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Yakguudang

by Patrika McEvoy (Nisga’a and Tsimshian and Haida)

Artwork by Patrika McEvoy. "My design of Raven bringing us light during the times of darkness with this proposed project for windfarms."
Artwork by Patrika McEvoy. "My design of Raven bringing us light during the times of darkness with this proposed project for windfarms."

I am Goot-Ges from the house of Txaatanlaxhatkw. My mother’s people come from Gingolx, the village of skulls of the Nisga’a Nation. We are people of The River. The river that gives us life, salmon, crabs, and halibut. My father is Tsimshian and Haida. I don't hide any part of who I am because of the historical trauma we have survived from contact, religion, the Indian Act, the anti-potlatch law, the creation of reserves, and residential schools. My great Nonny told us all, after we survived all of this, that they will come for our food sources.

We are Salmon people.

We are obligated, by our birth, to be responsible for the protection of our lands and waters. This is a responsibility we cannot ignore. Our ancestors, since the last ice age have occupied and lived off these unceded lands and waters. Each mountain, river, stream, and estuary has a spirit. We are all people of the land.

Salmon habitat is very unique; an estuary is like a nursery for the salmon. Around Lelu Island, on Flora Bank, there is a very delicate and interconnected habitat. For over one hundred and twenty generations, our Nations have lived in this coastal rainforest. Thousands of species have lived here too, and our relations with the animals of the land, sea, and air is that of respect. We have clans or tribes that we belong to. On the mainland the four main crests are: Raven, Eagle, Killer Whale, and Wolf. I'm Ganada: Raven. My father is Laxgiibuu: Wolf. In Haida Gwaii there are the Ravens and the Eagles.

My bloodline has a history connected to the spirit of these lands and waters. Goot-Ges is the history of my family. A Nisga’a princess named Lootkiska was kidnapped by the Haida to marry one of their Chiefs. She was taken to Haida Gwaii, and became pregnant from her new husband. She was well taken care of, but still longed for her people of the Nass River. She planned to escape when it was near time to give birth to her child. When she gave birth, she had a baby boy. As she was planning to escape and return home, she decided to pull out some of her hair and tie it around the baby's penis, for if she was caught, they might kill the newborn as he would be an heir. That's what Goot-Ges means: to pull hair. The woman did make it back home, paddled all night and day across the Hecate Straight in a cedar canoe. Everyone in my family today who has a name, our names connect together to tell the journey of Princess Lootkiska.

Today, all areas of where my bloodlines come from are under threat of industrial development. In Haida Gwaii, we have the strongest winds in the world. A corporation called Naikun Wind farms plans to put up 200 wind turbines in the Hecate Straight. The location they are looking at is rich crabbing grounds; all our seafood comes from there. My Nonny Lavina said “If the government wants to kill a people, they will go for their food sources.” Normally you would think renewable energy is good, especially considering Haida Gwaii is on a diesel grid, but this proposed project will not power Haida Gwaii. A cable would run to unceded Tsimshian lands and waters to power Exxon Mobil’s WCC Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) export facility. This project is vital because if they don't have green energy to power these facilities, the higher the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be. One project is proposed to emit 5.86 million cubic tones of GHG emissions every year.

The Haida Nation is currently opposed to both LNG and Naikun Wind Farms. The other pipeline project proposed to come to the northwest coast of BC will have an export facility located on Lelu Island. This pipeline will run through the Nass Valley to end at Lelu Island. Although the Nisga’a Lisims signed a pipeline deal, not all Nisga’a citizens support the project. We have too much at risk.

In Haida, we have a word, Yakguudang. It means to respect all life. The salmon was a gift to the people of the northwest coast thousands of years ago. We were in famine. People were getting weak and starting to die off. The animals took pity on us and Ermine brought the salmon to the people to keep us alive. This is why you see Chiefs wearing the small long white fur on their cedar hats. To always remember, if we lose the salmon, we lose our sustenance. That's one of our stories. So today, we are Salmon Warriors. All different kinds of clans, tribes, people from all Nations gather to unite, to work together to protect our environment. This is our living history.

We are all Salmon Warriors.


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