WWF-Canada Blog:

26-year-old Heiltsuk Tribal Council member speaks out against Northern Gateway Pipeline

As stated by my Chief, my name is Jess Housty. My traditional name is Ciuagilauxv. I come from the House of Naci and the House of Tsumclaqs.

It’s important to root my introduction to you in this family history. My name and the houses that I come from link me to the stories that are the basis of my identity as a young Heiltsuk woman. I’m 26 years old. I grew up on the lands and waters with my family, living the intergenerational teachings that have supported the transmission of Heiltsuk values and laws since time before memory.

Jess Houstie

I’m also an elected member of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council. I sit on this Council with my colleagues that you see here today, and our council represents three generations of leadership in the community. There’s 60 years between me and the oldest Councillor. That’s six decades of leadership in the community. That’s how governance and leadership happen in our way, with intergenerational succession, and that’s one of the things that I’d like to speak to briefly today.

Even in my short life and my short work, I’ve seen really huge transformations in my community. What we’ve fostered in our young people is boldness and hope. We have fostered a strong sense of place-based identity that is rooted in our cultural values, and it links our youngest generation into a powerful chain that stretches back to time before memory.

Our young people are empowered socially and spiritually by access to the lands and waters where they can learn and grow surrounded by their peers, their family and their community. From the deep sea to the intertidal zone and into the meadows and forests, our young people walk where their ancestors walked. I’ve walked where my ancestors walked. And the duty that they inherit is the same one I inherited.

Our duty is to ensure that our children and their children can walk where our ancestors walked too.

You cannot assign a dollar value to the potential for transformation. When you take away hope, there is no adequate compensation. Our culture is based on stories. Those stories are written on the lands and waters. If the lands and waters are destroyed, our stories will be destroyed, our way of life will be lost and our culture will be gone.

Enbridge cannot put a price on my identity as a young Heiltsuk woman.

I come from the land and the waters and I cannot be separated from the landscape where my stories come from. From the very first generation of Heiltsuk people, someone has always held the Heiltsuk name that I hold now. It was passed down along with our stories, our values and our laws from generation to generation. I hope that someday I can pass that name to a daughter and that she’ll pass it to my granddaughter.

When my children are born, I want them to be born into a world where hope and transformation are possible. I want them to be born into a world where stories still have power. I want them to grow up able to be Heiltsuk in every sense of the word, to practice the customs and understand the identity that has made our people strong for hundreds of generations.

That cannot happen if we do not sustain the integrity of our territory, if we don’t sustain the integrity of our lands and waters and the stewardship practices that link our people to our landscape.

On behalf of the young people in my community, I respectfully disagree with the notion that there is any compensation to be made for the loss of our identity and for the loss of our right to be Heiltsuk.