Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tribal Utterances

I currently work for my tribal government. My tribe is called the Huu-ay-aht First Nations. It used to be called the Ohiat Band back when we did not bother to correct inaccurate, anglicized labels given to us by bureaucrats of the federal government. Many of our elders still call our First Nation the Ohiat Band, but I suspect (and hope) that this has more to do with habit than assimilation.

The Huu-ay-aht First Nations are located in the Barkley Sound region on the west coast of Vancouver Island. As far as I know, they have been there since time immemorial. Legend has it that we originated on Diana Island, named after a spring on that very island. Thus, it is a sacred place to us. We are a small band with approximately seven hundred members. The Huu-ay-aht main settlements are located principally along the Pachena River and next to Pachena Bay, though we have historically important settlements in a place called Numukamis on the Sarita River and on Diana Island. In truth, we are very much a tribal diaspora: seventy percent of our number live away from our traditional territory. I am one such person.

My relationship with "the band" had until recently been one held at arm's length from the core of my identity. As a child, I can only remember being ashamed of my heritage. Returning to the reserve was fretful, if not frightening, and the only thing I ever seemed to like about going there was getting home again. As I grew, I became more aware of my heritage and it became less embarrassing. When I graduated, I met many of the people from the band who my mother held in high esteem. They helped change my outlook on the nature of my first nation.

The Huu-ay-aht are a part of the Nuu-chah-nulth culture group. We speak the same language and inhabit the same general area of Vancouver Island. We are members of a larger entity known as the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, or NTC -- a group dedicated to having a unified voice in promotion, protection and preservation of our collective interests. In practice, the NTC is affected by -- surprise, surprise -- tribalism. It is little wonder that the NTC still struggles to cooperate enough to pursue a treaty with the Crown. There are too many cooks in this particular kitchen and it seems most people know it.

The Huu-ay-aht were one such tribe. In the mid-1990s, we broke away from the NTC on treaty matters and got together with four other like-minded members and formed our own treaty group: the Maa-nulth Treaty Society. We applied and entered into the British Columbia Treaty Commission's system for negotiating a treaty with the Crown governments and have since worked to successfully adopt a treaty.

My band paid for my post-secondary education. While I am deeply grateful, I find that I am also somewhat embarrassed by that fact. I can sense the discontent that this brings out in my non-aboriginal friends and colleagues and it affects me more than I tend to let on. I will not apologize for it. One need only look up economic and demographic information on the Statistics Canada website to understand that aboriginal people in this country are disadvantaged in ways that would take college-level lecture courses for most people to fully appreciate. The cynical part of me wants to tell people who complain about how tax dollars are spent on aboriginal issues that they should consider it the bare minimum rent payments on the lands that they occupy (but that might be seen as a bit bitter, so...)

Needless to say, my outlook has changed since I was fifteen years old. I am proud to call myself Huu-ay-aht and I am excited to be a part of something so special and unique. I feel a part of something larger than myself, but not so large that it is a mere abstract idea.

I am slowly learning about my heritage. I have participated in cultural events and rituals. I am becoming Huu-ay-aht. It fills a void and I am glad for it.

I will tell you more about my experiences later, but I think this is a good introduction. There are plenty of links, too!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Origins - Part Two

My father, David James McIvor, was born in 1951. At this very moment, I have forgotten his birthday -- more than slightly embarrassing -- but I happen to know that his Zodiac sign is Pisces, so we're fairly close to a specific date. He had three older brothers: Malcolm, who died a few years back of drug and alcohol addiction-related factors; Trevor, who lives in William's Lake and has ever since I knew him; and Lawerence, who lives in Qualicum Bay. He, my younger brother, and I currently live in Parksville. We're a family, of sorts, and it's been a good few years.

David grew up in Errington. His father, Cecil, was a sawyer and operated a mill next door to the school on Grafton. My father worked from a very young age and hasn't stopped, even now. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade and began working in the forestry industry in the 1960s. By the time I was born, he was an established feller working for MacMillian-Bloedel (yes, that's the correct word). He got seriously hurt a few years before the time that M&B gave way to Weyerhauser, probably in the early to mid-1990s. The tree that got him was supposed to fall one way, but the top decided to break off and fall in the opposite direction. David's right upper arm and shoulder were smashed and he sustained serious, but ultimately non-paralyzing, damage to his lower to mid-vertebrae. Later, his knee went, and he's been in pain ever since. I often wonder if I could endure such tribulations as he has (often with a smile!), and to be honest, I doubt it. David no longer works due to his injuries, though he's been known to get bored enough to do most of the housework and some yardwork. I'm glad he doesn't have to push a lawnmower around, though...

He met my mother when she was fourteen years old, so that would have made him eighteen... I figure this was more standard and accepted back then. Either way, they were together up until shortly before David was seriously injured. And liklely separated for reasons closely related to not just my mother's alcoholism, but perhaps the priority he gave work over family as well. Needless to say, the separation hit him quite hard, as I think it would anyone in that position. To go from having a wife, two kids, two dogs and a nice, large house on Hirst Avenue to having none of those things save a loving hound and an empty, lonely house in the space of a week must have been traumatic. From what I've observed of men his age, I don't doubt that the sudden removal of all stability and security must have been horrible.

In the time since the separation and his injury, my father went through many changes. After the death of his elder brother, David became close to and eventually married Marlene, Malcolm's widow. I'm not certain how to present this, it seems a bit odd, perhaps a bit more than that, but they were happy and as a young teenager, I didn't mind. It allowed for some amusing "mountain people" jokes and the like, which I still chuckle at from time to time. Marlene came from a troubled background centering on drug addiction, which led to her abandoning him for an abusive relationship with a drug dealer. We have not since heard from her in several years, and I do not miss her. She hurt my father too much by doing that to him. Perhaps she will be forgotten, but she will never be forgiven.

Looking back with a new perspective, I must say that my growing up in what amounted to a broken home and watching as another was torn asunder by death and another by drug addiction, has led to my viewing relationships as a risk. Not that I've ever meant to, but of all the relationships that I've seen, the three most major ended and ended disastrously. This is not to say that I have not seen good and lasting ones, both my surviving Uncles on my father's side have lived in long and loving relationships and my grandparents have been married forever, but the ones closest to me have all ended poorly. Perhaps, I view all relationships as fundamentally finite -- which may undermine everything before ever I meet someone.

A stark realization.

But one that I'm aware of now, so perhaps amends can be made...

Presently, my father is a changed man. It was a slow change, and one that was not entirely positive. David is no longer able to be as physically active as he once was and for a man who's element was the wilderness, I believe it must have been and continues to be deeply disappointing for him to not be able to wander into the bush and simply be a man in the forest, a man of the forest. He continues to have a deep and fundamental love of nature and the natural world. If he was to revere anything, it would be what one might call the natural order, something far apart from the orders of mankind. Though I suspect that my father's always been something of a misanthropist, he has become reclusive as he has gotten older. I believe it is because the world around him, the changing nature of Parksville and our society, has disturbed him. Not only disturbed him, but very much disappointed him. He's of the mind that we're missing something in this technologically-advanced and economically-developed civilization that's developed during his lifetime and I'm starting to believe him.

Things are too fast, and people tend to miss the important things because they're either not willing to wait for them to grow or willing to put in the work to see it through.

In that way, he truly is "old school."

Though he may seem reticent and quiet to start, this is changing. He's at his best when he's in comfortable and familiar situations and environs. He is a good man, a hard-working man, a classical man, but of all things, he is an honest man -- especially when it's inconvenient, since that's when it's most amusing.

Once you meet him and get to know him, you'll soon realize where I get my deeply irreverent sense of humour.

As I get older, I have become more fearful of my father leaving us. He's an ardent and unapologetic smoker, something I've grown to respect despite the consequences. I hope he'll be one of those statistical anomalies -- I had been without a father for so long during my childhood that I'm not prepared to give him up now that we're just getting to know each other well.

But, as far as I know, he's not going anywhere just yet. I'm glad he's there, and I hope he realizes just how important he is to me.

I'll have to tell him when I get home today.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I was born on July 21st, 1981 at Nanaimo General Hospital. I can't remember whether I was a difficult birth, and I don't know when in the day that I was born, but I'm going to assume that there was nothing easy about my entrance into this world.

It's just too fitting.

My mother, Sandra Lucille Gallagher (Jack), was born on April 15th, 1955 and died on October 15th, 1999. She was forty-four years old. Sandra grew up the youngest daughter of Ernest Jack and Shirley Jack (Chester) and lived in Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island until the 1960's, when my grandfather moved the family to Parksville so his children could attend school past the tenth grade. She met my Dad when she was fourteen and they stayed together for twelve years before I was born. My mother was the product of a traditional home, though it became apparent to me that she aspired to be much more than what was expected of her.

My mother's life was hard. Looking back, I remember hers as a life lived through hardship, disappointment, sadness and addiction. She was an alcoholic, and though no one has ever officially told me, she was also the victim of abuse at a young age. It was, ultimately, this sadness and alcoholism that led to her break up with my father when I was younger than thirteen. My mother persevered, though, and she made her children her life for the longest time. She made real sacrifices for us and only now upon reflection do I truly appreciate what she done for me and my brothers.

To the point where I feel ashamed at times that I wasn't a better son.

Later in her life, she returned to school and learned many skills. It started with courses to become a legal assistant. She completed that work and became interested in mapping with computers, GIS, as it was connected with the early efforts of my First Nation in pursuing a Treaty. Yes, I followed in my mother's footsteps. She worked with the earliest form of the organization that now employs me, the Huu-ay-aht Treaty Office, helping to create the maps that would guide land selection and resource management. It can be said, fairly and accurately, that she did good work for her people and her family. And that she actually had a chance at truly being happy.

My mother had health problems. She had lupus. She had arthritis. She got headaches for no apparent reason. And, of course, she smoked cigarettes. My family has a history of circulatory problems: heart attacks, strokes, and the like. She was no exception. My mother died from a stroke.

She collapsed in the bathroom after crying for hours because her head hurt so much. She was hyperventilating and unconscious by the time the ambulance got there to take her to the hospital.

I wasn't there when she died. She had already passed by the time we got to the hospital in the morning.

I hate hospitals.


I don't remember much about the next few days, but one thing that just sticks in my mind is when they told my little brother that his mother was dead. He was seven years old and sitting on the couch at home wondering where Mom was...

Nothing's ever really been the same since then and to say that life changed on a fundamental level is to make an absurd understatement.

I remember the funeral being in Port Alberni. I remember wondering why the hell it was there when she lived in Parksville, when she raised her children in Parksville. I only now realize that the people she loved and cared about and were friends with were mostly from Port Alberni and Anacla, the home reserve of our native band. Now that I look at the funeral card, or whatever it's called, I see names that were not at all familiar to me at the time had spoken eloquent words for her and had been her honoured pallbearers. These are people I now work with, these are people that I interact with on a regular basis, and I find myself thanking them for everything they did to help my family through this tumultuous string of days.

After the service, we left Port Alberni to drive for long hours down dirt roads to a place called Sarita. My mother loved Sarita. It used to be the site of our band's winter village and it was sidled next to the Sarita River deep in our traditional territory. There's a cemetary in Sarita, up on a hill with steep access. My mother lies in Sarita next to her brother and among her relatives.

I helped bury her.

It's been eight years since she passed away. I lived in a self-imposed exile from the world for a bit more than seven years because of her sudden death. I must admit that it's taken me hours to write this, to remember the pain and the fear and the uncertainty. I think I need to be able to write about this and post it out into the open for anyone to read.

I have yet to return to her gravesite.

I'm going to try to visit Sarita this October.

The prospect of going scares me, but I think it needs to be done. I have grown and I have healed.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Inaugural Post

Without much fanfare, the initial post to Assymetric Conversion was published.

The promises of future posts, however, loom moderately large on the horizon.

* * *
  • Name: John Alan Jack
  • Age: 26 Years
  • Signs: Cancer / Metal Rooster
  • Sex: Male
  • Gender: Man
  • Height: 6 feet / 183 centimeters
  • Weight: 175ish pounds / 79ish kilograms
  • Ethnicity: Native American (Huu-ay-aht) / British Medley
  • Nationality: Canadian / Huu-ay-aht
  • Eyes/Hair: Brown / Black
  • Suit Size: 40 Tall
  • Waist: 32
  • Inseam: 32
  • Shoe Size: 10.5
  • Accessories: Glasses (and sometimes a nice fedora or panama hat.)
* * *

As far as I know, my family name is the Christian name given to my great-great grandfather, on my mother's side, Old Man Jack. It is also my mother's maiden name and, yes, I am a literal bastard -- a heathen, too. My first name is that of my great-grandfather on my father's side. John McIvor was a company man, a Hudson's Bay company man. Apparently, Fort McMurray was to be named after him until he was accused of cannibalism due to his close relationship with the natives of the area. Whether this is true, I don't know. Either way, it's not short for anything and the standard nickname for it is already my last name -- so just call me John. My middle name is that of my uncle on my mother's side, her baby brother, Al. He's a good man.

Maybe I'll tell you about my parents next time, but until then: