A First Voice: Ta’Kaiya Blaney

By Wanda Squirell

It was a rainy West Coast BC day when I interviewed 10-year-old Ta’Kaiya Blaney and her mother Anne. Rain is indicative of spring weather here in Vancouver. A cleansing rain clears the air so we can look forward to another of season that usually only changes slightly. It was only coincidence that Ta’kaiya’s name means “Special Waters.”

This young girl from the Sliammon First Nation in North Vancouver has set out to conquer some pretty tough territory in short order. With her words and songs, she is hoping to make certain people don’t forget what oil spills can do to our environment. The song and video “Shallow Waters” has brought Ta’Kaiya much press, and when I first heard it my eyes did well up. The words in the song are well chosen. The melody and images leave a lasting effect on the listener and viewer. Joe Cruz, who produced and mixed the song, said, “Working with Ta’Kaiya was a delight. She seems wise beyond her years and was a real pro in the studio.”

Ta’Kaiya co-wrote “Shallow Waters” with her singing teacher Aileen De La Cruz and says her favorite line is “If we do nothing, it will all be gone.” The message from this song is urgent. An oil spill along the northwest coast could tragically end the traditional way of life for many coastal First Nations. Ta’Kaiya told me, “By the time the song was almost finished, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico suddenly happened.” Ta’Kaiya’s mom Anne Blaney placed a stack of press releases and information in front of me and showed me Ta’Kaiya’s website, which has a kid’s page. She says, “I am worried I am going to miss something important. Everyone has been so supportive.” I can see the determination in her eyes, and it is as strong as her daughter’s. Obviously there will be no stone left unturned by these two regarding the environment issue.

Ta’Kaiya is home-schooled and first considered how oil spills affect all forms of life while she was studying otter. She wrote a letter to David Suzuki and said, “I had always cared about the environment but never did anything to save it before. Halfway through the article, which my mom was reading, I knew I had to do something about it. Then I had the idea to make a song about the oil spill. We have been encouraging [companies] to carry oil across the coast and what happened? Exxon Valdez, Gulf of Mexico, Great Barrier Reef. I can go on all day naming places once teeming with life, now still and sad.” She decided to enter the 2010 David Suzuki songwriting contest, Playlist for the Planet. “Shallow Waters” made it into the semi-finals. Ta’Kaiya gives great credit to David Suzuki for supporting her music video plea. She wrote to him, “None of this could work out if it weren’t for you.”

A gifted child, Ta’Kaiya has been performing at Pow Wows and First Nations events since age four. In addition to her interest in her First Nations’ culture, she is an accomplished young actress. She played the lead role in several short films and received two Leo Award Nominations (2009 and 2010) for Best Female Performance in a Short Drama for the films Shi Shi Etko and Savage. In both films, she portrayed a little girl who went to residential school.

Having decided something must be done, she took her cause to the Enbridge Corporation, armed with her music video in hand. Enbridge is a Canadian company that plays a significant role in energy delivery throughout North America. Building an oil pipeline from the Tar Sands of Alberta to Kitamat, BC is one of their current projects. Ta’Kaiya was not allowed to speak, yet this first attempt and failure to present her video to Enbridge and speak to this matter has not deterred this young earth warrior. She sent the mighty Enbridge an email regarding the threat of this pipeline being built. Pat Daniel, CEO of Enbridge, sent her a personal reply. He says in his letter, “Enbridge is one of the 100 most sustainable companies in the world, and I’m proud of our substantial and expanding investment in green a renewable energy; however, it may take many years to develop enough renewable energy to supply a growing world, and in the meantime safe transportation of existing fuels will continue to be very important to our quality of life. You should know that there is already tanker traffic on the north coast of BC, and Enbridge will pay for navigational aid improvement, a new radar system, and enhanced emergency response that will significantly improve safety for all shipping.” He further points out, “It is young people of your generation that stand to benefit most from the jobs, prosperity, and community investment that the Northern Gateway pipeline will bring to northern British Columbia, and it is important to me that you understand these benefits and our commitment to provide them without endangering the environment.”

With the support of the Yinka Dene Alliance and Chief Larry Nooski-Nadieh Whut’en Ta’Kaiya has now secured a place to speak and sing her song to Enbridge at their AGM meeting in Calgary on May 11, 2011. Ta’Kaiya also sent an open letter to Canadian politicians, about the construction of this pipeline. BC Premier Christie Clark wrote back, “Your message is very clear. Our government recognizes the unique nature of Canada’s aquatic ecosystems and is sensitive to the environmental implications of new or expanded initiatives. We also support the work of the Environmental Assessment Process. It is needed to ensure that the issues and concerns of the public, First Nations, interested stakeholders, and government agencies are considered before any decisions are made.”

My interview with Ta’Kaiya was winding down just as one of her little dogs (named Starla) had made her place comfortably on my lap. During our conversation, we talked a lot about nature and how she enjoys walking with her mom on the trails near her home in North Vancouver—particularly the Power Line Trail. We traded some good stories with each other about the black bears that visit the neighbourhood and their inquisitive little cubs getting into mischief. She told me that she loves her tribal journeys in ocean-going canoes. Being on or near the water is important to her, and I can see that in her family photos. At the Vancouver Aquarium Aqua Summer Camp she attended last year, she noted when watching the aquatic life in the tank, “It would have been nice to swim with them.”

As I was leaving the rain began lightening up, and I knew “Special Waters” was embarking on a journey of hope. She would be signaling all of us below an SOS—Save Our Shores—from her home high up on the North Shore mountains of Vancouver. Visit [www.Ta’KaiyaBlaney.com] for more information and a link to Ta’Kaiya’s video.