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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Elephant in the Room

It's been pretty quiet here for the past few months because I've been doing a book tour for my latest book, Shafted: A Mystery, helping launch a great book of poetry, Second Growth, by Fabienne Calvert Filteau and trying to keep track (and failing) of all the LNG pipeline proposals in the northwest. (Check out the Madii lii camp on the Suskwa and the No More Pipelines website for ways in which people are resisting that boondoggle.)

But I had to take the time to thank John Vaillant for his article The Gorilla on Burnaby Mountain in today's The Tyee. And of course thanks to The Tyee for being another voice in the room along with that elephant.

Vaillant argues that Canada should take a lead on alternative energy rather than subsidizing fossil fuel industries and subverting our democratic values to support their projects.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Engussi Wedzin Kwah by Jennifer Wickham

Thanks to our new library director, Wendy Wright for telling me about Jennifer Wickham's amazing poetry in I'm a Real Skin - the Smithers library has a copy, you can buy it at Mountain Eagle Books in Smithers, and you can source it from Jennifer's webpage. 

Jennifer has given me permission to post her poem about the river many of us call the Morice or Bulkley.

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 Wet'suwet'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

Engussi Wedzin Kwah!

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 very 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 time
just let me absorb the words of our ancestors
like Wedzin Kwah
but I'm not a river

I am a Wet'suwet'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 Kwah

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dakota Fracking Oil

Last year, I wrote a post, Bound For Glory, after travelling through North Dakota on our way home from southern Ontario about the visible impacts of the industry on the landscape.

Earlier this year, I went to Liz Logan's presentation on the impacts of the fracking boom in BC's northeast. She tackled the issue head-on - talking about the work the industry provides and the cost of that employment. Her people are beginning to wonder if the benefits outweigh the costs.

In Brick's winter issue, I came across an article and photographs by Elizabeth Farnsworth and Terry Evans which dug much deeper into the conflicts people are facing within families and communities about the fracking oil boom in Dakota. I was happy to find this is available online: Dakota Fracking Oil Boom.

You might want to check it out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


I came across this marvelous, terrifying poem in Brick: A Literary Journal No. 93, Summer 2014. Brick has long been one of my favourite journals. Jan Zwicky has long been one of my favourite poets. They both have kindly given me permission to post "Near" below.

You don't read poetry, you say? This will change your mind. Read in a quiet corner, read it out loud to your friends, read it even louder in the town square.Take it out into the world where it belongs. Where you belong.

Near by Jan Zwicky

It arrives. The far dream
     that terrified us—that put the steel

in our forearms, and we woke each morning
     to its distant shuddering

is far no more. Heavy-limbed, it sprawls
     across the daylight, brushes back
the damp hair from our foreheads, stares
     and laughs. And the axle of our will

is seized, the wheel splintered, an engine
     that does not, does not
turn, and when we go below decks, find
     it is missing, a hollow, a dark sift

of emptiness, and the ferry is slammed 
     against its moorings, helpless, the contagion spreading,
and the one who knows, the one who has been readied,
     is absent from the table.

Near is the hard grief, the grief
     from the pit, whose hands shake, which cannot find
the knife, which cannot stand, or kneel, or lie,
     the grief that is tearless, that gags.

The clearcut, the dead zone, the gas-contaminated
     well, the salt earth, the foreign
investment protection, the child soldier,
     the rape, the spin, the addiction

to speed, the saving of labour, the image,
     the image, the image, the image,
the genetic modification, the electromagnetic
     field, the sense of entitlement, greed. The present

is thick-lipped and stunned; it sweats. The voice 
     of the century is a wild clanking, a loose stink that lifts
and settles in our mouths. Did you raise your hand? Did you
     say something? Louder. Louder.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Chain of Hope

On Wednesday, our family gathered at my mother's home in Powell River to celebrate her 90th birthday. She's been here for over 80 years since her family moved from Shetland. Her house sits about two metres above sea level, and each day we watch sea lions, otters, summer ducks, and herons going about their daily routines. Powell River seems a long way from Kitimat, the proposed terminal for Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline project. After watching the changes in industrial forestry, pulp and paper production, the huge limestone quarry across the strait on Texada Island, it's easy to be lulled into a sense of complacency about yet another mega-project. 

People seem to survive the changes brought about by global economics; her family left Shetland because of a depressed economy. Since then the North Sea oil boom has given those islands a material wealth it never imagined. Here on the BC south coast, the near-collapse of forestry and fishery jobs has been hard for coastal communities to navigate. The most recent cuts to BC ferry schedules are signaling an end for some communities and will diminish many others as their links dwindle.

For people in difficult economic circumstances, any work looks good and there are those who think a project like Enbridge's will provide part of a solution. But standing beside the light beacon in my mother's front yard just a couple of metres above the ocean, two thoughts come to mind: climate change and oil spills. They both signal other kinds of finales - ones more devastating than the difficulties coastal communities already face. If we can't come up with a better economic strategy than shipping raw bitumen from the tar sands, we're better off without one. We're better off standing up and saying no. We'd be wise to join in spirit the wonderful women of Hartley Bay who have crocheted a Chain of Hope to symbolically block the passage of oil tankers past their village and up Douglas Channel to Kitimat:

On June 20, 2014 the women of the Gitga’at First Nation will lead a symbolic blockade against the Northern Gateway pipeline by stretching a crochet “Chain of Hope” across Douglas Channel to show their opposition to oil tankers and oil spills in BC’s coastal waters.

Made of multicolour yarn and decorated with family keepsakes and mementos including baby pictures and fishing floats with written messages on them, the chain will stretch from Hawkesbury Island to Hartley Bay, a distance of 11,544 feet. The Chain of Hope itself is over 20,382 feet long and was stitched by the women and children of the Gitga’at First Nation with their friends and family across BC and Canada.

We have stopped oil tankers on this coast for close to forty years - here's to fifty years more. Then we can celebrate another 90th anniversary. Or our children can. Here's hoping.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

ON the way to summer...


What an amazing watershed we inhabit! In the most beautiful and busy time of year - gardening, hiking, fishing, camping, birding, kayaking, and watching the bear cubs learn to climb cottonwoods - our wonderful neighbours are finding time to raise their voices.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Way to go, Kitimat!

Congratulations to the people of Kitimat who took on Enbridge and won.

What a kerfuffle! Whatever you think about the pipeline proposal, how could you not be offended when a dozen Calgarians are flown into your town to tell you how to vote? Even after all this time, the oil industry doesn't get it.

I think of the wonderful Rachelle Van Zanten song from her Oh Mother album: I fight for life.

With all my weapons down
And in a peaceful manner
I defend the land that cannot hide
from dirty policies made by the ones who squander
While leaders fight for oil
I fight for life.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

For Pete's Sake

The road to civil disobedience

Thanks to the BC Civil Liberties Association for presenting protest rights workshops across BC's northwest this week. The calm and cogent presentation outlined the laws around peaceful gatherings and what protesters can expect from police and what their rights are when the police question, detain or arrest participants.

Most peaceful protest does not involve the breaking of any laws. Marches, sit-ins, gatherings, and picket lines are legal methods of drawing public, government and industry attention to concerns about unjust laws, unfair practices, or dangerous activities. Often, in fact, it seems the public needs to organize demonstrations to pressure government or police to enforce existing laws: sawmills blow up, rivers are polluted, air quality is toxic and nothing happens until the public pressures officials to step in.

Civil disobedience occurs when people knowingly break laws they consider unjust (Rosa Parks sitting near the front of the bus) or break laws to prevent activities they consider wrong (Haida elders blocking logging on Lyell Island or Tahltan elders blocking access to the Sacred Headwaters). This has a long tradition around the world - think of Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Britain's women of  Greenham Common and BC's Betty Krawczyk. In her online article on civil disobedience Janet Keeping gives a succinct overview of the law and tradition around civil disobedience. She reminds us that "Civil disobedience has ... contributed a great deal to improving the human condition. It will do so again."

And bravo to the Haisla girls basketball they flash mobbed the Kitimat mayor.

 Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan No Enbridge Haisla Basketball Game - Dan Mesec

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What the frack?

A few months ago, I stumbled across a British blog (here in Canada, we can't say English when we refer to people from England because in our political context, English refers to the parts of Canada that aren't French) and have enjoyed its postings about the ups and downs of homeschooling a couple of boys. Selina Gough lives in rural England and describes The Mucky Root as The everyday journeys and stories of a nature loving, home educating amateur forager and mother.

Her most recent post describes a trip to the Barton Moss Community Protection Camp with her boys to support the camp's efforts to prevent fracking near the community of Salford outside Manchester. Brent Patterson of the Council of Canadians has put together a summary of the camp's activities to date - the company doing the exploration for shale gas is IGas, which, Patterson says is 20 per cent owned by Calgary-based Nexen Inc.

Thanks to Selina for taking me there. The British have a lot to teach us about long-term on-the-land protest. Selina writes:

There is a sign that declares that this camp is the frontline against fracking - and that is exactly what it feels like. I couldn't help but admire the commitment and resilience of this core group of protesters, who prefer to be called 'protectors'. I wanted to know more of who they are and what their stories were but I got a sense that for them, right now, this was the only story that mattered. We joined them on their afternoon walk-down, the boys and I, holding hands as campers and other protectors emerged from the depths of the dark communal tents and from the edges of the lane. Scattered bodies becoming one mass in front of the line of police and the slowly advancing trucks. There was no unruliness from this crowd - a little weariness, some stubbornness and a good helping of frustration but mostly just peaceful people, trying to register their objection, to resist big business and its continually callous agenda and to fight, in the only way they know how, for the very ground beneath our feet.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Peter von Tiesenhausen

from Peter von Tiesenhausen's The Watchers/Journey

It's been an overwhelming few months in the pipeline world that we're being dragged into here in northwestern BC. Frankly, it wasn't so much the JRP's recommendation that Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline be granted permission to proceed (with over 200 conditions) that overwhelmed me, but rather the plate of spaghetti that constitutes the "plans" for LNG pipelines revealed by a myriad of applications.

It's been our provincial governments touting of LNG as clean energy, even though it is a fossil fuel that has an enormous carbon footprint.

Most particularly it's the knowledge that LNG pipelines = fracking and all that entails: fracking both in ever increasing amounts in the beleaguered northeast, and inevitably (well, not really, I refuse to accept that) into this part of the country.

It's times like this you wonder: what is the point of writing poems, stories, and songs, of creating images and performing acts of wonder, love and encouragement? We're toast, we're hooped, we're fracked.

But then I remembered Peter von Tiesenhausen and cheered right up. He's a visual artist based in northern  Alberta whose work challenges the way in which the fossil fuel industry wreaks havoc on our idea of home: In a review of his work in Canadian Art, Robin Laurence writes: 

The petroleum industry, of course, casts a long shadow across the region. One of von Tiesenhausen’s legal strategies for resisting the industry’s incursions involved making a claim of copyright to the land on which he has installed a number of his environmental sculptures. It’s the land he grew up on, the land that used to belong to his parents, the land on which he and his family live and work.

Laurence goes on to discuss the way von Tiesenhausen creates alternative ways of seeing home: 

As Peter von Tiesenhausen tours me through “Elevations,” his solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie, it is difficult to gauge whether he is more invested in the work on view here or in the new Demmitt Community Centre, an hour’s drive away. The internationally acclaimed environmental artist and activist talks about each—the art that symbolizes a spiritual journey, and the community centre that he has been instrumental in creating—with equal pride, passion, humour and angst. His conversation reveals how his art practice affected the way the community centre was conceived, and vice versa. Some of the images and materials in his mixed-media show, which functions as a mid-life meditation on creative aspiration and the making of meaning, are directly connected to the realization of the building.

Community = the land itself and the creatures that live on it, in it, with it, from it - including people. 

von Tiesenhausen's work includes the evocative The Watchers/Journey and the inspirational Passages. The Watchers consist of a group of charred figures which crossed Canada from 1997-2002, moving from exhibition to exhibition - a spooky and powerful presence wherever they stand. 


Passages charts the course of 100 tiny boats filled with earth from 100 different spots between the Bow River's source and Calgary after their release into the river in 2010. 

Seeing images of the hands holding out the tiny boats and letting them fall into the river reminded me of Ali Howard's first leap into the Skeena near its source in the Sacred Headwaters. Art and action bring us together and give us courage. Thanks to all of you who keep our hearts whole while we struggle to slow down the craziness.

The petroleum industry, of course, casts a long shadow across the region. One of von Tiesenhausen’s legal strategies for resisting the industry’s incursions involved making a claim of copyright to the land on which he has installed a number of his environmental sculptures. It’s the land he grew up on, the land that used to belong to his parents, the land on which he and his family live and work. - See more at:
The petroleum industry, of course, casts a long shadow across the region. One of von Tiesenhausen’s legal strategies for resisting the industry’s incursions involved making a claim of copyright to the land on which he has installed a number of his environmental sculptures. It’s the land he grew up on, the land that used to belong to his parents, the land on which he and his family live and work. - See more at:
The petroleum industry, of course, casts a long shadow across the region. One of von Tiesenhausen’s legal strategies for resisting the industry’s incursions involved making a claim of copyright to the land on which he has installed a number of his environmental sculptures. It’s the land he grew up on, the land that used to belong to his parents, the land on which he and his family live and work. - See more at: