VANCOUVER – Robert Williams drumming reflects off his people in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Each beat sings the song of their spirit.
“This is the last stop for people who have nowhere to go,” says Williams, 29, Monday morning of an area that stretches a few city blocks and known for its in-your-face poverty and drug addiction at Main and Hastings streets.
“Most people here are products of residential schools.”
It’s about a kilometre from the Vancouver Convention Centre – a ritzy location by the water’s edge where people walk around with Gucci purses and drive high-end cars.
It’s also where chiefs are gathering to elect a national chief for the Assembly of First Nations.
But for Williams it may as well be a million kilometres away.
APTN News asked him what the AFN means to him and its election.
He said it’s hard to accept thousands of dollars will be spent on an election while people around him struggle.
“The AFN doesn’t do anything for the people. It has no real value,” says Williams. “Big honorariums. Travel. Big meetings about nothing where nothing gets done. Basically just hired actors to fulfill a big play.”
Just to enter the assembly is hundreds of dollars – something no one here can afford when they are bumming single cigarettes from a lady everyone calls “Momma”.
One guy offers to trade an orange for a cigarette but she just gives him one. Another guy is livid his bike was stolen.
“That’s the second time that his bike was stolen,” says Momma, whose real name is Marcella Jacob, 54.
Jacob doesn’t just help people out with a loosey – she helps direct them to where they can find treatment or get an identification card.
She should know as she used to work at a local shelter for Indigenous people until she lost her job and became homeless herself.
That was three years ago and just recently she got a place to live.
But she keeps coming to Hastings street.
“I’m a people person. I have lots of love for everybody down here,” she says. “A lot of our people are crying out for help.”
When the AFN comes up in conversation she sort of gives a look of “who?” She knows about the AFN but she says the AFN doesn’t know her.
“They don’t do nothing for us,” she says.
Another longtime resident of the area compared the AFN to a story he once heard about an elder that attended a meeting with chiefs.
“Lots of clouds, lots of thunder, lots of lightening but no rain and that’s what we’re always promised,” said Pakaygun, 63, a Cree man.
“It’s a beautiful show but where’s the rain? Where’s the substance that’s going to help us really get out of this?”
The AFN is another part of colonization he said.
“So what do I think of our national leadership? I don’t know what they do except play politics,” said Pakaygun, which means pounding rock.
As chiefs from across the country arrive in Vancouver to elect an AFN national chief Robert Williams, 29, drums Monday morning for those struggling in Downtown Eastside. pic.twitter.com/Lr1MzgsWyW
— Kenneth Jackson (@afixedaddress) July 23, 2018
“They just want their picture taken and look good,” he said. “As soon as you’re obsessed with yourself you are not obsessed about your people.”
The first ballot opens Wednesday morning.
As it does those in Downtown Eastside can expect to hear Williams’ drum.