In the summer of 1996, a benefit for the Ts'peten Defenders was held at La Quena Coffeehouse, in Vancouver, BC (Canada). The following is a transcription of a speech made by Ts'peten Defender MARY PENA at that event. Other speakers included:
Percy Rosette, Shuswap Faithkeeper
It seems such a short time since we were up there at the lake, but it's going on five months. But it seems like everything is just starting for us. The courts that we were in Friday, we were there to set the date for our trial, which that didn't happen. They want to have our trial in Surrey. We figure that this is the way the government is still going to make it harder on us, because the most of us come from up towards Kamloops and the Caribou area. Even ?? that was asked by the lawyers to have a change of venue to Kamloops because of the hardships that would be caused for us, to have to come all the way from the Kamloops area down to Surrey, they were not concerned, the judge was not concerned about our hardships, saying: oh well, what the hell. And it seems like this has been going on for us since we came out of the lake -- the hardships that they've put upon us. We always seem to be watched by the police; wherever we stay, the police are parked somewhere on the road, watching us.
Why we were there at the lake -- it was not for ourselves, not for glory, not for money, not for any kind of recognition. We were doing this for our children and our grandchildren and our future generations to come. We figured that this would help our people along in waking up and starting to realize what the government is doing to our people, what they've asked the chief and band council to do to the people, because the chief and band council were put there to cause our people to suffer. I'm not condemning all of the chiefs or band councils, because there is some of them that are starting to wake up and to stand up.
Well, we were up there at the lake -- it seems like it's just happened yesterday. It's because you cannot forget what the R.C.M.P. and the army or the SWAT team or the goon squad, whatever there was out there that surrounded us, that circled us there. We always hear -- like we can sit down and watch T.V. and watch and listen to the gun battles that go on on your television -- this brings back all the memories of what they've done, or what the government has done, not only to us defendants who were in the lake, but to all of our people, the Indian people throughout the land. Everything they done up there at the lake and are still doing today was illegal: all the guns that they used on us, all the (?) that they used, all of the stun bombs that they used -- we know now this was illegal, all of that was illegal for the government to use on the Indian people. But yet they still condemned us, they were put there to massacre us.
We still ask: what is Wolverine and his son doing locked up in jail? Because they're there for attempted murder. Who was trying to murder who here? Who was trying to massacre who here? It sure wasn't us. We stood there and defended the land and defended ourselves. What else could we have done? Was to stand there, and to allow them to mow us all down, to walk all over us, to kill each one of us? We were willing to stay there; as Wolverine says, we were willing to come out of there in body bags. That' s how strongly we believed in freeing our people. This is how strongly we believed in giving a second chance to our children and our grandchildren and our future generations to come.
This was a time we prayed and fought for freedom, liberty and justice for our people and our children. Because so many of us that were there, we had to give up our families to be there because we believed in what we were doing there. We believed in our culture, we believed in our spirituality. We believed that we could give a little bit of future for our children. That's why people who condemn us, they should go out there and start trying to fight for our people, before they start condemning the ones that were trying to stand up for the rights of all the children.
It's so very, very hard to look out to these reservations, and watching our children. Since we've been here for our court, we've been staying out here on the Capilano with some friends over there, and to see the children there, and then to see the city that surrounds their reserve, it hurts your heart to see the people and the children wandering around, seeming like they don't know where to go, or what to do. They're surrounded by drugs, alcohol, everything that the government could think of to destroy our people, that's what he's doing here today. We walk down on skid row, we walk down there, watching the Indian people down there, laying on the streets. We watch the young girls, or young children down there selling their bodies. This is what the government has done to our children. It hurts so much as a mother to look at the children out there that are hurting and are suffering. And all we could do was to sit back and pray and to watch, and pray so hard that the Indian people all rise up and wake up, to start going out, start supporting themselves and not so much dependency on the whatever the government hand-out that he has to give the Indian people.
The Chilcotins, my sisters and brothers up there are standing up to the government, they don't have no recognition for the "treaty" negotiations that are going on. So the government has condemned them, as stopped their medical. Anything that's got to do with any government hand-out, that has stopped. Now they have to learn to go out and survive; this is what each one of us that have to stand up against the government, these are the things that we have to learn to survive. Because it seems like that's all we have out there now, the Indian people, is survival, to learn how to live, to learn how to get our dignity back. This is what the government took away from us. He took away our dignity, he took away our culture, he took away our spirituality, he took away our children.
That's why myself, as a mother, I do not recognize the school system. Because what I told the government -- I was taking my daughter out of school -- I told them: "I'm asking you for my daughter back. I want my daughter back and I want to teach her myself." And when I told them that, they said there would be people coming around and picking up my daughter, which never happened -- that was seven years ago. I do not teach her anything in school, because I don't have no education myself, but we teach her her spirituality, we try to help her in her language, we help her how to survive off the land - she smokes meat, she helps smoke fish and she's a sundancer -- these are the things our children need to know, because this is what has destroyed our people right from the beginning of time and is still destroying our people today, is education and christianity. This is what has hurt our people from the beginning and is still hurting our people today. Because look what they have done to us: they drug us off to schools, put us in these insane asylums they call the residential schools to screw up our minds, to take away everything that we had, and the ones that could survive are out here fighting today -- and the ones that could not are down there, laying down on the streets.
So this day, I ask all of the Indian nations that we should all come together and work nation to nation -- we cannot work band to band, because we'll never win that way, we have to work nation to nation: this is the only way that we'll ever win and beat the government. And this we have to do to survive. Look what the government has done to our people; look what he has taken away from our people, and look at what he's still doing today. That's why we have to stop and wonder why is our children down on the next block or the next house, drinking and taking drugs; why are they down there hanging themselves, killing themselves, shooting themselves.
This was a plan the government had to do to our people: it failed when they brought the blanket of diseases over to kill the millions and millions of Indian people that they have killed. That didn't work; that did not kill our people. Because we're still living today. And now he's brought in another thing that will try to kill all our people: his alcohol and drugs. These are the things he's trying to do to our people today.
And putting our Indian people on these bands -- they call them bands, they call them concentration camps, because this is where they put our people to depend on them. You go on every reserve; they put them on such small spaces that they can't even learn to plant any gardens or can't even grow anything. Because all of our ancestors, if we go back in time and we think back in time, this is what our ancestors done. They work the gardens, they lived off the earth, they lived off the deer and the moose and the fish. But today, how many of our people can go out and do these things? They depend so much upon the towns that they go in. They depend so much on the poisons that the Safeway and Overwaitea give them, and the poisons from the cattle that they eat, the beef that they eat is more poisonous each day. To kill our people. And everything that you see that you get from town is destroying us a little bit at a time.
That's why we have to learn to go back to our old way. We have to go back to our culture and our spirituality. We have to learn to take back our children from the government and teach them ourselves. If that's what you have to do to if you so want your children to have an education which the white man calls, you take your children home and teach them at home. Because then you know that they wouldn't be forced to do the things that they forced them to do while they were in school. I was told one time that an Indian person never supposed to be in a classroom. Why do you think they put so many windows in a classroom? And then they seat the Indian children by the windows, so they could yearn to be outside there and be free. I was told by the same person that the children never supposed to be in a classroom, they're supposed to be our there, being free, like the Indian people are supposed to be. This is why I ask each one of you that you really think hard about what is really happening and start opening up your eyes to what's really happening.
We thought that when we were up there at the lake that it shook up the world, we were told. I was praying hard that it would shake up all of the Indian people throughout the land and wake them up and what we were doing. We were not ever doing that just to be funny or nothing like that. We were very, very serious in what we were doing, and we prayed hard each day as the sun rose in the morning and the sun went down in the evening.
It doesn't matter what they used on us up there at the camp, their fifty-calibers, their machine guns, their bombs. They could never hit none of us, except one of my daughters that were there, she got shot in the arm. So this is why we have to start to practise our spirituality, because if we did not believe in our spirituality, we would never have survived what they put us through up there. Their plans was to starve us, their plans were to drive us insane because of the airplanes and the helicopters that were going day and night. This is what they were meant to do, and this is why the strong belief that Wolverine, Jojo and each one of us that were there, the very strong belief that we had inside of our hearts and our spirit -- this is why we survived. Because anyone else who went through what we went through there would have been massacred. But that power inside of us, that spirit inside of us brought us through what we had to go through.
We were told that a sixty-three year old man was chased by bison, this is Wolverine, a sixty-three year old man they said could outrun a bison that goes 120 miles an hour. And yet he's in jail for attempted murder. We always prayed each morning as we rose up that all the most powerful warriors that went into the next world would come to each one of our warriors that were there and work through them to bring our people out of the bondage of the government that's holding them.
Myself and my partner, Percy, we stayed up there in Ts'peten for seven years. We stayed across the lake from our Sundance grounds. This is where we stayed. And the two years that we stayed on our Sundance site, they burned down our council house, our ceremonial house, our home. This is what they have done to us in there. And then they told us that we were hunting them in the night.
This is what the strong belief that we had in the animals -- in the night, they're the ones that protected us there, and they helped up there in the night. Because every time a bomb would go off, you would hear the coyotes out there, running. This is why we pray very, very hard to the animals, because we knew that one day we would have to ask them for their help, and that's what they done. The owls would tell us at night which direction someone was coming in. And even the crow that we condemn so much, wherever there was a lot of them making a lot of noise, we knew somebody was coming in there. Even after that we kind of gave thanks to their cows even, because even their cows turned against them, you know because everywhere we seen a cow running we knew somebody was out there in that direction.
So this is why I always say, you believe in yourself, you believe in your spirituality, you can make it through anything. And I always know that one day, as one big nation, the Indian people, no matter what nation you're from, are going to all come together, doesn't matter how far away you come from, we were told by medicine people that one day, no matter if you have children that you have never seen in your life, that you gave away or they took away from you, when that time comes, those children are coming back from where they were born. That's why I always encourage each one of you to take very good care of your children and teach your children the way to be an Indian, because that's what they are, they'll never take that away from them, they'll never be able to take their dignity and their spirituality away from them again. That's all I have to say.
Before my father, Chief Dan George, died, he asked, he didn't tell me, what I should do after he leaves, he asked me, he said, "I would like you and your brother to carry on what I tried to do some, and that's unity and brotherhood and love among all our nations". (applause and drums)
And, my dear friends and relatives, I said, "No problem, Dad".
He said, "I thought you would say that". And he says, "When I'm gone and you look upon my grave some, you can say, 'Well, the poor old bugger sure tried'".
And I told him, "I wouldn't say it in those words Dad." "Well," he said, "it doesn't matter how you say it, son, that's the bottom line. I don't want to leave this world, not because I'm afraid to die; I'm afraid for our people. Who's going to love them? Who's going to guide them? Who's going to stand by them? And who is going to speak for our people? This is why I do not want to leave. My voice is my only weapon at my age, and I'm going to use it for my people to my last breath. And then after I leave here, I'm going to pray for our people, because I was told that love goes on forever."
So, dear friends, our leaders that love and work and speak for our people know how our situation is. Now, spirituality was mentioned a lot. If we unite and pray together, this is where our power is going to be.
I was asked to be the guest speaker when Justice -- I hate to say that word before his name -- Allan McEachern made the decision and told the Gitksan, "You have no aboriginal rights. Go home and enjoy what you have."
And I was invited to what was going to be a happy reception at the decision that was going to be made that day. And when I reached the Harbour Centre, there was a multitude of people, twice the number I see here, and it was more like a wake, instead of a happy reception. And there was a number of speakers in the front row, waiting to be introduced, and God help me, I didn't know that I was going to be the first. And I was to be speaking at a happy reception. When I was introduced, I went to the microphone and I said, "Do you love our Creator?"
"Yes," everybody put up their hand.
I said, "Do you love each other?"
And they said, "Yes".
"Then why are you crying?" I said, "Long after Allan McEachern is buried and dead, the Gitksan will still be up in their Gitksan country". (applause and drums)
And believe me my friends, they're going to be there until the end of time! Why? Because we have the connection we need with our Creator, and our love and affection and unity, and our love for each other! (applause and drums)
And if you of the Defenders are great fighters for our future, our children are going to follow in your footsteps, and they'll carry on the same fight! (applause and drums)
And every day, more they'll know where we come from. Our warriors and our braves and our people in the early days were the greatest. And we still are. (applause and drums)
And like my grandfather and my father before me, one day they reached the age where they had a hard time to stand up like I'm doing here now, as long as I have a voice and a breath within me, I will speak for you. I will tell you how we should unite and love each other and our Creator, the master of life and death above all of us. And He's always been with us. Our Creator is our culture. He understands our language. He knows that all we want is what is ours and justice. And sometimes I think we're the only people who know what justice is. (applause and drums)
He gives us the freedom to believe or not to believe. Then when he tells all of our society we have freedom of speech, they even abuse that. Even the media that we listen to, the television that we watch, all they know is how to tell lies. And I told the Defenders, "What I heard about you, all you are is a bunch of renegades". I said, "I know the story. I have (??) pages, a typed-out letter, why and what you were doing. I was just sorry that I was so far away. I would have joined you along with my drum and make my noise too.
So, dear friends, the bottom line is, we have a lot of hope and we have a lot of faith for your people and mine. As long as we love our Creator and each other, there will always be justice for you and for me. And if we have a hard time fighting for what is ours and for justice, our children will follow. And then when we leave, they'll continue. Maybe we'll have to do this. But if it leads us on the path of healing and the path to the happy hunting ground that was prepared for you and for me, and then I say, we don't have any problems, because I pray that you will one day meet your forefathers in the happy hunting grounds, and from tonight on, I'll continue to pray for this.
And in praying for you, I will one day join our forefathers, and then, what can I lose? I cannot take the land with me, and even this wallet I have, which has two dollars in it, I can't take that with me either - in fact, I told my wife, "Even if you put that new shirt on that I'm saving," I said, "I won't be able to take that with me either". But if it's the love and the unity and harmony that I've been trying to share with you, if I can take that with me, then believe me, I'm going to continue doing it. Thank you.