Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

April 10, 2012

'People of the Water' BC Chief Rueben George at Rights of Mother Earth Gathering

Grandson of Chief Dan George: Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, People of the Water

By Brenda Norrell

Censored News

HASKELL INDIAN NATIONS UNIVERSITY, Kansas -- Rueben George, Sundance Chief and Member of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation in northern Vancouver, BC, spoke at the Rights of Mother Earth Gathering, April 4 -- 6. George, grandson of Chief Dan George, began with thanks to the stewards of this land and caretakers of this land.

George honored the caretakers of this land with a song of his grandfather Chief Dan George. His nature song is “Honor Mother Earth.” (Listen below.)

Rueben said his grandfather shared with him how to be a human being. His grandfather said, “We are the last of the human beings to follow this way of life.”

Tsleil-Waututh are the People of the Water.

He told how First Man came from wolf. First Man saw that others in creation had companions and wanted a companion. He swam to the bottom of the ocean and picked up sediment and placed this on the earth. The creator made this into woman. The Tsleil-Waututh people came from the waters and the earth.

“That is where we came from.”

Listening to the stories of other Native people at the Haskell gathering, George said, “Our stories are the same.” In 1930, 80 percent of Canadians went to residential schools. Of those, 50 percent died before they were 19 years old.

George said at the strongest point, there were 15,000 Tsleil-Waututh. Then, there were about two hundred years of the attempts to wipe out his people. The assimilation process followed, with these words: “Kill the savage and save the man.”

During the period of his childhood, Rueben George had nature and water. The children played in the water. They swam in the water and had ceremonies in the water. In the sweatlodges and longhouses, there is a connection with the water.

Describing his people relationship with water, he said it is as the ice melting into water, becoming the water. “We grew to have a loving relationship with that water.”

“That is who we are as human beings.”

George said Tsleil-Waututh men are instructed to first take care of their woman, then their children, family, community, and then themselves, while honoring their relationship with the Creator.

Serving as director of community development, he works with day care and youth programs. The people want to incorporate the values of humanity and a spiritual way of life into these programs. These values are love, honor, respect, dignity, pride, forgiveness, passion, compassion and understanding.

“All of those things make us a human being.”

“When we have those within ourselves, how can we ignore that connection with nature.”

George remembered Phil Lane Jr., who was at home praying for the gathering here. Speaking to those gathered, he said, “Wherever you go home to, I know you’ll be like a pebble in a pond and you will ripple out to the people.”

At home in British Columbia, George’s people in the area of Burrard Inlet are fighting the crude oil tankers coming from the tarsands in Alberta, Canada, and the clear cutting that is leading to the snow and glaciers that are melting.

"The most powerful thing that brought us through these times is prayer.”

Seventy percent of British Columbia citizens oppose oil tankers of the pipelines. He said if they were the owners of those oil pipelines and tankers, they would make decisions to make better choices.

The work that is underway is to maintain the spiritual connection with the land and water, and the ice melting into the water. “That’s who we are.”

He said this work of following the ways of the ancestors, is so all people can make better choices.

“It is not only for our children,” he said, “It is also for the people who are causing this destruction.” That includes the 1 percent who are making the money at the tarsands and with the clear cutting. Perhaps one day they will have that connection and not be clouded by the need for wealth and power, he said.

The greatest gift is the connection to this earth, the connection to one another, the gift to breathe clean air, the gift to drink clean water and the gift to walk upon this earth.

“Let’s go home to our territories and talk of this.”

George said for hundreds of years, the elders have told of the need to halt the destruction. Now, people are starting to line up behind Native people, with support and momentum.
“Let’s lead and let’s make something beautiful happen.”

Video recorded by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Earthcycles.

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