Sep 5, 2011

Stolen Lands, Stolen Berries

There's nothing like a big juicy blackberry to bring out the inner Settler in us. At least, that seems to be my tipping point between justice and indulgence.

We had found The Best Blackberry Patch ever. Huge juicy berries by the handful, miles from any busy polluting highway. My Wwoofers and I eagerly started filling out buckets, and I carefully pruned away the thorny berry-less vines blocking full access to the sweet nirvana within.

"This is private land," a voice broke the reverie. A woman from Cowichan Tribes had walked by and was quietly but firmly letting me know that this land belongs to her mother, and she especially doesn't like people pruning her bushes.

My first response was good and honest. I apologized and we quickly packed up our things and headed back down the path. I truly did not know - we had been told by many sources that this was a great berry patch, the trail is an off-shoot of a public nature preserve pathway, and there are no signs or gates. An honest mistake, and an honest apology and withdrawal.

But then the thought of all those delicious unpicked berries clouded my virtuous mind. "There are way too many for her to pick alone. They'll just go bad on the vine. I was doing her a favour with my pruning."

Then a darker questioning of her integrity. "So many people, including the neighbouring sawmill, have said this is public land, maybe she's lying just to keep the berries to herself."

Then finally a good old-fashioned colonialist/settler "I WANT IT" attitude. "Who is she to hoard this resource to herself anyways? This should be public land."

On the sad walk out, with buckets half-full of black berries and head too full of dark thoughts, I poured out my misery to two other white couples walking the path. They both quickly sided with me - in fact, one said he'd been caught picking berries 5 years ago and now only comes at times he thinks they won't be around. There was absolute complicity in the view that these berries and this dog-walking path should be ours, for the sole reason that we happen to like these berries and their dog likes this path.

This country was founded by men like me taking what they wanted then begrudgingly leaving the worst land for the original inhabitants. Then if they later found some value in that land, they'd break the treaty and take it too. Now here I was, scraping for any justification to break yet another treaty just because the one marketable product on this beautiful but unfarmable floodplain are better than the berries on my own land.

I'm now 100% clear in my head that returning to that land, knowing what I now know about its ownership, would be 100% wrong. But there's still a part of my heart that wishes I didn't know so I could continue to steal their berries in blissful innocence. Or that I could some legal loophole or way to bypass their title and get back in there. And even while seeing (and sharing) this experience as part of my continuing self-discovery and growth, uncovering that privileged, entitled, disrespectful settler in me is leaving a bitter taste in those sweet berries.

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