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Unmasked: The Pandora’s Box Of The Valley

How we treat people is how we will treat the forests.

While writing an article about bullying in Maple Bay recently, I asked friends to look it over. Not for the first time some said: “Make sure you say your family goes back to the late 1800s in the Valley and that you were born here.”

“I did that once before in a forest article,” I said, “and felt ashamed. It plays into the mentality that people born here have special status over those who weren’t; it reeks of nativism, and I have friends here whose ancestors go back thousands of years. There’s no way I’m doing it again.”

But friends insisted it would give me credibility and given what I was about to expose, I needed all the credibility I could get. (My Name Is Icel. No, I’m Not A Terrorist  

I asked more friends and then, I blush to say, included my ancestry in the piece. It made no difference; after it went out there, the group didn’t belittle me (unless calling someone age 58 “elderly” is age shaming), but did continue to verbally attack a woman running a community Facebook page, including for being American—not from around these parts like we good ol’ boys and gals, and how dare an outsider ban locals from her page just ‘cause of a few “joking” comments—all in good fun.

So, friends were right—at least about the nativism that is alive and well in some parts of our community. Therefore beginning with myself, I’m pointing the finger, because as I have now admitted, I behaved like a nativist.

Up until writing this article, I’d never heard of “nativism”—or if I had, I thought it referred to people whose roots went back millennia. It doesn’t. It refers to anyone born in a place who feels superior to newcomers. I mention this not as the point of this piece but as an ironic part of what feels like a monster unmasked and unleashed from out of the Pandora’s Box I didn’t know I was opening.

After the bullying piece was published, I was talking with a friend about it. His ancestors happen to go back many thousands of years here, and yet he is not a nativist; he is a humanist. This friend and I have often walked and talked through the local Six Mountains Forest we have been advocating for and I’ve never heard him speak of anyone who has arrived here in the past two hundred years as being less entitled to be here than he and his family. When he heard about the bullying he paused and then said, “It’s on the rise. It’s happening everywhere. It just happened to my two grandchildren.”

Then he told me the terrible story. In short, his grandchildren, age ten and twelve, were biking through a Duncan neighbourhood. A group of adults started yelling, calling them “black skins” and telling them to get back to the reserve.

For the second time in a week, I felt shock and horror. Anyone who has studied history knows there is a fine line between verbal bullying and the lynch mob mentality, and it applies to all places, people, nations and tribes. All shaming, aggression and abuses are one.

Friends warn that if I publish this story, the forest movement begun by Where Do We Stand may lose supporters; they advise I stick to the forests, but for me they are inseparable: How we treat all people is how we will treat nature, vice versa, and to be silent is to be complicit.

The grandchildren of a friend are traumatized—they are not the only ones. As when children are attacked by a dog and grow to fear and hate dogs, a terrible seed has been planted. The grandfather and I talk about this seed growing in the hearts of other children and families who have heard the bullying story, and other stories like it that if not rooted will grow deep, mutating from fear to hatred growing in our Valley.

In our hearts, we all know the story. Aggressions not brought into the open and addressed grow to become the sins of the fathers inherited by the children. It is manifesting now, beyond our valley, taking the form of rioting and violence. There is never justification for violence—it only begets more violence and fear. However, violence is inevitable when people who know better do not speak out; so I’m putting my name on the line by telling a story that is not political but personal, about you and me.

Many of you have heard the grandfather in this story speak at Council and forest meetings. (He has given his blessing for this piece to be published, and for the sake of his family will go by “grandfather.”) A teacher of nature and traditions born of thousands of years of relationship with nature, he is invited all over the Southern Island to speak and is respected wherever he goes. He has taught his family the ways of loving kindness; however, his message alone will not be enough to stop the disease of fear from growing.

Parents come into the story—mothers and grandmothers join together to take steps to protect their children. What do they do? Warn their children of all people who are not of their tribe—and, furthermore, also of their own? Bullying and abuses are going on here as much as there, say friends living on the Reserve. It is a reality we all share. Like maternal instincts that transcend cultural differences and extend to all children, there are growing reasons many women are saying it is time for mothers of all communities to come together.

Our children watch us with eyes open wide. In their neighbourhood the grandfather’s grandchildren play with four children, age three to twelve, who I have loved for years like grandchildren. Together we have walked through the forests. To their mother, a close friend, I speak about the recent bullying incident. She says it happens all the time.

She and her friends wrestle with what to do. Must mothers rob their children of their innocence so early?

The friends I’m describing to you are some of the gentlest, kindest people I’ve known so, as I’ve said, the bullying is personal—it breaks my heart and compels me, after the last bullying article, one story occurring on top of the other, to write this plea, in hope and faith that the hundreds of people who have connected through the forests and who, opposed to the destruction of forest ecosystems, if they knew about bullying happening in our community would want to do something to make a difference—if they only knew how.

There is something we can all do. The timing is perfect, as if poised. We are paused within a pause. As we watch the pandemic on the rise, as our worlds shrink, as we question what we have taken for granted, as we wait for public consultation about the forests to finally begin in the way we asked for, what happens next will require that people in two separate and yet physically connected communities come together as has never before happened in our Valley.

Because of the forests, an unprecedented, profound, potential healing may be about to occur—voices from our different communities uniting to protect the paradise where we live.

The pandemic prevents us from coming together in a walk of solidarity against bullying and abuses of all people and nature, but there are many ways to overcome the divide.

For myself, I see a Dr. Seuss image—our little community isolated, metaphorically floating on a dust speck poised over a boiling vat, the future held in an elephant’s trunk. (Such is the power of childhood stories and events to become transfixed, for good or for evil, forever in imagination.) There are dark forces but they are the illusion and all it takes to break through is the courage to raise our voices together.

Whether our roots go deep or have been recently transplanted in the Valley, through social media we can take a stand; we can call out to all people being shamed: “We are here, we do not tolerate bullying and we stand in front, beside and behind you!”

And for those who are not on social media, in 2019, within two weeks, 700 people wrote in to WDWS to stop the “blowdown harvest”/logging on Stoney Hill: What if 700 people took one minute to put their names on the line again, this time to support two children, their families, reaching outward to friends, neighbours, community…

You think it is not enough to make a difference? Maybe it is not quite enough. Maybe the years of our busy lives and busy minds have eroded the depths of our collective grown-up consciousness. But we’re not talking about having the courage and consciousness of an elephant to stand alone—we’re talking about taking a stand together.

What if only two children heard our voices? What if, upon reading—hearing a resounding We are here, suddenly feeling fearless and free, these two children climbed back on their bikes to ride across the mountain tops calling: We are here!

You think your voice cannot break through the darkness? Change in the world has always begun small.

What if you spoke out and your voice reached only one child hiding in the dark, and that child were to whisper, I am here, I am here… Would you put your name on the line?

Many heroes arise when one ray of light breaks through.

To sign on,  scroll down to the form at the bottom of the article.

All names attached to this piece are meant to be viewed only on this website.

Chief William Seymour
Sonia Furstenau - MLA, Legislative Assembly of B.C.
Alistair MacGregor - MP, Cowichan-Malahat-Langford
Doug Routley MLA Nanaimo-N. Cowichan
Michelle Staples - Mayor of Duncan
Rosalie Sawrie - North Cowichan Councillor
Debra Toporowski - North Cowichan and Cowichan Tribes Councillor
Kate Marsh - North Cowichan Councillor
Tom Duncan - Duncan Councillor
Pacific Industrial Marine
Canadian Bavarian Millwork and Lumber
Community Farm Store
Tall Tree Lumber
Cowichan Valley Voice
Resthouse Sleep Solutions
JS Plumbing & Heating Ltd
Shiatsu: Heaven & Earth, Duncan
Old MacDonalds Farm, Duncan
Cowichan Valley Craniosacral
David Coulson Design
Andy MacKinnon
Maeve Maguire
Tracy Fleming
Guy Dauncey
Briony Penn
Jasmine Oberste
Brian Thacker
Georg Woernle
Mark Corrigan
Sheila Badman
Sydney Boe
Cari Burdett
Olaf Gabriel
Donna MacDonald
Marilyn Palmer
Rob Fullerton
Valerie Russell
Seairra Courtemanche
Linda Wallace
Brenda Vian
Allison Barber
Ria Lewis
Icel Dobell
Bruce Coates
Kendall McLean
Pixie Riddle
Alina Villa
Sheila Badman
Guy Marchand
Gregg Perry
Larry Pynn
Cindy Wilson
Calyx D Kuprowski
Marianna Padolsky
Paulina Kee
Riley McIntosh
Carolyn Herbert
Bryan GIlbert
John Mowat Steven
Gino Gaiga
Wendy Davis
Cathie Camley
Marisa Cococcia Jackson
Clive Michael Justice
Susan Draper
Barb Gilfoy
Erik Piikkila
Julie Coles
Bill Carter
Laurie Kerrin Carlyle
Deb Brienz
Dr Brenda Bernhardt
Dale Kelly
Isabel Rimmer
Patricia Doyle
Deborah Sumner
Connie Masson
Denise Code
Linda Runzer
Adèle Barbeau
Sydney Manson
Patricia Gray
Julia Rylands
Laura Cardriver
Josh Crawford
Dean Mitchell
Maureen Burke-Gaffney
Beverly Suderman
Stacey Davidson
Lisa Aeichele
Sharon Jackson
Kathy Code
Meghan Robertson
Elisabeth Grimm-Tibbetts
Rick Spencer
Monica Boyd
Pearl Stoker
Ray. Gisborne
Beryl Lindley
Eleanor Montour
Surati Gisela Haarbrucker
Deborah Irvine
Laurel Circle
Barbara Miller
Alan Philip
John Wainwright
Martha Lescher
Paula Foot
Yvonne Freigang
Suzanne Didier
Christine Shaw
Bridget Trousdell
Barbara Gray-Wiksten
Leah Morgan
Tracy Taylor
Adrienne Brown
Sarah Valentine
Cheryl McKitrick
Elly Mossman
Bev Thompson
Helga Mankhof
Brent Fraser
David Pink
Pamela Walker
Ross Shepherd
Juliska Hols
Sheila Johnson
Sarah Craggs
Cynthia Montgomery
David Slade
Laesha Berry
Wendi Galczik
Duncan Barwise
Andrea Wilhelm
Joan Barwise
Wade Karmann
Gail Mitchell
Rob Farncombe
Chantell Foss
Debbie Bateman
Lucy Thomas
Karla Ryan
Kathleen Mills
Tanya Nerland
Patrick Jackson
Sheila Patterson
Marita Rosenlind-Judson
Cheryl Galloway
Barbara McCowan Jackson
Wilma Millette
Colleen Sullivan
Alexandra Ages
Tom Strong
Steve Mercer
Gaileen Flaman
Patricia Orme
Joanne Circle
Claudia Roland
leslie madison
Peter R Lake
Vanessa Hooper
Vivianne Allen
Bob Nation
Melanie Reaveley
Cecilia Inness
Irvin Banman
Carol de la Haye
Jennifer Setterfield
Cindy Hoadley
Carolina Brand Venegas
Carole Tomac
Lorraine McDonald
Sarah Cabena
Roger Crowther
Lisa Tate
Angela Dalessandro
Susan Stenson
Bernice Woollam Julsing
Denise Kellahan
Cynthia Fidler
Myra Antoniuk
Laura Hagen
Mia Jongkind
Honey Halpern
Tony Dawson
Leanne Finlayson
Nova Schultz
Dahlea Pintus
Laura Hagen
Nicolette Genier
Sydney Boe
Lois Larose
Debbie Campbell
Lorrie Wood
Loti Austein
Ken Sharp
Sandy McPherson
Vicki Joy Bailey
Jan Carnahan
Shawn Wagar
Emily Tognet
Helen Nation
Brandy Gallagher
Vicki Joy Bailey
Aimee Foss
Richard Young
Anne Hilker
Dayana Robinson
Tys Pool
Nika Stafford
Harry Mensink
David Polster
Erin Blondeau
Penny Lehan
Donna Hert
W.Stan Pollak
Bruce Childs
Anita Murray
Lucus Morgan
Rose Brunt
Fernand Prince
Nevin Harper
Patricia Repay
Julia Madison
Bill Thompson
William Faughnan
Jane Kilthei
Olga Roberts
Janice Smith
Dawn Wilkinson
Annick Richardson
Luke Carroll
Catherine Nelson-McDermott
Jo-Anne Eskola
Chris Manley
Juergen Suelzle
Miyo Stevens
Kerry Davis
Chris Sparrey
JoAnn Mulhern
Cam MacDonald
David Couslon
Lindy Kennedy
Katia Rheault
Diana Pink

Icel Dobell is a community advocate and co-founder of WhereDoWeStand. Icel wrote and directed the short film "Save our North Cowichan Community Forests".

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