A Re-occupation in Xwisten – Indigenous Struggle for Home on Sovereign Land: By Kaleb Morrison and Christine Jack
As the leaves started turning in St’at’imc territory it became apparent that the logging company was not going to let up and might try to come in during the winter. Christine Jack responded with a vow that she would not leave the re-occupation that had become her home and would stay through the snow. This set plans in motion for a winter cabin. Many hands came together this past fall to build a home on sovereign land.
On March 16th of this year there will be a feast and gathering in celebration of the one-year anniversary of this re-occupation. Last spring, Christine Jack’s elders asked her to make a stand at Oollous (Junction Creek), a traditional gathering place of ancestors, to halt destructive logging and renew traditional ways of living. The cabin she is currently living in is small, but it is a roof while traditional housing is decided upon and built. Christine knows about the struggle for housing and has a lot to say about the state of housing on reserve and how it connects to what she is doing at Oullous (also known as the Voice for the Voiceless Camp).
Christine grew up in the Lytton area, a small town on the Fraser River about 250 kilometres upstream from the coast. As a child she experienced directly and personally the effects of the Indian Act and it is this legislation that becomes a theme throughout her story. The Act, created in the 1860s, enforced governing structures on Indigenous communities in the form of band councils, and also outlined the land available to these communities by implementing the reserve system. Christine’s family was dispossessed of the land they had lived on for generations because of rules within this act. Neither of her parents were passed down land and this resulted in 7 moves in the first 7 years of Christine’s life.
As a young woman with two children she worked tirelessly towards getting a house built and paid for on the Xwisten (Bridge River) reserve. Christine had no choice about the house to be built nor the way it would be paid for or cared for. After 25 years of paying off her house that was built to the infamously low standards of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), she still, in essence, has nothing. Reserve residents who have “paid off” their homes cannot sell it and often are fearful of losing it for one reason or another. Christine blatantly calls the whole system “a trap”. She says the band works to instill fear and dependence in community members; she likens the situation to a yo-yo “they help you up then put you down”.
The stand taken at Oollous on the other hand, “isn’t money based. There is no rent and no bills,” Christine says. The vision for the re-occupation is a vision of “flow”, one where everything “will be built by the people” with a sharing of skills under traditional tribal law. Christine does not picture Oollous as a place to hide but rather a place to heal, a place to contribute and together raise the quality of life for everyone. Christine says that she decided to “surrender her years, walk away from the money” and establish a good life on the land in part to push back against the state of housing in her community: “I feel the only answer is to re-occupy land, and just start over, so we again have a system within our original instruction of how to take care of the water, land and air.”
Christine invites everyone to come to the anniversary and share “who you are and what you can contribute.” Many plans are in the works for the spring, including an arbor that will provide shelter for people to come together and meet. Support is welcome.
Updates and more info can be found on Facebook at Voice for the Voiceless Camp and Voice for the Voiceless Camp Supporters and Allies. E-transfers can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org