Audrey Siegl: Let’s work to radically change Vancouver
Editor's note: Musqueam First Nation activist Audrey Siegl launched today (August 7) her campaign for a Coalition of Progressive Electors nomination for Vancouver city council. Here's the prepared text of Siegl's speech, delivered at Xwayxway in Stanley Park.
My name is Audrey Siegl (ancestral name sχɬemtəna:t) and I am seeking a nomination for Vancouver City Council with the Coalition of Progressive Electors.
I am running for City Council to use my voice, to speak my truth, and through that truth wake-up the people of this city to the history of the Musqueam people, to the history of this land. I want to use my voice to raise important questions – questions that would shake the foundations of our society if they were truly reflected upon, like why are a third of homeless people indigenous? Why is there so much violence against aboriginal women?
The answers to those questions may be difficult for some people to hear. And the solution to these problems may be painful to those with power, money, and privilege in our City. To solve our city’s problems, it will not be free, it will come at a cost. But that is a price we have to pay to overcome the devastation that has been levelled on our peoples.
I was always ashamed of who I am and who my people are. But that's not true anymore. I learned to reconnect with who my ancestors were, to learn my culture. I'm still learning, but I've found strength and confidence where there used to be shame and pain.
That transformation for me began just over two years ago. Me and other people from my community stood and protected the skeletons and bones of our ancestors from a condo developer, who wanted to plow away our heritage. It was a very empowering experience that started me on where I am today.
There were over seven to eight hundred graves disturbed and thrown away there. Two adult and two children impact skeletal remains were being unearthed, and they were going to throw them away or build on top of them.
It was where I first picked up a drum and sang our songs. It was where I actually reconnected to my culture in a way that enabled me to let go of the shame and guilt that I had over being an Indian.
It’s where I began to use my voice, to stand and use my drum, words and songs, and I finally understood what it meant when people told me this is medicine. I used it to heal myself and we used it to create an environment that people felt safe and comfortable and wanted to be there with us. What were standing for was the truth, what was right, and not in any trivial way but in the true sense of truth and right and light as well. It was an amazing feeling.
While we were under bridge protecting those ancestors for 210 days, we learned to stand together, and we learned what it means to be a family, to be one and to work toward a collective purpose, and we were successful.
In the years since then, I've learned to use my voice to speak the words of our ancestors, to protect what is important to our culture and to our people. So much has been taken, we've been left with almost nothing. And to feel empowered and to be able to use that voice is something that I will continue to do.
Since then I have moved back to the Musqueam Indian Reserve, located south of Marine Drive near the mouth of the Fraser River, in a process of reconnecting with maternal and ancestral ties. I have worked in the Musqueam Language and Culture Department to revitalize hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language. I give tours of the cultural pavilion and gallery, as well as the Chinese market gardens.
The reserve is a beautiful but very small portion of traditional Musqueam territory. But I did not always have the ability to live on the Musqueam reserve. There is not enough housing for our people.
There are about 1,200 band members from Musqueam, but fewer than half are able to live on reserve. Of the half who do live there, you see nearly third world conditions. People living without power, mold and rotting floors.
Then you see that right across the street are the leaseholders who have multi-million dollar homes. I don’t hold it against them that they have these homes, but the juxtaposition of the abject poverty against wealth tells you a lot. Poverty is the greatest tool used against the indigenous people right now, and that wealth was generated in large part from dispossession of indigenous peoples. We can’t turn a blind eye to that contradiction any longer.
For the rest of band members who are off-reserve, we have enormous waiting lists. My mom was on a waiting list for thirty or forty years to move back to her own home. She grew up in an area called the Mali and my grandfather has five acres of land at the bottom close to the river. But then my mom was taken to residential schools for 12 years and then lived in the DTES. My mother spent her time in the DTES, in the many Main and Hasting’s pubs since she was a little girl, just like I did. My mom, that tiny little woman, was really lucky that she was eventually able to move back to the area that she grew up in down by the river.
I myself grew up in East Van, raised by a single father of South Asian and British heritage, and by my mother’s Musqueam family. The housing situation in the city has been poor, but I’ve seen it deteriorate further in recent years.
The number of affordable or subsidized housing units keeps shrinking. The number of new affordable housing units is so minuscule, while the number of people who are being forcibly displaced everyday is so large. These numbers are so incongruous that you cannot help but have situations like a hundred plus people living in Oppenheimer Park.
I don’t mean to pick on Gregor alone, but he said he was going to end homelessness. I really want to know if he was planning on ending it by handing out eviction notices to people who have nowhere else to be, threatening to throw out the few possessions they have left in the world in the garbage, taking it to the dump.
That’s why I stand and use my voice. I use it for the water, the air, the earth, for those who are silenced. That includes the Murdered and Missing Women who’ve been forgotten and neglected and continue to be abused by a system who won’t even look into what happened to them.
You look at what happened with the Pickton Farm, look at what happened on the highway of tears, it’s still happening. Since I was 12 years old, I have been stalked by men and hunted like a prized animal. I’ve even been called Pocahontas, like I want to be their Indian princess and people don’t understand not only how that’s offensive but how that’s intimidating, violating, and it’s re-triggering and traumatizing of what has forcibly happened to our women for five hundred plus years.
We’ve never been protected, we have never felt like we mattered and we have been in fact made to feel worthless and that we don’t deserve to feel safe and protected. Our dignity, our respect and our value as a human being has all been stripped of us.
My job is to heal. I heal in so many different ways. One of them is using my voice, one of them is telling the truth, one of them is saying, “I felt like I didn’t even deserve to exist.” I still keep speaking, I’m terrified all the time. I still have anxiety, the difference is that now, the work that I’ve done and changes I’ve made in the last twelve and a half years are not ruled by fear anymore. I can be afraid and keep moving forward and I have good people around me to shore me up.
My intention is always to protect and bring the truth and the light out of a subject. To empower people, to give hope and give people a reason to believe that things can and will be good, and fair and right again. Those aren’t just words, they’re amazing powerful ideas and actions need to follow them.
Let’s take action on Indigenous sovereignty, housing justice, and an end to violence against women, especially First Nation women. Let’s work to radically change Vancouver as we know it and to build a city where basic needs and humanity come before corporate profit and corporate politics. I will use my voice to draw attention to growing inequalities in Vancouver, that has its having roots in the system of colonialism, a system that creates dispossession from the land and which values the lives of certain people and communities at the expense of others.