Thursday, September 16, 2010

Finding Our Way (documentary)

In our disparate places across Canada and other countries (hi, Beth Giddens in Georgia!), we're all regularly attending really interesting events: conferences, but also one-off sessions. If you think that ALECC's members might want to hear about something you attend, why not ask if you can post a summary or comment here?

Tonight, for example, I dragged my brother-in-law along to Leonie Sandercock's presentation at the Legacy Art Gallery and Cafe, a downtown operation owned by the otherwise suburban UVic (legacy donation: kind of a long story). Her presentation had the somewhat generic academic title, complete with mandatory colon, of "The Legacies of Colonization: Apartheid in Small Town BC," but really it involved the Victoria premiere of (the middle third of) her documentary Finding Our Way, about recent but historically informed events in the village of Burns Lake, BC. This was the first session in the university's new The City Talks series, affiliated with the new Urban Studies Committee, and I'm seriously looking forward to the next one. (By the esteemed, learned, and very nice John Lutz.)

The set-up: in 1999, the BC municipality of Burns Lake shut off water and sewer services to members of the Burns Lake Band, or the Ts'il Kaz Koh, for non-payment of assessed annual fees. These fees represented the total amount of tax that the Ts'il Kaz Koh had begun collecting from the Babine Lake mill, which operated on land leased from the band but had in previous years represented about one-third of the village's tax base. So the municipality was asking the Ts'il Kaz Koh for $400,000, which for the 20 houses involved meant $20,000 per house per year. For some reason, the Ts'il Kaz Koh felt this was maybe not the fairest arrangement. They didn't pay the amount in full, the municipality cut them off, and the conflict was on.

Sandercock did a great job of explaining the long history of imposed settlements and shifting "entitlements" for the Ts'il Kaz Koh that lay behind both the taxation change and the municipality's unilateral actions. This is a land-use issue, an aboriginal rights issue, and a question of how to define and develop a local community. Her film portrays the efforts of high school students (and their teachers) to change the nature of community relations between Aboriginal and settler groups and individuals; the Ts'il Kaz Koh's decision to open a large daycare centre in their gathering place not restricted to Aboriginal children; and the consequences of large-scale landscape and economic change, such as the volatility (in every sense) of the forest industry in north-central BC.

A wonderfully thought-provoking event to kick off the school year. I wish you'd been able to attend with me, but then maybe you'd now be suffering the same angst about your comparatively immaterial research work that I am!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Touchstone songs

A story, and a call for song suggestions:

Freshly back home from ALECC's Cape Breton sojourn, I took my daughter to see my extended family in Errington, whose wonderful farmer's market has been running continuously since 1973. It's a great story of ongoing community engagement, starting with an uneasy union between back-to-the-landers and longer-time locals, and now with pretty deep roots in the local food movement (and left politics generally, but like all political issues in British Columbia, it's a little more complicated than that!).

In Sydney, of course, we'd heard Ken Chisholm play for us during the socializing portion of the literary evening. One song he played was John Prine's "Paradise," a sing I've known since who knows when but haven't really recognized as important to me -- though of course it is. (Lyrics here if you don't know them: "Daddy, won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County, / Down by the Green River where Paradise lay...".)

In Errington, the Vancouver Island bluegrass duo Skagway (on Facebook, and on MySpace) was playing. In amongst their own tunes, like the great little tune "Fancy Blues," they played what else but Prine's "Paradise," in a slowed-down and stripped-down version.

Bookended across the country, in coal country and logging country, uptempo in Sydney and downtempo in Errington, "Paradise" worked its considerable magic on its audiences, and not just me but everyone else too. (Okay, not everyone in Sydney, because there was an awful lot of warm chatter going on, but the listeners were happy with it!)

And it got me to wondering: what other songs might be touchstones for us in the literature/environment community, shared without our really knowing it? Suggestions in the comments, please!