HamblyPhotography

Thank you.

gift

on the morning i’m leaving Yupukari

for now

just a typical shower

then

catch breath

orange & pink beautiful moth perched

on blue shower curtain

another perfect gift

so many gifts here

can i possibly give enough back?