On Wednesday afternoon, with the afternoon sun heavy on our shoulders, we laid a dear relative - Cheeky, a grizzly bear - to rest.
Many of you will remember the story of Cheeky, killed in the remote estuary of Kwatna in 2013 by trophy hunter and NHL hockey player Clayton Stoner. Cheeky's story was captured in the film Bear Witness, which launched an Indigenous-led campaign to end trophy hunting for bears in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Three years and a court case later, Cheeky's "trophies" - his skull, hide, and paws - have been rematriated. Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Kitasoo/Xai'xais, and Wuikinuxv collaborators on the campaign gathered at the place where Cheeky was killed. And in the quietude of that meadow, we did what was in our power to set his spirit right.
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Justice for Cheeky is not justice for all bears. Trophy hunting, though banned by Indigenous nations in the Great Bear Rainforest, remains legal under colonial law. The BC Government still condones the trophy hunt, flying in the face of public opinion, sound science, economic sense, and the fundamental values and laws of the Indigenous peoples whose homelands form the geography of the Great Bear Rainforest.
Putting Cheeky's spirit to rest doesn't change the reality that living bears face when the fall hunt opens in September. But what we have done for Cheeky is a promise to all bears. We are still here, with our bodies on the land, with our ceremonies in our hearts, fighting for justice for our ursine relatives.
The story of Cheeky, told and retold over the last three years, has become a story that many of you have helped us to carry. We are grateful for that, and we want to give you closure on the chapter of our fight that concerns this bear.
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We drummed and sang to Cheeky's spirit. We called his spirit home to his broken body. We brought back the tangible things that were taken away from him. We honoured the intangible things that could never be taken away from him, and committed to carry his teachings with us. The way our peoples have always held close the teachings given to us by our relatives in the animal kingdom.
And now, Cheeky is among the ancestors that we can call on to strengthen us. What we did in Kwatna was good medicine for Cheeky, but it was also healing for all of us.
Cheeky is home. He is whole again. And the gift he has given us is profound. He has reminded us of the sacredness of our relationships to the places and species that teach, strengthen, and sustain us. He has given us strength to continue our fight, for the sake of all the other bears in all the other estuaries. For the sake of future generations of bears.
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The smoke from our fire carried our prayers and our intentions up with it. And as the heavy sun set, we - with a little more peace in our hearts - fell to strategizing for all that is to come.
Because it's not the Great Bear Rainforest without bears. Because the Great Bear Rainforest is not saved so long as bears are being hunted to the ground for sport.
We hope you will be with us in the days to come. We hope you will carry the story of Cheeky, that you'll write it on your heart, not as a sad footnote - but as a token of strength. Carry that story like a prayer and give thanks for the gift he has given us.
Trophy hunting is closed in the Great Bear Rainforest, on the strength of the original law of the Indigenous nations whose unceded homelands sustain people and bears alike. Pledge to respect that law. And follow the fight until we win.
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