Today I am returning to Port Hardy and the M/V Wii Seeks to continue our campaign against open pen salmon farms. I was lucky enough to be invited to the fish camp of the eagle clan of the Gitxsan people on the Skeena River for a few days to renew my soul and discuss the future with an old friend and activist Gordon Sebastian.
Gordon and I worked together back in the 90s when and number of Native People from Canada confronted, and ended the 500 year celebration of the “discovery of America” by Columbus. The government of Spain plus a number of moneyed interests planned to sail replicas of the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria to America to attend celebrations in 22 cities that would last the entire year of 1991. A small group of First Nations warriors from Northern BC , Canada decided to ruin their day. They contacted Sea Shepherd and arranged to lease the ship for a dollar to stop the celebration. The M/V Sea Shepherd II was in the Caribbean looking for driftnets so the boat was available and it was crewed by none other then the original “vegan death squad” and they were game. The celebration in fact began with a huge event in Spain as the ships left for Porto Rico to start the celebrations here.
Now at the time I was an ocean activist while holding a fulltime job and raising a couple of kids so it was not an issue I would have had time to pursue, but I was heavily involved with the sea shepherd conservation society at the time and was asked to help.
First I traveled to Spain for the send off and as things go, spent the night in a pouring rain storm on board the Santa Marie with a night watch woman as there were no rooms in town. This was a huge event, attended by the King of Spain, and I must admit I was not prepared for the amount of people attending. I arrived a day early and toured the ships then visited the two war ships, a frigate and an ocean going tug who were escorting the flotilla. Using my camera and skills I was ultimately invited to lunch with the captain of the frigate. During lunch he was bragging about the event and I asked how he intended to answer Native American critics who “I assumed” would protest their coming. He was not worried as he had been assured a welcome in 22 cities and in his words; “he was not concerned”. To get the ships there safely he had a plan. After coffee he took me to the chartroom and showed me the plan. I must admit it was very clever indeed. They had planned to sail the replicas into a small island port outside Porto Rico and hide them there until the big day of the celebration. It probably would of worked too, if he hadn’t been so cocky as to show me. I, of course, vowed to keep his secret…I lied.
I came back to the states with the film and plan, and that was to be the end of my participation. It was a couple of months later, just before Christmas when I got another call to help. You see the First Nations warriors were hunters, trappers, and fishermen a breed of human that the vegans found disgusting. The poor Natives had no idea I am sure of what they were in for.
This is when I met Art Loring , wing chief for the eagle clan and one of the bravest men I have ever met. It was Art’s bear claw necklace that got me back into the fray. Back in the 90s the vegans ran the engine room of the old northsea trawler, and most of the other crew were glad they did. The brave captain Watson never entered their domain and for good reason. It was an old ship, badly ventilated, stinking of diesel fumes, hot, dark and quite frankly the nearest thing to hell on earth. The vegans, as far as I was concerned could have it, and they claimed it during these times as their own. Even the officers left them alone… as long as that engine ran, we stayed out of their exalted territory.
Well, Art Loring was a logger and trapper and had brought bear claws to include in a ceremonial necklace that he had intended to wear for the confrontation. Trouble arose when he went to the engine room to get a claw drilled for the necklace, and all hell broke loose… I was called to establish peace.
The vegans were refusing to operate the boat with the Natives on board… a stand off of major proportion. Now I had always had good relationships with the vegan tribe and gave them the respect they deserved, something Paul Watson never did. Watson had his own galley and cooked the food he wanted with little or no regard for the rest of us. He often went out of his way to show he was boss; like in Alaska on the Devine Wind when I traded vegan cookies for a halibut. We were a conservation ship, not a vegan ship so this was not the end of the world per say, but to make his point the captain butchered the fish on deck for all to see, even removing the beating heart to taunt the young idealistic crew. Now at the time I was all for eating the fish, and I am for it today, but the “beating heart” taunt was even too much for me. To say the least in 1991 Watson had little respect of the crews’ numerous indiscretions, and most I am sure they never forgot.
Anyhow I was brought in to negotiate a deal. First I went to the vegans and made the promise that the galley would remain vegan and that I would explain things to the natives so horrible things like the necklace incident did not happen again. Then I went to meet the natives.
To this day I remember them gathering in the parking lot around the bow of the ship. My first question was; who was the chief so I knew who could make the deal… 15 hands rose as they were all chiefs! This began the adventure that 30 years later brought me to Art’s clan territory.
I write about this campaign in my upcoming book but to make a long story short: We made lots of threats and were dogged by the US coast guard the whole time. We pretended to chase the replicas around the Caribbean until crunch time. Then we went to the island the Spanish captain had told me about, and low and behold caught the replicas in open water, and chased them into a private marina on Porto Rico blowing the planned arrival and ultimately the whole celebration, not only on Porto Rico, but it was cancelled altogether. Columbus was never idolized again and history was changed… all because of Art having the guts to stand up and take the ships. Two others and a member of our crew joined him, and it helped change our view of history.
The Gitxsan went home with an apology to them and all native people signed by the government of Spain. To get this apology there was a major stand off, with cops , divers, and a swat team posed to shoot us at any sign of trouble. Quite exciting for a few hours, but it all ended peacefully, Art and his compatriots got home for Christmas, the vegans got their boats back, and by coincidence I got audited the next year by the IRS… I assumed it was just a coincidence.
In the following years I have often asked other Native American activists I have worked with why they weren’t there? Art, Gordon, Wii Seeks and the others were from northern BC… a bit out of the “Original Blast zone” so to speak… I never got a good answer but truth be told, a small band of brave warriors from the forests of Canada made a stand against colonialism… led by Art Loring that changed history.
His children and grand children will no longer suffer the indignity of Columbus being idolized, and like any event where individuals take on governments and win, the incident hardly made the press. Only the few that do know the truth, were there.
I was honored to be able to relate the story to his family and clan, and I hope it will stand as an example to all that individuals change history. The fight is a story for another time, but I am proud to be associated with the event. The Gitxsan now control their territory, and are now fighting for control of their river.
The Porto Rican police, and anti-terrorist unit called Art the “mean one with the stick”. I called him a friend and know that his spirit continues to lead his people, and hopefully the rest of us into the future.
Peter Jay Brown
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