Keeping the past alive

            I’m grateful to Ed Bader for alerting me to a legacy pole being raised in Haida Gwaii. Designed and carved by Jaalen Edenshaw, his brother Gwaii and team, it went up in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve to mark the twentieth anniversary of the agreement between the Haida Nation and the government of Canada to co-manage the Park. It honors those who took part in the 1985 Haida blockade to prevent the logging of Lyell Island, which resulted in Gwaii Haanas. Videos and articles link from It’s the first such pole erected in Gwaii Haanas in 130 years, perhaps because most residents left the island after villages were destroyed by epidemics.

            I skyped with Pamela in Chile for a good while yesterday. Her granddaughter commented on how much she learned about the coup d’état this September 11, the fortieth anniversary. When I was in Chile this year, I was pleasantly shocked to hear government employees speak of “la dictadura” rather than “el gobierno militar” (“the dicatatorship” rather than “the military government”) – a little concerned for their jobs! Pamela says there is more freedom to bring up memories in casual conversation than there was, that people no longer fear being attacked or starting an argument when they bring it up; they can speak their minds.

            As an example, she mentioned Ecos del desierto, a television miniseries. (I watched the entire four-hour series last night, for fear it would be withdrawn from Youtube before I could get back to it!)  It dramatizes the Caravana de la Muerte – the Caravan of Death – an army task force that toured northern Chile in the months after the coup, summarily executing prisoners, claiming they were trying to escape. (They were shot, left to lie or buried in the Atacama desert, many later exhumed and dumped into the Pacific.) In documentary style, it follows the research and findings of the widow of one of the victims over the next 35-plus years, repeating and recapitulating crucial moments, adding a bit more information each time, through the 2000s. Getting the whole story out is cathartic.

             I recently listened to an interview on CBC radio with a Chinese artist (not Ai Weiwei, I don’t believe). He spoke of how the laws and history of China change at the government’s whim, that what is true and conventional one day can lead to one’s detention the next. Grandparents are implored not to share with their grandchildren, who could get in trouble for repeating stories at school. It is so stressful to try to preserve the stories and memories, guarding against speaking them at the wrong time or in the wrong company. 


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