Friday, March 22, 2019


Rita Wong

In protecting the Peace
Named for where the Cree and Dane-zaa ended their war
Where medicines and food grow
Where forests and farmlands are our best hope for a future
Where women like Helen Knott stand with her ancestors
Where we have the opportunity to stand with her,
                                                       even to sing together
Where the wise ones are dancing with decolonization

Conciliation is an invitation
For settlers to understand that the electricity we use 

in Vancouver
Comes from the sacrifices of the TseKehNay
Whose homes were destroyed so we could turn on the lights
An invitation
For settlers and unsettlers to understand what it means to be
a good neighbour, a better guest
For settlers and unsettlers to give back to the land
To have the opportunity for reciprocity
For dignity, for human care
For a better future than the history that haunts us
If there is an art to reconciliation
It will appear in voluntary simplicity, getting back to basics
Like earning trust through loving the river; loving the land
If there is an art to reconciliation
It will be when governments understand that
Violence on the land
Is violence on our bodies
When we all stand with Indigenous communities
                                        to end environmental
When people from all four directions come together
                                             for landbodydefense
When we understand how precious and priceless
                                      clean air and water are
When we understand what cannot be bought is what matters
May conciliation
Help us to see
Our lives as walking (prayer)
Camping (prayer)
Last ditch (prayer)
For with the flick of a light switch
                                       we see
The Peace River’s fate
                     is ours

The Peace - source

"To understand what it means to be a better guest." I so wish I had written this poem, but could not have aspired to such heights. It is so powerful in its truth, and its reminder that we are guests here - on traditional territory, and on Mother Earth. 

In northern B.C., and at rallies throughout the province, indigenous people and environmentalist allies are protesting the proposed flooding of Site C in the Peace River area for a controversial hydroelectric project that makes no economic or environmental sense. Over the opposition of a majority of B.C. voters, the powers-that-be are blindly determined to go ahead with it. (First Nations, the B.C. government and B.C. Hydro were in B.C. Supreme Court on February 28 to set a trial date of March 2022. Thus, a ruling will come before the proposed flooding of the dam reservoir area in 2023. The Peace may yet be saved.)

Rita Wong is a Canadian poet/activist, whose work reflects her concern about social and environmental issues. She grew up in Calgary, Alberta, and her first poem was published in the Calgary Sun when she was in grade five. Ms Wong says songs were important to her in her teens, and she studied song lyrics. She was an avid reader as well. Both activities likely led to her journey as a poet.

Ms Wong says a poet’s job is “to be curious, pay attention to the world around you and your feelings, and share what you feel, love and question. This includes speaking truth to power.”

Ms Wong has five previous books of poetry out: sybil unrestforage, undercurrent, perpetual, and monkeypuzzle.  She has won the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop Emerging Writer award, and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry prize.

A notable poem, and Ms Wong's sixth book, (with Fred Wah), is “Beholden: A Poem as Long as the River”, a two-line inter-disciplinary image-poem that  flows along a 114-foot map of the Columbia River. The book is stunning, its concept inspired. The poem winds along the curves of the drawn map of the river, reflecting Ms Wong and fellow poet Fred Wah’s concern about the consequences of the hydroelectric manipulation of one of Canada’s largest river systems, which would devastate that northern area, and the lives of all beings who live there.

(Interestingly, today is World Water Day, perfect for contemplation of the life of rivers and all fresh-water sources. Water is life.)

Ms Wong now lives in Vancouver, B.C. She is an associate professor in critical and cultural studies at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

I so admire a poet who uses her platform to address social and environmental issues. This poet is one newly introduced to me, and one whose work I will follow with interest and admiration.

Sources: Poetry In Voice

Material shared in 'I Wish I'd Written This' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors


  1. “to understand what it means to be
    a good neighbour, a better guest”
    , what impactful words!
    To dam a river will surely cause environmental damage. Look at China’s Three Gorges dam, one and a half million people relocated, species disappeared, landslides. But hydro-powered energy is cleaner than fossil-fuel generators and therein lies the dilemma. And cities are always hungry for more energy.
    But a poet will not sit silent and courageously points out what could be wrong. Like Miss Wong.

  2. That is a huge relocation effort, Lee San, and terrible for wildlife. As I understand it, in the Peace, there are already two dams and no need for a third, the location is environmentally sensitive, and the project makes no economic sense. But because two billion has already been spent, the government forges ahead, against protests, environmental studies and common sense. It is distressing. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  3. I agree with you Sherry, this poem is so powerful in its truth.

    I also like how she describes a poet's job “to be curious, pay attention to the world around you and your feelings, and share what you feel, love and question..." And if poets can't tell the truth, who will!

    Thank you for sharing this poet and her work, I'll surely look her up.

  4. I like that description, too. Thanks for the visit, Khaya.

  5. Sherry, you made a most significant and inspirational selection. My admiration for Ms. Wong's writing and activism is immense. Her poem is so full of truth, sadness and a call to action. Thank you for sharing this, I too wish I'd written this.

  6. Yes, the part about people in the city turning on a light really hit home for me. The beautiful Peace Valley has called to me since I was a young woman. I so admire Ms Wong's voice - and her activism. I am so happy you liked this feature.

  7. thanks so much for sharing the poem & for your generous words! That first poem was published when I was in grade 5 (not 5 years old but closer to 10) - so not a child prodigy but always a lover of words and language. HAPPY WORLD WATER DAY! Just came from from a water ceremony with the Tsilqot'in who got a temporary injunction on the drilling at Teẑtan Biny. Such incredible news!

    1. Thank you, Rita, for using your words to such good effect! (And 10 years old still sounds like a child prodigy to me.)

    2. Rita, how lovely you stopped by, and thank you, Chris, for forwarding this to her. Rita, I am so sorry the source I used was incorrect. Grade five does, indeed, still sound like a child prodigy! Thank you for the wonderful news about the injunction. It is frustrating to be fighting so hard for the planet with the signs of climate change shrieking all around us. Humans learn too slowly. Thank you for the work you do on Mother Earth's (and all of our) behalf.

    3. All fixed now! "The Peace River's fate is ours" speaks to my heart. The fate of every river, tree, land mass, fish and wild creature is ours, if we only knew it, and all the money in the world won't save us for the fate we have set in place. Only urgent and intense action and legislated change, everywhere.

  8. Yes, a fabulous poem of beautiful language and powerful statement, provoking deep thought whilst arousing immediate emotional response.

  9. She is a wonder. I will be following her work with great interest now. Chris read at an event with Ms Wong and told me about her.

  10. An interesting and edifying introduction to the work of Rita Wong - both her poetry and her activism. Thanks for making this happen, Sherry.

    The poem is stunning with a clarity of construction that is compelling. It is impactful, contemplative and stirring. Given the myriad of issues it speaks to, it is an important, hugely relevant, piece. THIS IS GREAT POETRY!

    'feel, love and question': what beautiful words to hold-in-the-heart as we walk this earth.

  11. Oh yes, yes, yes. First KNOW, then "If there is an art to reconciliation
    It will appear in voluntary simplicity, getting back to basics
    Like earning trust through loving the river; loving the land"
    Thank you.


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