Strong Heart, Strong Mind, Strong Voice: Land Defender Will George Speaks out for the Salish Sea
“I want to let people know that with a strong heart and a strong mind, we can accomplish these things,” explains Will George. A member of Tsleil Waututh First Nation in North Vancouver, he has been standing up against the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline for the past five years at the request of his elders. He’s been blockading, challenging the Prime Minister, hanging off a bridge to stop oil tankers and telling the story of his people through film.
“They recognized who I am, and asked me to do this work. I’m really honoured to be that person for our people, to stand up and honour our ancestors and protect our waterways. That’s where I am and where I've come from.”
They asked him to help because of who he was in the community, after watching him in the early 2000s, catching his nation’s food allocation of sockeye, driven by the love of the people in his community, his elders and more than four dozen nieces and nephews. He wants to uplift youth and give them a voice. “For so long as Indigenous people, we didn't have a voice, and so encouraging and inspiring our young ones is a big part of what drives me,” he continues.
Raised by a young mother, George grew up in the 80s and had a difficult childhood. “ I'm so proud of my generation or younger generations, creating more healthy lifestyles for our young ones, compared to how I grew up,” he reflects. He was put into foster care where he was introduced to culture, sports and activities, instead of being left to his own devices.
His first job after high school was cleaning high-rise windows, and that experience of hanging off of buildings, combined with his time spent fishing prepared him for what he does now. “It really feels like everything I've done in my life has led me up to what I'm doing now… It's just beautiful to witness how I've been guided through life to do the important work that I'm doing right now,” he marvels. He still cleans windows sometimes, finding comfort in being unreachable while he works.
He’s sharing his experiences through film. “My story is very similar to a lot of Indigenous men and a lot of communities, it's subtle differences between communities, but it's very similar. I'm telling my story of that warrior spirit, and what it takes, the challenges that I face within my community, with my own family, the struggles there or struggles outside dealing with allies,” George shares.
“Film is a great way to touch people's hearts.”
George was featured in a documentary called Co-Extinction which raised awareness of the impact of pipeline expansion on salmon stocks and orca populations. It won awards and took his message to San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Wyoming, Texas, all over North America and even Paris, France for a screening. From that film came an amazing friendship with filmmakers who would work with him on another project to raise awareness of issues Indigenous men and communities face, based on the legend of the two-headed serpent.
He hopes it will inspire people and help them learn about his culture, explaining, “You can apply our culture to everyday life, even this modern day life. Our teachings are so, so valuable and that's what I carry close to my heart is when I'm going out there learning to be humble, to receive these things and learn how to apply them.” Those teachings guide him in what he does, protecting the Salish Sea from the pipeline expansion and defending the land.
Will George is looking to create change through the work he has been called to do, like a ripple in a pond. “I hope to be an ancestor for our future, the one that sparked that fire to create the change to get our people recognized and stop the trauma. I love, love people. I love them so much, and I just want better for them,” he smiles. “Be true to who you are… and know that you come from a long line of beautiful people. We come from noble, beautiful people,” he continues. With a strong heart and a strong mind, he knows he and his people can accomplish anything.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.