Archive for the ‘Indigenous resurgence’ Category

Festival culture: Building Pacific community

I’m very proud to work with Pacific Peoples’ Partnership, a local non-profit dedicated to supporting the aspirations of South Pacific islanders and helping build Indigenous linkages across the Pacific. This year, we celebrated our 40th anniversary! To mark the occasion we held our 22nd Pacific Networking Conference and 8th One Wave Festival.

I wrote this article about One Wave Festival for a special edition of Tok Blong Pasifik, our journal of news and views on the Pacific. One Wave is coming up again on Sept. 10-11th, 2016! Stay tuned and follow us on Facebook!

All photos credited to Mark Gauti (see more photos of One Wave at his Facebook page)

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Warless getting the crowd worked up!

I’m a big enthusiast of festival culture, which is why I love being part of One Wave: I get to co-create a festival that inspires people to get involved in making change.

I first became acquainted with PPP when I was hired to coordinate the second One Wave Festival six years ago. Since that time, the Festival has seen an incredible array of arts mediums, from slam poetry and storytelling to South and North Pacific dance and drumming, reggae shows, hip hop jams, art exhibitions, participatory art projects, theatre, chalk art, live painting, and traditional carving. It’s been a place for emerging artisans to sell their natural and locally-made products.

We’ve showcased an eclectic mix of artists—traditional and contemporary, professional and emerging, North and South—sharing thought-provoking performances. We’ve opened up space for dialogue about colonial histories, cultural appropriation, social justice, climate change, and our shared oceans. We’ve developed a diverse network of followers and our youth-driven committee has learned much from our mentors, our Executive Director April Ingham foremost among them.

One Wave aims to build Pacific identity and community, nurture changemakers, and engage youth. We utilize the power of the arts to inspire action on shared concerns and issues that affect the peoples of the Pacific because we recognize our communities are interdependent. We do this by creating a celebratory and inclusive atmosphere and modeling a positive vision for change.

What makes this festival unique is that it’s about sharing cultures: honouring diverse voices while creating unity in celebration of what we all share. As visitors and settlers, we have a responsibility to care for the land, the water, and our communities with the leadership of our Indigenous friends and neighbours. PPP and our partners are part of a solidarity movement—one wave—connecting the North and South Pacific.

This was never more clear to me than this year at our 8th annual festival, our largest production yet as we combined it with our Pacific Networking Conference. A major theme was Indigenous cultural resurgence, with inspiring speakers, artists, and filmmakers. A boundary-pushing performance by Anneda Loup and Coast Salish artist Francis Dick showed how artistic collaborations between Indigenous people and settlers can be a powerful community-level approach to reconciliation.

One highlight that really captivated the audience was 14 year old Ta’Kaiya Blaney of the Sliammon Nation and Kalilah Rampanen, of Cree heritage. The girls sung and spoke passionately about climate change and the importance of keeping cultures alive.

This year we were particularly honoured to have the blessing of Elder Joan Morris of the Songhees Nation, in addition to our friends Augie Thomas and the Esquimalt Singers and Dancers who regularly open our main stage as the event is held with gratitude on their territories.

Interactive installations, an arts station, and roaming human-sized puppets invited community members of all ages to be participants rather than simply observers. Centennial Square has become an important venue for One Wave because it’s very open and accessible—it’s a way for PPP to raise our profile with members of the public who wouldn’t have necessarily known about us. Over the years, we’ve engaged thousands of people and also raised our profile in the non-profit community by providing an important platform for social, environmental, and Indigenous organizations and local artisans to connect with the public too. This encourages a needed spirit of cooperation among our interconnected areas of work at a time when limited funding can drive competition.

Through it all, we’ve been committed to a goal of Zero Waste, showing that festivals don’t have to leave a negative environmental footprint. In fact, they are perfect places to model ecological citizenship (while having a blast!)

This festival would not continue to happen without immense contributions from our volunteers, staff, contributing artists, funders, partners, and supporters who keep showing up year after year. I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved, and I’m excited for what we will create together in 2016 and beyond.

volunteer team at VEC

 

 

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Living the New Economy

An industrial landscape has dominated the part of Songhees territory known to most people as Vic West for at least a century. In its heart, there’s an unassuming and drafty brick building called the Roundhouse. Now surrounded by high-rise condos, it’s slated for redesign as a marketplace to serve the swelling crowd of urban dwellers. Over seven days in December, where railway workers tinkered with the train cars of a century ago, a new economy was being midwifed into existence. “Living the New Economy” was an exuberant convergence of visionaries and idea jammers who are working together to create and articulate this new economy.

Living the New Economy

The old economy is crumbling: globally, this has been obvious since at least 2008. The old models just aren’t working anymore, and many have started to realize they probably weren’t worth saving in the first place.

What does the new economy look like? This city’s dilapidated heavy industrial base is being transformed into a burgeoning knowledge economy of tech firms and services. In Victoria, at least, the trend isn’t toward globalized chains and big box stores: it’s small-scale entrepreneurs producing high quality goods for a niche market. It’s local renewable energy projects like the Art Turbine that are not only functional, but are truly pieces of art. It’s an explosion in DIY culture, with creative startups like the Makehouse and the MakerSpace, where makers of all sorts will share tools, resources, and knowledge. Or Remove and Reuse, an online hub where upcyclers and artisans can share salvaged building materials and reduce the need for consuming new. It’s people realizing that together, we can achieve so much more:Raven Wireless, a proposed nationwide co-operative telecom company, hopes to provide an alternative to the “Big Three.”

The new economy tastes like dark and thick microbrews handcrafted locally. It smells like locally cured and smoked meats, crisp vegetables harvested within a hundred miles, and specialty baked goods prepared in Victoria’s proposed new food hub, a shared kitchen space for local food producers. I took part in a collaborative session to redesign the downtown core with hubs for enjoying these delights together, in community. The vision is to create a vital space where people “live out loud.” In the new economy, shopping isn’t a substitute for this kind of creativity. The new economy feels like community being built in a thousand different ways. The Fernwood Urban Village cohousing project and O.U.R. Ecovillage are reclaiming what it is to be in community, while creating options for community to invest in community. It’s individuals moving their money to credit unions, which in turn reinvest it locally: Vancity’s support of “social purpose real estate” is a great example. It’s people stepping up to lend to each other through the Victoria Community Micro-Lending Society. A new Community Investment Fund being launched in 2014 by the Community Social Planning Council (CSPC) will finally give people an option for local retirement savings investments.

This is the power of raising local forms of capital: putting our money where our homes are. CSPC’s Sarah Amyot says that redirecting even 2 percent of the investment money that flows out of this region every year would allow us to reinvest 7.5 million locally.

But why does this seem so revolutionary? In the past few decades, we’ve made it virtually impossible to invest locally. People who are interested in doing so (apparently a very high proportion of investors) are discouraged by their advisors, who say there’s no money in it. Not so, says Stephen Whipp, a specialist in socially responsible investment. By grabbing the reins of large capital and redirecting it into local projects, Whipp says we can generate good income and make good local projects happen at the same time.

Yes, the cost of living is high, and most of us don’t have much extra cash lying around for making big investments. But we need to understand the incredible privilege we have in this region – despite the struggles – and recognize that we have a responsibility to use this privilege to make changes in how we act in the world.

Critically, it’s acknowledging that many of the struggles we’re facing – and the privilege we have – are a result of living in a colonial system. Without a radical shift in the Indigenous-settler relationship, colonialism can simply be re-entrenched by such new forms of ownership and economy. So asking for and supporting Indigenous leadership amid these rapid changes is going to be essential. This recognition was embodied at a session called “Indigenomics,” where we learned from Indigenous women that have modeled leadership in redefining what economy is. As Carol-Ann Hilton of the Indigenous business group Transformation pointed out, a new economy questions the pathway by which we came here: who was left out? Who’s included in the new economy? And will it be a decolonized economy?

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Ana Maria Peredo, Director of UVic’s Centre for Cooperative and Community-Based Economy, pointed out that the new economy is the OLD economy – and the REAL economy. It needs to be reclaimed from its brief sojourn into global market capitalism. There are many kinds of economy – green, sharing, collaborative, gift, social – that can bring value to society.

Peredo shared a story of a visit she made to an Andean village in Peru. Arriving hungry, she went to try to purchase some food to eat. Although she could see plenty of people with food, nobody could sell to her: for them, money wasn’t worth using because nobody needed it to meet their daily needs. People would ask how it was that, in their poor country, everyone had a home – yet in our rich nation, so many are homeless.

In most of the Western world, the economy is framed by those in power as the overarching structure of existence. As Peredo pointed out, the “modernization theory” of development says there’s only one way to approach economic development – and that’s to submit to the global forces of the market. This ethnocentric model perpetuates a narrative about developing an “entrepreneurial spirit” among Indigenous people that assumes they have none.

Meghan Champion of Cowichan Tribes debunked such mainstream myths. In her culture, Indigenous people have always had a very strong entrepreneurial spirit. Trade and forms of currency have been a feature of life on this coast for thousands of years. The potlatch ceremony was, in her words, a form of investment through a system of debt obligation and relationship building. The way people earned prestige was not by accumulating wealth, but by giving it away. As Champion points out, it’s pretty hard to practice your culture if you don’t have an economy to sustain it. But one thing that makes this new economy distinct from the old one is that reputation is key: in the age of social networking, it’s a lot harder to hide when you rip someone off. It’s about building relationships.

It’s with this in mind that Champion created the Cowichan Tribes’ Tetla Dollar. Community currencies keep value circulating within the community, rather than flowing out. Lately, the’ve been springing up all over the region: SeedStock in Vancouver, Salt Spring Dollars, and the Comox Vally Community Way. The fully digital Vancouver Island Dollar is in the process of being launched.

“Living the New Economy” aimed to be a living example of an economy that encourages us to redefine value locally and build inclusive community. After each session, people could receive 100% of their money back with no questions asked; they could hold with the original ticket price, or they could add an extra donation if they felt the event had particular value. Or, they could exchange the full dollar amount for the same number of Vancouver Island Dollars.

As permaculture designer Ethan Roland told us, we need to reclaim the real meaning of the word “entrepreneurship,” which is simply “to take on a project.” In the Andean community-based economies, Peredo says, the community acts collectively as both entrepreneur and enterprise. In this regard, it’s about every single one of us considering ourselves entrepreneurs.

One part of this involves changing our unhealthy relationship with money. And I don’t just mean becoming less driven by it. I’m also talking about the revulsion to money that many “do-gooder” types have: the way that when the word “economics” is used, many of us plug our ears. I’ve always had an uncomfortable relationship with economics. I don’t really understand it, and I know it causes a lot of harm these days. I also know that some kind of economy is essential.

We’ve forgotten that money is simply a tool – a very useful one. At “Permanomics,” a session linking permaculture and economics, Roland showed how redefining “capital” can allow us to meet human needs while increasing the health of ecosystems. Roland identified eight forms of capital: living, material, social, experiential, intellectual, spiritual, cultural, and – of course – financial. Understanding these many forms of capital can help us see how the system functions as a whole, and where the leverage points for creating society-level changes are. Roland says we need not abandon financial capital: we can use it to cultivate other forms of capital that it has been decimating of late. Financial capital can grow or decrease, as long as shared cultural capital and living capital (Earth’s life systems) are being regenerated.

Regeneration, as opposed to the much-abused word “sustainability,” was an overriding theme throughout the week. Through new kinds of enterprise, we can not simply sustain, but regenerate our communities and the natural world. It’s a tangible shift in what the economy looks like – social finance, green buildings, cooperatives, and cohousing projects.

But what’s going to truly make the difference is a shift in the interior dimensions that what we can’t always see: the stories, the culture, and the values. It’s the community.

Kat gratefully acknowledges a prize from SFU’s Certificate Program for Community Economic Development, which allowed her to attend the week of events.

PowerShift: Unleashing a New Generation

Meet Ta’kaiya Blaney. At 12 years old, she’s the face of the newly unleashed chapter in the movement for climate justice. This past weekend, over 1000 youth and elders converged on the unceded Coast Salish territories commonly known as Victoria to participate in the biggest climate summit in BC history. Though many who attended the opening night of PowerShift may have been drawn in by the chance to listen to David Suzuki, it was Ta’kaiya who won everyone’s hearts.

ta'kaiya

From the Sliammon First Nation, Ta’kaiya captivated the crowd with her remarkable voice, singing an Indigenous welcome with her aunt Rose Henry, a local Indigenous activist. With steady strength, Ta’kaiya spoke of her own motivation to protect the lands of her ancestors from toxic pollution. She ended the night by belting out her own original songs like “Earth Revolution,” backed by Vancouver-based band the Boom Booms in an example of what can be possible when Indigenous and settler energies are joined in creative solidarity.

This is why PowerShift was a milestone in the fight for a clean, safe future for our communities. The history of rocky relationships between environmental groups and First Nations was summed up by Janet Rogers during the Idle No More rally at the close of the weekend: “Don’t poach us for your issues and then forget about us when we need help.”

The event was far from perfect, of course. But PowerShift was built on the recognition that this movement must be Indigenous-led and anti-racist at its core. Not only is it simply the right thing to do based on the historical dispossession of First Nations, but there’s a recognition that their rights and title are increasingly the only legal force standing in the way of more dirty energy projects in BC.

So we listened to youth voices from the front lines in the north. Voices like 19-year old Satsi Naziel, who has been successfully blockading pipeline development on her ancestral territories by building a community with traditional pit houses and permaculture gardens at the Unist’ot’en camp. Or Caleb Behn, a young Dene hunter who went to law school to fight dangerous fracking operations in the northeast, now ironically silenced from telling much of what he knows about the industry as a result of his career choice. Or Melina Laboucan Massimo, a Lubicon Cree who witnessed the destruction of her lands when 4.5 million litres of oil spilled into its wetlands and river systems, exacerbating the epidemic of rare and unusual cancers and other health problems faced by her community as a result of tar sands development. Melina lost multiple women in her life this year, including her little sister, to the violence against First Nations women that is a sad reflection of structural injustice and the violence reaped on the land.

As we bustled from one workshop to another on the UVic campus, I couldn’t help but think about these stories. I was uplifted to see so many youth younger than myself at PowerShift – not just the “usual suspects,” but many privileged high school students and undergrads wanting to get involved, a large number of whom were obviously being confronted with the idea of decolonization for the first time. This was one of PowerShift’s real successes.

Another of PowerShift’s real successes was the diversity of content. I gravitated toward the skill-building workshops, which included topics like non-violent direct action, community oil spill response, investigative journalism, working effectively in organizations, and practicing self-care. All pretty positive-sounding. But I found that even in these kinds of sessions, which were meant to be empowering, a lot of energy was spent on problem identification, leaving little time to get down to business figuring out solutions.

I met with my friends to debrief and compare notes. It seemed that this experience was a common thread. All the stories of destruction were wearing people down. It was a microcosm of the constant tension many of us feel in the work that we do: how can we strike a balance between being fighting against the urgent problems and working to build the solutions we so desperately need?

There is no final answer to this question, only a lifetime dedicated to that careful dance. But ultimately I did find some answers at PowerShift that stoked my motivational fire. For one thing, it was clear that people want more permaculture, so I’m going to keep throwing my energy into building that community. For another, this weekend empowered me with the knowledge that I, too, could step into more of a leadership role, and I know others felt the same.

Most importantly, though, the space was created for people from all backgrounds and corners of this province to meet, build relationships, and strengthen our community. It counters the feeling of isolation this system breeds – the sense of being alone in a huge struggle that powerful interests rely upon for their success. This was only the first of six regional PowerShift events to be held across the country. When you want to build a movement, you have to think in much longer timescales than our instant-message generation is used to. And you need to take the time to define the problem together. Seeing Indigenous youth and elders who have endured this destruction of their heritage for centuries, now reaching out to take our hands and share their songs with us, was a historic moment. Our willingness to be present and bear witness to their struggles was, as Indigenous hip hop performer JP The First Lady told us, “real reconciliation.”

legislature rally

The weekend ended the way it had begun: led by Indigenous women singing a women’s warrior song to the beat of their drums. But this time, they shared it with us. As a visitor on these threatened lands and as a woman angered by the authorities’ neglect of the countless missing and murdered Indigenous women from coast to coast, I was honoured to be invited to sing their song. On the steps of the legislature, on the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, we linked arms to say “No” to pipelines, supertankers, tar sands, and fracking, and “Yes” to a new generation of relationship.

Because it’s not a Right or Left issue; it’s not just a “Native issue”. As Maude Barlow and so many others insisted this weekend, it concerns every single one of us. Because we all drink water, and we all breathe air.

Top photograph courtesy of Priscilla Skylar Lee
Bottom photograph courtesy of Zack Embree @ zackembree.com

talkin’ story

It’s been a week of rich cultural exchange, and I haven’t even had to leave home. We’ve been hosting the Global Vigil Fire, a semiannual gathering of energy workers and shamanic practitioners who come together to light a fire that lasts for three days and is mirrored by similar actions around the globe to weave their energies together for the benefit of the world. Despite days of pelting rain and intense windstorms, they managed to get the fire roaring and welcomed us Hui folks to join in. We got a chance to listen while the local Hawaiians were “talkin’ story.” Hearing about the history of the island as passed on through the generations, I understood more why the people on Molokai are so dynamic and strong-willed in maintaining the culture and undeveloped nature of the island.

After the fire lighting ceremony, in which we all offered a blessing or intention into the fire, a Hawaiian energy healer and close friend of the Hui began the first session by toning with the participants. Zelly’s didgeridoo was covered from head to toe in a single snake skin, and she moved slowly as she sent the deep vibrations of the didge directly into the hearts of each person in the circle while others drummed. She played beautiful old Hawaiian songs on the ukelele and helped people to interpret their experiences so far in some of the sacred places on the island.  The wild winds we’ve been having here this week didn’t seem to surprise Zelly in the least: we found out that there are hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Hawaiian names for different winds on this island.

Later, we returned to listen to more Hawaiian music under the stars. We had heard that Lono, one of the island’s finest and most known musicians, loves to talk story so much that his music tends to become a side act. This was just fine with me, as I sat with ears wide open listening to fascinating stories of Lono’s life and of the land and people. Lono’s grandfather was a Menehune, the little people of legend who were the size of dwarves and who lived deep in the valleys and forests of the islands. With heavy lava rocks, the Menehune were said to have built the island’s more than 60 massive fishponds centuries ago, the remnants of which are still visible today just offshore from Kaunakakai. This amazing feat of human organization and cooperation allowed the Hawaiians to corral ocean fish into the huge enclosed area to catch them more easily.

Lono’s deep spiritual knowledge of the island has been passed on to him over several years through the teaching of one of the old kahuna (powerful Hawaiian priests). The Hawaiian spiritual traditions recognize three levels of being: the subconscious, the conscious, and the superconscious. It is said that Molokai is the belly button of the universe, and correspondingly it is recognized as the spiritual centre of the islands. Way back around 600 AD, the Hawaiians built the Ililiopae Heiau, a learning and teaching centre. Kahunas from all the different islands would travel there to be tutored in the sacred Hawaiian ways. Lono told us a story of the attempted Tahitian invasion of Molokai around 1100 AD. After successfully invading the other islands, the Tahitians turned their boats toward Molokai. But all of the kahunas came down from the mountain to the shore and were able to use their collective spiritual force to turn back the Tahitians before they came ashore, protecting the people and the land. With this rich history of responsibility to the traditions and sacred places, the people of Molokai have much to be proud and protective of. No wonder they’re so willing to put up a fight when more contemporary powerful interests come to town.

Molokai is also the birthplace of the sacred tradition of hula, said to have been passed down from the goddess Laka to her people. The hula tradition was shared by DJ, another Hawaiian who also has both Chinese and Japanese ancestry, which speaks to the diverse cultural dimensions that characterize Hawaiian reality. The conventional image of hula–wide smiles, carefree ukelele music, and a context of performance/entertainment–is a contemporary adaptation that evolved alongside the tourism industry. In contrast, the traditional way involves chanting and drumming. Smiles are scarce as each movement is made slowly with great intention, representing a particular element of an ancient story or spiritual expression. DJ gracefully weaves old tradition with modern aspects, playing Molokai music created by Lono and using traditional gentle movements to tell a story. Through the hula, we learned about DJ’s life. At the end, he offered gifts to everyone in the circle. Each of us received a long, magnificent pheasant tail feather–a collection he had been keeping for a long time in anticipation of the right moment. Each person also received a bag filled with five things: a shell, which represented his sister; a kukui nut, which represented his father; a grain of rice, which represented his mother of Chinese heritage; a macadamia nut, which represented his other sister; and Molokai sea salt, which represented himself–the protector of his family.

These offerings reached into us with the knowledge that we are all one interconnected family. This week reminded me that though spiritual beliefs and expression can be vastly different from one person to the next, it is possible to come together in our diversity to celebrate and learn from each other, and to share a common vision of peace and light in the world. If we can learn anything from Molokai history, it’s that collective intention has the power to make peace a reality.

Below are some shots of DJ doing the hula and sharing music..

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These are some shots of a hike Marc and I took on the cliffs… a few mushroom friends below:

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A really cool tree we found – its trunk separated into branches that rejoined together into one solid branch..

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Marc overlooking Kalaupapa, standing on a tiny outcrop attached to a 2,000-foot cliff

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Rainbow over Kalaupapa

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Late afternoon sun looking west along the faintly visible cliffs

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Cutie patuties

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Moi

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Another beautiful tree in the late afternoon sun

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Me staring in awe at the famous phallic rock, a sacred site on the cliffs where many a couple has spent a night and woke up expecting a child. We didn’t stick around very long…

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The Makahiki, hellos, and goodbyes

It’s been a busy week here at the Hui. I feel as though I had barely settled in before things started changing again. Connie left on the Maui ferry on Monday to return to teach a course on Vancouver Island, so I’m officially The Gardener now. In just a few short weeks, I’ve gone from total novice to managing a full-scale garden and seed house providing gourmet food for a well-to-do retreat clientele and I’m about to jump into 10 days of leading a garden work camp team. Whew! And I have Connie to thank dearly for this. I’ve learned an incredible amount of knowledge from this expert who has been not only my teacher but a mentor, roommate, and friend. It was sad to say goodbye, but I feel very prepared to take on this exciting challenge and I am looking forward to continuing to learn from my work here and from Connie in the future (check out http://www.gardensonthego.net/apps/webstore/products if you’re looking for a great garden course on VI, or if you want to do an internship like me here on Molokai next fall/winter!

On Saturday, we spent some of our last down time together watching the Makahiki on the playing field in Kaunakakai. Here’s one description of this old Hawaiian tradition: “The Makahiki is a designated period of time following the harvesting season when wars and battles were ceased, tributes and taxes were paid by each district to the ruling chief, sporting competitions between villages districts were organized and festive events were commenced.” What a beautiful tradition to be able to halt conflict and celebrate in community. I feel like there’s something that other cultures can learn from this! It was an amazing sight: graceful hula dancers in flowing white with long, wild hair; elder women in colourful flowered dresses, drumming; youths holding long poles draped with ceremonial cloth. During the opening ceremony, three men in white loincloths with traditional tattoos stood in the centre. Groups of kids from different schools took their turn singing in procession and handing the men gifts of sacred plants and traditional foods like taro. In slow ritual, the eldest man received the gifts, who handed them to the next-eldest man, who handed them to the youngest man, who placed them among a circle of rocks as an offering. The most surprising part was the last group to pass up an offering. Three officers in naval attire brought up a gift to be placed among the others. The stark contrast between cultures and yet the beauty of this symbolic gesture of peace was astounding.

It was an incredible honour to be able to watch this annual celebration of a tradition that is strongest on Molokai. Kualapu’u school, a mile from our home, is the only public school on the islands that has a full Hawaiian immersion program. We watched and the children screamed as little first graders went head to head in traditional games. In one game, two children held up one foot behind their backs with one hand, and locked onto each other’s palm with the other hand, each trying to cause the opponent to fall or to drop the held foot to the ground. This is the 32nd year of the revived tradition, and our hearts leaped when the MC took to the mic to talk about this year’s theme: food independence. He spoke of the issue that Molokai imports nearly all its food, which is not only difficult to afford, but increasingly unreliable: “We need gardens, and we need them in schools to teach our keiki how to grow their own nutritious food.” It’s truly a time of awakening here, as it is in other parts of the world that are realizing our food system is cracking.

Reinvigorated by this marker for cultural revival and resilience, and motivated by Connie’s imminent departure, we put in long hours doing last-minute instruction in the garden. I learned about irrigation, sheet mulching, banana harvesting, and macadamia nut cracking (what else would you expect in Hawai’i?) It felt really satisfying doing some final walk-throughs of the garden together. This month has been tough on the plants, heavy harvesting coupled with the nematodes and short day lengths has resulted in little growth among our salad greens. But it’s incredible that after every rain, the whole garden looks bigger. There is some kind of energetic enhancement a rain imparts that just doesn’t happen with irrigation. The same goes for eggshells, as we found out when Connie decided to try loading them around the broccoli. The first time it happened, both her and Sabine were shocked to see the plants stand up straighter. I tried it myself the other day, and sure enough, within just a few hours the slightly wilty plants were taller! As the day lengths get longer, we can tell the plants are already starting to grow faster again. It truly nourishes the soul to watch a little seed grow up into a beautiful, strong plant.

I’m also looking forward to some nourishment from the human realm. Tomorrow, our household of twelve staff will swell to thirty-four people, as the Great Fullness Winter Camp is upon us. Twice a year, the Hui hosts friends, family, and past retreat guests for ten fun days of working on team projects, building, planting, painting, co-creating, and sharing. Needless to say, my posts might be slim for a while. With four of us on the garden team, I hope to finally get ahead of the game and able to breathe for a bit afterward, because as soon as it’s over, another person is joining the Hui family: my wonderful partner, Marc. He’ll be here for two months working on the native plant restoration project. I’m counting down the days soaking up gratitude that we’ll be able to be in this place together, and amazed at the possibility that this experience is about to get even better!

Connie and I in the native plant nursery, with the shadehouse in the back:

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The Makahiki opening ceremonyImage

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Vandana Shiva vs. Monsanto

Aloha ‘aina. These words represent a deep component of the culture in Hawai’i–one that the speakers talked about passionately at the energy festival. I like this quote that gives a brief explanation of the concept:

Aloha ‘aina means love of the land. It is the profound respect we have for Hawai’i and the care we take to protect our Islands. Aina means that the land is the source of our food. In that sense, then, the land is what gives us sustenance; it is Hawai’i that sustains us. We who live in the Islands walk upon its earth, breathe its air, drink its water, and eat the food it provides. Hawaii is within us, a part of us.

What became, under development pressure, a call to reclaim Hawaiian land for the benefit of the people is now being used as a call to move toward a sustainable future. It’s a call increasingly heard across the globe, regardless of language or cultural difference. This was made clear yesterday by one of the most powerful and inspiring leaders on my radar: Vandana Shiva. Dr. Shiva is an Indian physicist, author, philosopher, and ecofeminist–and one of the most outspoken critics of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). She was in Honolulu yesterday speaking about aloha ‘aina at a rally in favour of labeling foods containing GMOs–if you have ten minutes to spare to be incredibly inspired, check out this video.

Did you catch what she said about Monsanto being Hawai’l’s biggest employer? Well, on Molokai this is a fact of life. When I first considered coming here, I had no idea I would be living so near the belly of the beast: with its small, remote population, Monsanto has taken advantage of the high unemployment on Molokai and now produces GMO seeds here to sell to farmers on the mainland. The eerily perfect, thick rows of corn, all genetically identical, stand out starkly against the hills of red earth and dry brush on Molokai. Workers in neon safety vests move through the rows marked with “No Trespassing” signs. At Monsanto HQ, dozens of huge white trucks and shiny new SUVs are parked neatly. A few doors down, giant painted signs read “Monsanto, get your toxic chemicals off my land!” Incredibly, the corn rows end just metres from the edge of town in Kaunakakai. In the neighbourhoods beside the fields are apparently the cheapest homes for sale on Molokai. It seems no one wants to live near the pesticide spray.

From the same company that brought us controversial chemicals like DDT, agent orange, bovine growth hormone (injected into dairy cows) and PCBs, Monsanto is probably the single largest threat to global food sovereignty. Whether it’s suing North American farmers when its seeds contaminate their land (sounds a bit backward, doesn’t it?), contributing to an epidemic of suicides among Indian farmers (Shiva pegs it at 270,000 in the past 15 years), causing birth defects and driving farmers off their lands in Argentina, causing horrifying tumours in rats, or financially controlling politicians and university researchers, (the list goes on….) Monsanto is hell bent on controlling the global seed supply–on which the global food supply rests. The company and its products are so reviled that after the earthquake in Haiti, Haitians burned seeds donated from Monsanto rather than planting them. It hired the infamous Blackwater mercenary army to infiltrate anti-GMO groups. Most recently, Monsanto donated a whopping $8.1 million to support the “No” side in the California referendum to make GMO labeling mandatory, which ultimately failed. Any company who bullies farmers into the trap of using its harmful pesticides and its patented RoundUp Ready seeds–and then takes them to court if they try to save seed from the crop–is a huge danger to global food security, biodiversity, and human health.

Monsanto is a very common topic around here at the Hui. Many have very strong feelings against the company, but it’s clearly a very complicated situation on the island. How can you effectively resist a force that is providing an income to your aunties, uncles, perhaps brothers, sisters, and parents, when jobs are so hard to come by?

And while GM corn usually ends up in Hawaiian households as high-fructose corn syrup and other additives in unhealthy processed foods, genetic modification has reached some of Hawaii’s major food plants. It turns out that about 80% of Hawaiian papayas are genetically modified. Articles claiming this “saved” the papaya export industry don’t mention the widespread contamination of backyard gardens and organic papaya farms–which can make them lose their certification.

From what I’ve heard, it sounds as if Hawaiians really began to get upset when scientists began pursuing genetic modification of taro. Taro is an ancient cultural staple considered to be the family of the people. Taro is such a culturally and spiritually important plant that the Hawai’ian word for family, ‘ohana, is derived from ‘oha, a part of the plant: as shoots grow from the tuber, people grow from the family. This starchy root crop, pro-GMO scientists have claimed, is “weak” in the face of pests. But as Connie pointed out the other day, taro survived being brought here in canoes from the South Pacific and supported a population in the hundreds of thousands. Though times have changed, I have a feeling taro doesn’t need scientists to mess with its biology in order to maintain its existence.

On a broader scale, Hawaiians–and Canadians, and all humans–have a big choice to make. Do we allow corporations to profit from messing with our biology, or can we maintain our existence without mutilating our food? I don’t want a laboratory controlling my food supply–which is a major reason I’m here at the Hui learning how to grow my own food organically. In the video, Vandana Shiva tells a story of visiting Italy as the economy collapsed in Europe. A political official took her to see what had happened in Rome: gardens had come up, and young unemployed youth had become seed savers and gardeners. Here’s my favourite quote from her speech:

“In the making of your own food is the making of freedom.”

the energy of this island

Yesterday I experienced firsthand the colourful and dynamic community on Molokai, famed for its seeming love of controversy. The day did not disappoint. Connie and I went to the Energy Festival in Kaunakakai, the main town on the island. The organizer was I Aloha Molokai, a grassroots group that seems to be a voice for a myriad of development concerns, including plans for an industrial scale wind turbine project. But wait–isn’t wind a progressive, “clean” renewable energy? Well, along with problems like noise pollution, endangerment of native species and sacred sites, increases in electricity rates, and decreases in property values, the main issue on Molokai is who controls the development, and who will ultimately benefit. It turns out that the energy would not be destined for this island at all, but for powering Oahu’s bright lights in the tourist hub of Honolulu. No wonder the locals are pissed.

Here’s what their response looks like: a cheery group of people of a variety of ethnic backgrounds wearing grass leis and Hawaiian shirts, engaged in passionate, articulate discussion about Molokai’s energy future and the sovereignty of the Hawaiian people. I discovered that the entire island’s electricity is produced by a giant diesel generator! No wonder people are looking for island-based solutions. A guy from the Big Island recounted the horrors of industrial geothermal development in his neighbourhood. In short, don’t try to build a ‘closed-loop’ system full of heavy metals and toxic gas beside a residential neighbourhood in an area of constant volcanic activity (in Canada, steam geothermal doesn’t pose the same risks, but it’s salient to remember that a one-solution-fits-all energy policy just won’t work).

One of the talks was a group from the Quechan Native American tribe, who discussed their experiences challenging a big wind farm slated to be built on the graves of their ancestors. As the Idle No More movement gains steam on the mainland, I have to reflect that from a historical perspective, it’s only very recently that panels of Indigenous movement-builders would talk openly about the occupation of their lands and the need for education and the reclamation of their culture, and that a crowd full of haoles (white people) would show up to listen with nodding heads. Though there is a long road still ahead when it comes to justice for Indigenous peoples, we have to stop and celebrate such successes. There seems to be a complicated tension here between Indigenous Hawaiians and haoles that I’m only just beginning to understand, but parallels can be drawn with the challenges in the territories I’ve resided in over the years. Poverty, abuse, and addiction live here–as they do in every community, but like back home, their cruel touch seems to be more pronounced among the Indigenous population. The destructive legacy of colonialism is alive and well here, but there are a lot of inspiring native Hawaiians I listened to yesterday that are motivated for change–frequently using words and concepts from their own language, they are serious about keeping their culture alive. And there does seem to be a lot of haoles who are committed to changing the dynamics of this relationship for the better.

In fact, there’s something everyone seems to be able to agree on: solar energy. If there’s one thing Hawai’i has in copious amounts, it’s sunshine. Even the smallest homesteads by the highway have rickety solar panels on the roof. Although solar is not without its problems, the technology is moving incredibly fast, and many on the island are poised to take advantage of this. At the festival, we examined a working homemade solar hot water heater, built with salvaged parts. From what I heard there, the major appeal of solar is that it empowers people. Instead of giant wind farms or dangerous geothermal plants owned by people who don’t have to live with the local consequences, solar allows people on the island to become more energy independent. A few speakers hit on a subtler effect of this kind of independence: the will of an individual and of a community gains strength, and becomes a more difficult force for outside interests to trample on.

I promised pictures, and I figure it would be fitting to share some of Molokai’s glorious sun. Here are some favourite sun shots from my beach adventures this week.

 

This is Pohaku Mauliuli at sunset (I mistakenly called it Kephui beach in my last post)

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These are from Mo’omomi Preserve at sunrise. The world’s highest coastal cliffs are just barely visible in the background.

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ImageThis is Papohaku beach, Hawai’i’s longest white sand beach.

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