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On the Greenpeace ship MV Esperanza, we are a combined crew and delegation of 36 individuals, from 14 various countries. We are bonded by a cause, and by a mission: to bring attention to Shell’s Arctic oil drilling plans, and to try to stop them.
I am one of six Indigenous delegates on board, and we add our own distinct languages to the musical mix here. My language is she shashishalhem, Taylor speaks Squamish and Audrey speaks the downriver dialect known as Hun'qumi'num', the language of the Musqueam. Victor L. Thomas, the Haida delegate speaks his language and sings all of his Haida songs, translated from stories of his people and the connection to the land and sea. Robert Holler is Anishinaabe and Michael Auger, the videographer is Cree and also speaks his language.
The cultural diversity represented on this ship is nothing less than phenomenal. I am learning so much that I wish I didn’t have to sleep. We truly are People of the Rainbow or as I would translate into my language skalamixw ?e te sachi.
Life on the boat is an adventure. It is our third day and so far people are so generous with their time and expertise. The cultural teachings of the Indigenous delegation are rich and I am so fascinated to connect with the other cultures, and both discover and confirm our common beliefs and values about the land and our relationship to the land.
It’s also an education. Information sharing amongst the crew about the environmental movement, ship protocols, sailing and life in general is continuous. In daily contact it is evident that the bond between the Indigenous delegates and the crew is strong and growing. People talk about their parents, their children and their families— all the people that are important to them but that that they have to leave behind to do the work for Greenpeace and for all of us.
During the first day at sea, both Victor and Robert shared a sacred pipe ceremony with the crew. It was a moment for our Indigenous delegates to share in ceremony, our deep and sincere gratitude for being on this trip. Our role is to support the communication and awareness of the impacts of oil. This includes ongoing climate change and the risk of increased tanker traffic that Shell’s Arctic plans bring to the coast— which will result in a potential or even inevitable oil spill along our coastline, including the Salish Sea the waters that as a shíshálh, Coast Salish person, I am born to protect.
There was an oil spill recently in English Bay and the response was dismal. Already, just a few days into the trip, we can imagine what it must be like to live a life with Greenpeace: mission-based travel and adventure rooted in firm protocols, and complete with immense responsibility related to safety, conduct and communicating the cause.
This ship is home to a friendly and kind crew and they work steady. Everyone has a set of responsibilities to fulfil, and when the crew is not working in their specific roles they are teaching us the skills required for the Esperanza.
Yesterday we learned knot tying. Everyone does chores immediately after breakfast at 8 am. Yes, every corner of the ship is swept, mopped and whipped down. This is the ship of the people and it must be thoroughly maintained, we have been told — a concept easily translated and understood by us Northwest Coast people as we too are taught to treat our canoe, our crew and equipment with the utmost respect, even reverence.
Today doing chores has been difficult as the boat rocks continuously on its way up to Haida Gwaii. My stomach rocks with the waves. Sweeping the floors is difficult and I feel like a rookie trying to be nimble and somewhat mobile.
One of the crewmembers shared with me that being on the open ocean, via the Esperanza, is an adaptation that you will eventually adjust to. This brings some relief to my bruised ego, as I stagger around the ship, attempting to be both productive in my task and responsive to the big grey ocean with its rolling waves. I think to myself for a brief moment that just maybe I have a small hope, an aspiration to have a future role with Greenpeace, and then I immediately think of my husband Larry, my two children Elias and Talaysay, and the profound love and attachment I have for them and our life in North Vancouver.
This work is adventurous and it is a personal sacrifice to be away from ones family and friends. Greenpeace . . . these people are awesome.
Oil being shipped down the coast is the big issue, and it is a strong stand I know I must take. My Nation, the shíshálh (Sechelt) people are committed to clean energy and have taken measures in our own community to restore local habitats that have been degraded by over-harvesting and disregard for the importance of the ocean and land. This is why I am here, away for 10 long days from my dear family, friends and my small tour company Talaysay Tours.
When I left my husband, who knows me so well, he was excited and happy for me and he said with sincerity, “I hope you don’t get too homesick, babe.” Yes, I am a wee bit home sick, and today a little bit sea-sick. But I am just as determined as ever. Stepping outside my life of relative comfort is necessary and it is a privilege to be on this campaign People vs Oil. I have Esperanza in me – hope!