First Peoples

Idle No More

The Idle No More movement has my full support. Incredibly enough, the Prime Minister of Canada and his Indian Affairs Minister, both tasked with the care of the Queen’s subjects and her lands, hold a different point of view. Maybe they don’t understand history. The Prime Minister of the English Queen’s Canadian dominion, for instance, claims to be a Christian man. How he reconciles that with his intensive militarization of Canada and a rewriting of Canada’s history to align it with the views of its military and royalist elites, I have no idea. I doubt that he has ever been to the site below, because it has been so forgotten it’s not even on the map…

siebenkopf The Base of the Phallus of Siebenfelsen, Yach, Black Forest

When the Germans moved into this valley on the edge of the Roman fortified border, the celts moved up into the hills. Things stayed like that for a long time, until the celts were eventually assimilated. This is the bottom skull from the pile of stone skulls which makes the phallus of the large, multi-figured temple site at Siebenfelsen. At first glance, it looks like a random pile of stones. It bears a message, though: we stand on the graves of our ancestors. It bears an alternate message, for those who can hear: we are all Indigenous. To people worshipping other gods, even the Christian God, this kind of material would have seemed demonic. We can move on and look at it clearly now.

The ongoing relationship between Christians and Celts eventually was resolved. In one way, the old Celtic worship of life spring from the dead and of vines bearing fruit into the sky, became the German wine industry…


Crows Resting During the Morning Vineyard Snail Feast Kaiserstuhl, Germany

A bit of German technical brouhaha added to a bit of Catholic symbolism added to a bit of roman ingenuity added to a bit of celtic worship of the wild vines on these hills, and you have Riesling spätlese mit prädikat in a tall brown bottle spattered with sparkly labels even a crow would love.

In another way, Christianity took over the forms of worship of the ancient world…


Icon of Christ, Görlitz, Lower Silesia

My family’s homeland is in the coal fields of Silesia. It was the Golan Heights of its day. In the 1920s, African soldiers of the French Foreign Legion rode through the streets on horseback and attempted to keep the peace between the Poles and the Germans with horsewhips. This stupid behaviour led to a brutal war and the death of Silesia as a homeland. This Icon could only come from Silesia, where East met West: a Russian Orthodox art form, made out of Silesian coal, representing Christ in the place of his mother, learning from God to offer Catholic bread and wine, created out of the ancient, pre-Christian religious symbols of Eleusis. The devotion with which an article like this was carved out of coal was the main point of the art form, and is devoutly non-Catholic, as was its message of rebirth. I include it here because it shows how traditions blend. That is, at best, the way of peace, not of war.

In the collapsed economy of post-war Silesia, in which communists and nazis fought it out daily in street battles, my grandfather, Bruno Leipe, with his name on a Nazi death list, decided it was time to join a commune in Canada. In keeping with German communism, it was a very religious affair, just given a new, non-Christian and non-communist form…


Bruno and Martha Leipe and an Unknown Man

Sharecropping for the Casorsos in South Kelowna, 1929. The best model for this situation was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. This, however, was not California. When the economy collapsed, Casorso wrote off their bill at the company store so that they would have the money to keep going. Importantly in this, the Casorso family had been working these fields since they followed Father Pandosy three generations before. Here we see Bruno and Martha and a part of their tomato crop. I think it would be safe to say that Bruno and Martha entered the message of that Silesian icon above, in a manner that maintains the celtic-German and polish-German cultural unions that lay behind it. They show that even on this continent that degree of accommodation was humanly possible — even if broken by financial speculation in distant centres.

This tradition of unification continued, with the agricultural development of the entire Canadian Okanagan, and large parts of the American Okanogan as well. European crops were planted on native land, and in the industrial metaphor of the time created both orchards, a culture, and food. One of the last surviving orchards from that time looks like this…


Royal Gala Apple Orchard at Winter Solstice, Bella Vista

Despite the industrialization here, something of a worship of the land, and of human resurrection through it, remains. Currently, for example, this orchard is farmed by a Sikh family, who have brought to it their own dreams of land and the wealth, both social, spiritual and economic, that can be created by working with it.

And then something happened. Specifically, Canada became an urban nation, recolonizing its land from central urban engines, at the same time at which Indigenous peoples, long shut out of industrial agriculture and its largely Christian metaphors and long victims of a policy of cultural genocide that was its mirror (and was even run by the Church), began to find their voice. The results are a tangle of competing values, written like protest slogans on the land itself…

P1330685 Snya¿stán Centre, West Kelowna

This is the land of the Westbank First Nation, set aside as a fishing and hunting site and now rented out on long term leases for wineries, strip malls, boxstore malls, hotels, restaurants, and vast retirement villas decorated to look like a piece of Toronto. The Indigenous root of this aesthetic is not the land so much as the annual ceremonies of gambling and aesthetics by which North American peoples once settled their affairs.

The Canadian Prime Minister and some (only some) Indian Bands would love to see more of this: Indian Reserves turned into urban corporations, leasing land to ease the land-ownership pressures of the Canadian economy. It contains contradictions. For one thing, those pressures need to be politically addressed, rather than just given escape valves at the expense of the land. For another, here at Okanagan Falls … P1330678 Syilx Statue, Christie Memorial, Skaha Lake

… a Syilx man celebrates the return of the salmon (held back still by the dam just out of sight in background left of the photograph), while White culture celebrates the sun by lying in it half naked.

Even if both cultural groups, Syilx and White, were to get what they want out of this political compromise, they would remain distinct cultural groups, even more separated than were the celts and Germans of the Black Forest long ago. Those groups had the land in common, and a common Roman enemy (which, nonetheless, they eventually assimilated). What contemporary groups have in common is a concept of contemporary politics, centred in urban images, and extended into the land, using the land to support its own purposes. That might sound workable, but this is what it looks like:P1160919

The Rise

Two thousand acres of the last grasslands in the Okanagan, at the mouth of a sacred Syilx valley, on land disputed still in the Land Claims process, in danger of being completely overrun by weeds because the Ministry of the Environment has seen 96% of its capacity gutted since 1990, dynamited and bulldozed into building lots, most empty, on a pyramid scheme of ever-increasing housing values, purchased by oil people from Edmonton as short-term investments, not in land but in social and economic relationships, bankrupted by the American Housing Crisis, and now 75% empty. No one lives here, and the land has been removed from the people forever. The honesty of this picture allows for a reconsideration of all of the history of Canadian occupation of this place: even though Bruno and Martha and Casorso and Pandosy before them moved into their images of paradise and gave their bodies to them, completely, there was within that an unstated destruction of other relationships to the land in favour of using the land to represent contemporary economic pressures. What gets passed on to our children in this fashion is as much those economic relationships as the spiritual ones, and so the human story narrows, rather than expands.

The land has become a resource, to be developed into a mirror for economic relationships to central areas of power. It does, of course, still contain within it lesser threads of power, with connections to the earth, natural forces, and deep spiritual connections, but history has shown that the ones that have triumphed under Canadian administration are those that destroy the earth and rewrite it as an urban space. There is great beauty and strength in urban spaces, but to recreate the whole earth in their model is asking for trouble, at worst, and a terrific gamble at best. Even the Syilx of West Kelowna are playing that game now and the Queen’s Prime Minister wants that economic success to be written across the rest of the earth under his dominion as well. In this context, a context of redefining Indigenous relationships to the earth and society within the context of a political system based on private land ownership and the transformation of land into a mineable resource in the construction of a virtual rather than a physical country, the Idle No More movement has to somehow find its way. That is a daunting task. For the moment …


… the locals are able to sift through the empty houses on the hills, through a network of empty lots and narrow riparian corridors, but there has been talk of late of shooting them all, because they won’t move out of the way when elderly people go out to walk their lap dogs. I have deep respect for elderly people, their dogs and their relationships, especially when they choose to be a part of this land. If we’re not all on a road to becoming Indigenous, we are on a road of destroying the earth, no matter how we mask that with fancy words. Canada may have once been a beacon of hope in the world. Now it is a chain of twenty cities redefining the earth in their own image and freezing that land within images of somewhat dysfunctional contemporary political structures. In that context, for me, Idle No More means that when the choice has to be made I will stand on the side of the earth, and other people who stand with Her, every time. It also means that I will look at history in its fullest scope, rather than how it looks this week.

1 reply »

  1. Well said – it is a fragile condition that so many live in with all of the forced migrations that have disconnected us to place. Agriculture has in many ways become a mining industry and “development” a series of environmental disasters. And yet there is the generosity of indigenous wisdom and the living wild. Thank you for adding your voice to the ever present voice of the earth that those with ears may hear…

    Appreciate the perspective on the Black Forest – have never been in this body – but one of our family ancestral threads goes back to Swabia in the Black Forest – while many more are Celts of the British Isles…

    My teacher Whis Stem Men Knee travelled in Ireland with his grandparents in the 1970’s and they made deep connections connecting their own Northwest Coast indigenous spirituality with that of those on the West Coast of Ireland…

    While many may not have knowledge of Indigenous roots few have chosen ‘civilization”. War and survival have made so many of us participants… Surely we will all flourish when we align our inhabitations with biological reality instead of the arbitrary lines made by those with the most capacity for violence.

    May Canada get the gift the First Nations Idle No More movement is striving to bring to the land and her people!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.