Gab Films produced a video of interest to past and present residents of Powell River, a town that was home in my young life. The video is about the movie theatre where I first held Gwen’s hand. Decades later, she now holds my hand.
Elsie Paul‘s segment early in the piece brought forward a junior high school memory.
It was of a grade 8 teacher singing to our class Pete Seeger’s We Shall Overcome, an American civil rights anthem. We talked about Martin Luther King Jr. being one of many arrested at a whites-only restaurant in Atlanta. King was sentenced to four months at hard labour on the charge of trespassing.
We felt outrage over this and other indignities experienced by persons of colour in the USA. For some reason though, we paid no attention to segregation in our own community. Perhaps less conspicuous, but it was real.
Powell River’s pulp and paper operation was built at the mouth of a river where indigenous people lived for millennia. In the sixties, of more than 2,000 people employed by the MacMillan Bloedel mill, almost none were First Nations people. Powell River’s highs schools were almost equally devoid of indigenous students.
Yet, most of us thought we lived in an enlightened community and were entitled to criticize American neighbours.
These are words of Tla’amin Nation elder Elsie Paul:
In 2009, Vancouver Island University announced:
Elsie Paul, known on Vancouver Island for bridging cultures, will receive an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Vancouver Island University.
Paul, 78, is known in the Coast Salish region by her traditional name, Qazustala’s, which means a welcoming person with a wealth of knowledge, someone who shares her culture.
“This is a remarkably suitable name, given that Elsie is one of the few remaining Elders of Tla’Amin First Nation who is fluent in the Tla’Amin language and who has dedicated her life to creating healthy communities through learning,” said Arlette Raean, Campus Principal at VIU’s Powell River Campus.
“She has spent her life in service to others, in a variety of forms of justice reform and social activism, drawing on traditional teachings. She has set an example in living her own life and has shared these practices through her many professional activities.”
Teaching one more lesson to us all, Qazustala’s displays not a hint of bitterness in the video: