The Qu’Appelle River runs through the Qu’Appelle Valley in southern Saskatchewan.  So graceful and harmonious is this valley that it reminds the traveler of that visionary homeland where each thing has what it needs to live a beautiful life.  When I first saw the Qu’Appellle Valley, I thought that this place was like the home I might have had if the Great War of 1914-1918 had not cast a violent shadow over the entire twentieth century.

The Qu’Appelle River flows through the Qu’Appelle Valley like a Queen on parade.  Her name, “Qu’Appelle”, is French for “Who calls?”  This is a rough translation of the original Cree words for the river, and there are many stories as to how the river got its name.  One story goes like this:


Long ago a First Nations person was going down the river in his canoe.  One day he heard a voice calling to him.  He stopped paddling, and listened intently.  Again he heard the voice calling, and he called out in his turn.  No one answered him, so he carefully looked around for the tracks of another person.  He couldn’t find any tracks, and from that time the river was known as “Who calls?” (1)

Today we cannot hear the earth speak in the same way as aboriginal people did before the coming of the Europeans.  In the old days the relationship of First Nations people to nature was intense and personal.  Everything in nature had the power to reveal itself as a living presence, should it choose to do so, and should a person be ready to hear or to see.  This relationship went both ways.  Human beings were part of nature as were fish, trees, rocks and grizzly bears.  And because humans were created later than most other creatures, people were often humbly thought of as the younger sisters and brothers.  So did humans see themselves as members of a larger family on a living earth.  Black Elk said, “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of human beings when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe.”

In our technological, urban world we have lost much of our ability to hear many of the voices in nature.  We long for connection to the beauty we see, and we talk of spirituality rather than formal religion.  Spirituality is about the quality of our relationship to the world.  It is about our ability to see our connection to everything around us, to see the beauty, to hear the voices, to be present to the miracle of that which is simply in front of us.  Chief Seathl, after whom the City of Seattle was named, put it this way:  “Every part of this land is sacred in the view of my people.  Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove….”

We reach out to the people around us with deep caring.  We watch.  We listen.  Rain falls.  The wind is like breathing.  “All real living is meeting,” Martin Buber said.  Life is relationship.  First Nations people close many of their speeches and prayers with the expression, “All my relations.”

In April, 2010, an international conference for the protection of the earth took place in Bolivia.  President Evo Morales of Bolivia invited the peoples of the world to this conference, and more than 30,000 people from over 100 countries came to share their concerns.  President Morales urged the delegates to listen to the voices of indigenous people as they talked about respect for the earth and stewardship.

We can be more aware of the voices around us, and we can start with the people we meet every day.  Can we hear the person who is asking for help?  Eagles fly overhead at many of our ceremonies in the Downtown Eastside.  What are the eagles saying to us?  Waves on the shore of Crab Park have stories to tell. The Oppenheimer Park totem pole speaks to the long history of First Nations on this land, and it also asks us to remember those who have died in the Downtown Eastside, and those who have survived.

The old heritage buidings in our community speak to the early history of Vancouver, and in the streets late at night you can hear the voices of unemployed men during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. They are marching in a snake parade because they are hungry and have no place to sleep.  Chinatown and Japantown have stories to tell of those who fought for dignity and human rights.

So many voices.  So much pain and courage and laughter.  “Who calls?” we ask, and we hear the voice of the other one, reminding us of relationship, or our kinship to the mice in the fields and the stars in the sky.  As Chief Joseph said, “The earth and myself are of one mind.”


(1)               River in a Dry Land, by Trevor Harriot, published by Stoddart, 2000, page 12.



Telling Stories

We need to tell our own stories.
If we don’t tell our stories,
people with power
will tell our stories for us,
And we won’t like what they say.

When we tell our stories,
we reach out to each other
and build community.
We share our pain.
We share our hope.
We share our laughter,
and our determination.

When we tell our stories
we draw our own maps,
and we question
the maps of the powerful.

Each of us has something to tell,
something to teach.
We speak the language of the heart-
here-in the Downtown Eastside-
The soul of Vancouver.

Last Poem

(Jean’s note:  I found this poem on Sandy’s desk a few days after he died.  It was in draft form and hard to read but this is what I could make out)


Do not weep for me
when I have gone
and you are lonely
in the quiet night
sitting where we
used to sit together.

Do not weep for me
for I am closer
to you now than I
have ever been before.

Wind caresses you—I am the wind.
I am the sun’s warmth.
I am the sweetness of the summer flowers.
I am the smell of gentle rain.

The I of which I talk
is not the tiny I
that is born and dies
but the I that ever was,
the “I” that says “before Abraham was, I am.”

The I of which I speak
is not the I of me
but the I that lives at
this exact moment and forever.

Do not weep for me
when I have gone
and you are lonely in the quiet night.
for I am closer to you now
than I have ever been before.

Living Is A Matter Of Hope

Dedicated to all those fighting the atrocious violence of Gordon Campbell and his government driven by the ideology of wealth and power for a few and increasing poverty for many.

* * *

On April 7, 1945,
allied armies approached
the Buchenwald concentration camp
in Germany.
Prisoners could hear the American guns, and
they hoped, oh, how they hoped.
Then the SS decided to move
five thousand men from the camp –
five thousand skeletons –
to hide them perhaps,
to kill them,
these ghosts that bore witness
to holocaust.
So began a twenty-one day nightmare –
fifty freight cars
one hundred men to a car
wandering aimlessly in Europe.

No hope now.
Starving, delirious men
shared a few potatoes
a bit of bread.
Sometimes the train
sat at a siding for days,
suspended between life and death.
About two men died
in each car every day, and
the dead were left beside the track.
Some men went mad
and pounded their heads
against the wooden walls.
Others, delirious with fever,
screamed for water.
The SS hit them with clubs
to restore quiet.
Then an SS officer
appeared at the top
of an open car,
his face contorted with hatred.
He fired his rifle
into the car
as though killing others
would kill his inner torment.
One prisoner was shot through the head,
and his blood and brains
splattered on those around him.
In spite of themselves, the others
were glad it wasn’t them.
They thought of the extra space
they would have
when the body was removed,
and they mourned their selfish thoughts
along with their dead comrade.

So time passed.
Men died of dysentery, exhaustion
and despair.
The world had become absurd.
On April 26,
as one more lay dying,
three of his brothers
from the Franciscan order
sat in silence beside him.
Slowly, as water trickles
from a hidden spring,
a song arose among them.
They sang the Canticle of Brother Sun,
written by Saint Francis,
and their voices touched the hearts
of the remaining three thousand prisoners.
“Glory…for the gift of your creation
for our brother the sun
for our sister the moon…”

They sang like
Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego
in the fiery furnace,
and like Nazim Hikmet,
the Turkish poet
who spent many years in jail
because he loved justice, and
who wrote while in prison:
“Living is a matter of hope, my love.
Living is a serious business,
like loving you.”

~ Sandy Cameron

Beauty Brings The Gift Of Hope

The Alhambra is an ancient Arab palace in Granada, Spain.  I knew a little of the history of the palace, but nothing prepared me for the beauty of the intricately carved stone archway at the entrance.  It was poetry in stone.  So powerful was the beauty of this architecture that my legs became weak, and I almost fell.  I have to change my life, I thought.  In the face of this beauty I have to change my life.  I wish the buildings in my city of Vancouver were beautiful.  My city is a machine for making money.  When I go back home, I want to make something beautiful.

Vincent Van Gogh saw the ugliness and injustice of his society.  He wanted to help people who were suffering, and he went to live in a mining village where the people were very poor.  He wasn’t any help, though, because he gave everything he owned away, and his family had to rescue him.  Slowly an idea formed in Van Gogh’s mind.  He would make the world a better place through his paintings.  He would make something beautiful, and give it to someone as a gift.  “How can I be of use in the world?” he asked in a letter to his brother Theo (July, 1880).  “Cannot I serve some purpose and be of some good?”  The millions of people who line up to see the paintings of Van Gogh, and come away with renewed hope, have answered that question.

I wonder what Van Gogh meant by the word beautiful?  He said that he wanted to paint things as they really were, and the writer, John Berger, thought Van Gogh’s entire life was an endless yearning for reality. (Selected Essays of John Berger, edited by Geoff Dyer, Vintage International, 2003)  The problem is that different people see reality differently.  The reality Van Gogh was seeking was not the reality of the scientist who said that what was real could be measured with a calculator.  Van Gogh’s reality was closer to William Blake’s statement: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, people would see everything as it is, infinite.”  This was a vision of the sacred, using Mircea Eliade’s definition of the sacred as that which is saturated with being – the essence of things.

The philosopher, Karl Jaspers, described how Van Gogh’s paintings captured the essence of things.  “It seems to me,” he wrote, “that some secret spring of life is opened to us for a moment, as if the depths hidden in every existence were unveiled right before our eyes.”  To see things as they really are is to experience the sacred.  The person who sees with full attention becomes a seer, and that person will reject the materialistic, profit-driven society we live in.  In this sense the spiritual is political.

The philosopher, Heidegger, defined truth as the unconcealedness of being, and beauty as the clothes of being.  This is the reality Van Gogh sought.  This is what Keats meant when he wrote in his poem Ode To A Grecian Urn, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”  We share being, for all things are one in that they are, and all things are many in what they are.  Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Nation expressed our connection to all that is when he said, “The earth and myself are of one mind.”  If we are of one mind, or one reality, with all that is, then we are kin with the mice in the forest and the stars in the sky.  First Nations people state this reality in the phrase “All my relations”.  Beauty as the clothes of being carries a political message because we have no right to harm or exploit our relatives.  Brother Sun; Sister Moon.

We are part of the healing of the world when we create something beautiful.  We reach out to our sisters and brothers with the gift of hope – a song, a poem, a dance, a painting, a banner, a poster, a photograph, a quilt, a sculpture, a play, a newsletter, a story, a speech, an opera, a collage, a drawing, a wall hanging, a mural, and the giving of a kind word from one person to another.  All these creations are precious stones for the bridge we are building across the river of despair and injustice to a land of beauty where everyone is included.

Hope In Spite Of The New World Order

The global economy, driven by the dynamic of accumulation, creates enormous poverty as well as enormous wealth.  As documented in the book Global Dreams, Imperial Corporations And The New World Order, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening as wages are forced down, social programs slashed, and unemployment increased in a brutal pattern of competitive impoverishment.

There is hope in spite of the unrestrained accumulation of transnational corporations, however, because human beings will always fight for justice – as the people of South Africa remind us.

Unfortunately, few politicians in Canada have the vision to speak words of hope to the millions of Canadians who are being hurt by the unemployment and poverty created by the transnational global economy.

Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, President of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in Mexico, is one person who can speak from the heart to the suffering people of the world.  In an article in Global Visions – Beyond The New World Order – edited by J. Brecher, J.B. Childs, and J. Cutler (Black Rose Books, 1993), he wrote:

“Considering our existing world, to create an order of justice and equality might seem an impossible task.  Some, blinded by the interests that move the great powers today, believe that the present order cannot be changed.

“They do not want to see that in the heart of every nation there are men and women who fight against any form of oppression, marginality, and exploitation, and that defying injustice has always brought great changes and progress for humanity.

“Therein lies our optimism that changes are possible.  People are struggling for them, and without doubt they will be attained.  In every nation some lights remain.  They may seem weak, but history has taught us that these flames are the ones that light up consciences and warm the will to continue.  When they become more intense, they move peoples and nations.”