Say the Names...

Al Purdy wrote a wonderful poem called "Say the names say the names" which celebrates the names of Canadian rivers - Tulameen, Kleena Kleene, Similkameen, Nahanni, Kluane and on and on in a celebratory song.

Enbridge is planning to build a dual pipeline that will carry bitumen and condensate across hundreds of waterways between Edmonton and Kitimat. Some of these waterways are rivers like the Parsnip (or what's left of it), the Nechako, the Morice and others are smaller creeks whose names are often known only to the folks who live along their banks or who fish in their shadows or who bend to wash or drink as they cross paths.

I want to collect the names of these rivers and creeks, to collect your stories, your poems, your songs so we can collectively give voice to the land living under the line Enbridge plans to draw.

People have also sent me copies of their presentations to the community oral presentations. If you'd like to add your voice, email me ( your stories and I'll post them for you. The copyright remains with you.

All the best.
Sheila Peters

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ah, those beautiful names...

Thanks to Norma Kerby for her poem - a welcome response to the recent reports
of the Harper government's extensive spying on anti-oilsands groups. It's from a Terrace Art Gallery poetry anthology, The Rivers Speak, due to be launched this Friday, Nov. 22. It is a collaboration of eight visual artists and 22 poets, edited by Joan Conway and Katherine Bell. The book is being used to raise funding for the Terrace Art Gallery.

Lists of lovers

There are lists of lovers    river lovers    dangerous people
who murmur  in foreign tongues
Kitimat   Zymoetz   Kitsumkalum

They stand in front of hearings   speak to newspapers     sighing for
lovers they can never own
Babine   Bulkley   Kwinageese   Bear

Emotional people      careless dreamers of river waters rushing free
Exstew   Kasiks    Kispiox   Clore

Greedy people      they think that lovers are forever
but lovers only pass in the night
Kinskush   Kitsault   Kwinamuck   Dak

We have lists         lists of lovers     river lovers
writers of poems to angry waters
Stikine  Skeena  Spatsizi  Nass

good citizens come and go
they know that rivers    cold northern rivers   are not forever
money can buy warm embraces in
tropical seas
hotel pools gentle and soothing
whispering comforts
whispering   forget   forget   forget

But these lovers   these river lovers  northern river lovers  they cry out   they
will not be quiet   they shout  slogans   meet in rallies
never confess that rivers are lovers for moments not lifetimes

Lists of lovers   river lovers    Jim and Wade and Cheryl and Shannon       
Walter   Dennis   even Ali

We have their names.  We watch.  We listen.

Lists of lovers     who speak of rivers    northern rivers

Friday, November 15, 2013

We're all in this together - join the National Day of Action

I had a wonderful few days on Gabriola Island this past week as a guest of Save Our Shores Gabriola (SOS) and the Gabriola Friends of the Library. Thanks very much to Kristin Miller for taking such good care of me. (Thanks also to The Writers Union of Canada for funding.)

Six creative souls came to the poetry workshop in the poetry yurt, run by Poetry Gabriola,  set in the trees beside The Commons

Photo: Viviann Kuehl
The workshop was meant to inspire people to express their anger, frustration, distress about events taking place in the world. We explored some darker themes and then lightened things up by writing limericks – it’s hard to write a limerick without laughing. There won’t be any Nobel Prizes forthcoming (whoopee, Alice Munro) but it was fun.

Photo: Viviann Kuehl

Photo: Viviann Kuehl

I also gave a reading at the library from my novel, The Taste of Ashes, with a focus on the ways in which activism propels and informs my writing. Over time it has become clear that an interest in, concern about and a sense of wanting to bear witness to people’s courage are fundamental issues in the work I admire most. It’s little wonder that those same values and concerns for social justice show up in my writing. 

Photo by Liz Ciocea

And what an audience! The collective knowledge and wisdom in the room was awe-inspiring. One woman had been to Afghanistan with Global Exchange – the amazing group that facilitated my trip to Guatemala when I was researching The Taste of Ashes. 


The visit ended with an SOS Gabriola dinner meeting – a group of Gabriolans committed to preventing oil pipelines and tankers in BC lands and waters. It was an honor to be a part of their month-long celebration of Art and Activism around the island. All around us hung quilts made for the Clayoquot Sound protests twenty years ago now. 

Bravo to SOS for calling it a celebration – all too often we are taught to think of this work as negative because we’re against what industry likes to call development. Exploitation is a more accurate term. 

As well as sharing a delicious meal, we talked about the ways in which people respond to the dangers posed by our ever-increasing use of fossil fuels. How do we motivate people to act? How do we support and value people who don’t feel able to stand up and speak up? How do we support all the differing ways community members contribute on the ground (creating and maintaining a place like the Commons, for example) and in the oh-so-impure corridors of power (MLAs, MPs, larger environmental organizations, for example)?  As Bill McGibben writes in Oil and Honey, the story of the rise of the movement, environmental activism is long-term – it’s not something that’s going to get done, like that deer fence you need to build around your garden. Jean McLaren was one of the first Raging Grannies, was arrested at Clayoquot Sound and is still taking part in events in her eighties. She and Heidi Brown shared dinner with us last week; twenty years ago they edited the Raging Granny Songbook.

I was happy to tell the folks from Gabriola that in the north we, too, have people with that long-term commitment. We have young people who are being mentored by those who have been doing this work for over thirty years (with many successes) and those same young people are bringing their amazing talents to the table. 

Eight community groups in eight communities across the north are working with First Nations to stop the Enbridge Gateway pipeline; others are springing up to try to unravel the “plate of spaghetti” of proposed LNG pipeline routes; all are committed to resisting the free-for-all that is both provincial and federal government policy around tar sands, fracking and coal. 

And artists – musicians, visual artists, poets, and dancers – are standing beside scientists, farmers, fisherpeople, and others who are beginning to understand the price tag attached to fossil fuels, tar sands expansion and climate change. Artists are reading scientific reports, carvers are putting up blockades, biologists are making quilts, and poets are running for city council. And fishermen like Guy Johnston will be joining thousands of people across the country on tomorrow's National Day of Action against fossil fuels expansion. 

Find an event and get there if you can.