Friday, November 13, 2009

Salmon warriors

BC fish farm. Photo McLean's

As the middle-aged First Nation woman stood up from her wheelchair to speak, the hundred or so people in the room went mute. The tension was palpable. Somehow we knew that we were about to catch hell.

My name is Telquaa, she started with a broken voice. I don't look very strong but I like to think of myself as a woman warrior. When I was a kid I fished salmon with my mother. There were salmon everywhere. My mother would carry two huge salmon at a time on her shoulders. I never thought we would see the end of the salmon. I am happy to see so many people gathered tonight for the salmon. But you are waking up too late. Well, wake up more! Don't let that fish farm thing scare you. Your people brought this upon our people. Now you need to work very hard to bring the salmon back. You have ways, money, knowledge, legs, brains, but what you need is a heart. You have to do it for us. Our people need this bad. Help us!

After that, the only person brave enough to pick up the mike was a humbled Rafe Mair who said that this was the most important speech he had heard in years. The rest of us could only respond with thunderous applause. The last time someone spoke to me like that, I thought as I frantically jolted down what I had just heard, was Harriet Nahanee a few weeks before she died at the hands of the BC justice system.

The occasion of Telquaa's spontaneous cry for help was the premiere of Damien Gillis' latest documentary Farmed Salmon Exposed and the ensuing panel discussion at the SFU Segal Centre on November 12. This film is in my opinion Damien's best production to date. For those familiar with Damien's acclaimed Power Play series on the BC river privatization scandal, his new documentary brings a change in both scope and style.

Damien traveled to Europe and South America to get original footage and a broader understanding of the impact of the fish farm industry in countries such as Norway, Chile, Scotland, Ireland, the Shetland Islands, and Canada of course. Viewers come out of this film with two essential pieces of knowledge. Fish farms are a planetary calamity, not just a local BC one. And they are a social and economic disaster, not just an environmental one, wiping out entire coastal communities in their wake.

And why should we be surprised? If we have learned anything from the past thirty-year regime of neoliberal ideology, it is that environmental protection and social justice are one and the same struggle. This necessary convergence is brought home in a compelling fashion in Damien’s film. While I very much enjoyed the fire of his previous documentaries, I think I like this factual, analytical, almost detached style even better.

The visual drama characteristic of Damien’s work is still very much alive in Farmed Salmon Exposed. For example the last scene of the film – it’s after the credits, make sure you hang around – has a Michael Mooresque tone to it as Damien runs after a Norwegian fish farm baron asking him some hard questions and is answered with slamming elevator doors. But there is more to it than just good footage. The coherence of the fish farm industry’s agenda, its iron grip over weak governments worldwide, its relentless destruction of ecosystems and contempt for the most basic rights of workers and communities, are deconstructed in a way that everyone can understand. This makes Damien’s film an educational and thus deeply democratic enterprise.

One of the panelists, Hereditary Chief Robert Joseph of the Broughton Archipelago Territory, had the following comment for Damien: you are a salmon warrior and I thank you for that.

So true. We are a salmon nation, and I met some of its finest warriors yesterday night. Damien and Rafe Mair and Chief Robert Joseph and the other panelists. Chief Bob Chamberlin of the First Nations Leadership Council. Alexandra Morton who was not there physically but in everyone’s minds and hearts. The folks from the Wild Salmon Circle who hosted this event and are just ordinary people like you and me who became fed up with fish farm bs. And the woman warrior Telquaa, of course.

The Wild Salmon Circle people, a crafty bunch, had a surprise in stock for us. As the panelists and audience were engaged in discussion, they passed around paper and pens, and they challenged us. Write a letter to your Member of Parliament. Write it now. Yes, while you are talking and listening. Come on, you are smart people, you can multitask.

We obliged. A hundred people started writing letters on the edge of their chairs, against a wall, on a book or a backpack. “Dear Hedy,” I wrote. Hmm… “Me again.” Gawd, she must be so tired of me sending her letters about the salmon. What’s the angle going to be this time? Oh, I know! “We need to somehow derail the upcoming Judicial Inquiry to ensure that it does not turn into a polite, formal, empty legal exercise. I want you to relentlessly hunt down the Conservatives in the corridors of Parliament building and put their feet to the fire. This is not about reason. This is about force. We must force government to hear reason”, etc.

This must have been one of my better letters written to an MP, yet it took me about 6 minutes to write it. Such is the power of spontaneity. Don’t trash this one Hedy, it’s a keeper.

Yeah, I guess I must be a salmon warrior. You who are reading this, are you a salmon warrior too? Well then wake up more! Write a letter to your MP. Then post it on your Facebook. Join the Wild Salmon Circle if you haven’t done it yet. Talk to your friends and family until their ears fall off. Get up and fight!


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