In 2007, when Northern Gateway was just beginning to rear it’s troublesome head I wrote in The Dominion, that Aboriginal Rights and Title were going to be the strongest defense against pipeline developments in British Columbia. I knew an uphill battle was coming as I wrote, “blockades are used as a last resort when the laws and policies of the Canadian state fail to take into consideration constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights and title”. Seven years later, we are now faced with this last resort. Over the years, we have spent countless energy trying to protect our water, our salmon, our air and our very cultures from fossil fuels being pumped through out yintah. In that article years ago, I asked, “Where do we go from here? Sit idly by as pipelines cut new borders and deep wounds in the earth?” Luckily, we have not been idle, and have actually declared that we will be Idle No More!
Thanks to Enbridge, peoples from across Turtle Island have become politicized to the ongoing crisis to protect our lands. As citizens to our various nations we have had to take it upon ourselves to consider the next seven generations and uphold our responsibility to speak for them in the face of relentless greed and consumption of natural resources. “Resources” that we hold sacred. Countless people have taken to the streets in peaceful protest in the assertion that--we will not, cannot, entertain the idea of a pipeline spill in our Yintah. We have suggested alternatives, asked for cumulative assessments, sat through hearings and referendums and the answer from the people, even our children, is a resounding “NO! We do not want a spill. We do not want climate change. End of story.”
Sadly, it is clear that this story is long from over. The government’s agenda is to get the land locked fossil fuels to the coast as quickly and expediently as possible. The Joint Review Process which, was not cumulative in scope, was fast-tracked and ignored the evidence that the people and the land do not want Enbridge. Environmental laws were changed, sketchy deals made behind closed doors, and every attempt was made to silence the people—those crazy radicals who are terrorizing the Canadian government.
The cost of Enbridge has already been huge. Relationships in communities have been broken, people have lost their jobs, freedom of expression has been stifled, and our precious time has been wasted. Seven years have passed which could have been spent finding solutions to global and local problems rather than trying to wake up our own governments. Indigenous nations across the carbon corridor have spent considerable time and energy preparing for meetings, reviews, and assessments that were ignored. We’ve protested, rallied, had sit-ins, hosted free workshops, built communities of solidarity, wrote articles and blogs and songs and poems. In hindsight, it would have been better if all of us realized years ago that our voice did not matter and that the economy is the one and only trump card. We have a debt to pay and politician’s visa expenses, corporate jets, and poodled purses are more important than our salmon, than our culture, and our relationship to the state.
Nevertheless, I think this seven year’s war has been necessary to wake up the majority of people and prepare them for the battle that lies ahead. The laws and policies have failed to protect not only our Aboriginal rights and title, but our collective human rights. I believe we have enough people now to take on this next challenge which is going to require a change of tactics including physically halting access to our lands, legal battles, and aggressively pursuing alternatives to fossil fuels. We can’t just fight this one company anymore, we must change the way we live so our future is secure. The ocean’s will be rising at least one-metre in our generation, the salmon may go extinct, our water may be our most precious resource we have…so when we stand in front of the pipelines in solidarity, know you are standing up for our future.
This is not just an Indian problem or an environmentalist’s problem anymore, finding a way to stop our fossil fuel dependency is a cause for every human on this planet. Not even the wealthy can drink dirty water or breath filthy air. Let’s use this momentum that has been created to find real solutions, to assert title to our lands (for Wet’suwet’en…as one united nation) that has never been ceded, and work together to make this world a better place. Let’s drop the language of consultation and accommodation. In unceded lands we speak the truth of free, prior, and informed consent. Push that agenda, protect our lands, and defend our communities.
Strength and love to my people, my friends, over the next roadblock that has been put in our way. All my relations.
In the spring, I volunteered to take a group of Wet'suwet'en and Nedut'en high school students on a field trip to look at medicinal and food plants in our local area. We were accompanied by a couple foresters who were going to be showing the students some culturally modified trees. As we stepped off the school bus on an old forest service road, I looked around for a place that would be easy to enter the woods. I pointed to a low bank and suggested we enter there. One of the foresters glanced up at the stand of pine that had been ravaged by mountain pine beetle a few years earlier. Grey, listless trees towered above us and he muttered, "But, that's just a dead forest?". I chose not to answer him as I showed the youth how to walk heal to toe through the forest to try to be as quiet as possible. Silently, the usually loud and rebellious group followed me into the woods where we walked about 100 yards into the dead pine to a small clearing where we stopped and stood in a small circle. It was quiet, not a noise could be heard as I whispered to the group to close their eyes and listen. As the forest grew more comfortable with our presence, the sounds of the land began to surround us as though a switch had been flicked back on. After a few minutes, I asked quietly "With your eyes still closed, what do you hear?"
A squirrel chattering.
I asked the group to open their eyes. As our eyes refocused to the beams of light gleaming through the high canopy of trees I asked, "What do you see?" The group looked around for a few moments until finally one of the teachers said, "Trees". I asked, "What else? Can you be more specific". They looked around some more.
"What else?" I encouraged the unusually quiet group with smiles and eye contact.
A bumble bee.
Fallen trees covered in moss.
A spider web.
An ant hill.
The list went on as the group excitedly mentioned everything they could see around them. Competing with one another for coming up with something new until the group again fell silent. "So," I said, "Let me ask you this. Is this a dead forest?" With a sheepish reply, the forester was the first to answer. "No."
I pointed towards the under canopy of pine trees that were growing below the decaying pine and asked him, in his professional opinion, to guess the age of the pine understory. 30 to 40 years was his reply. For the next hour or so, we investigated our little clearing in the woods. I showed the class the kinikinik, plantain, alder, blueberry, saskatoon, morel mushrooms, strawberry, wild onion, spruce tips, and all the other plants I could identify and describe their use. We told stories of creation and how our ancestors were given gifts of knowledge from their dreams or animal brothers and sisters by treating them with respect. The forester showed us all the different types of moss he knew and gently lifted up a piece of yellow moss to show all the insects below as he stated how it took generations for an ecosystem like this to flourish. Some of the youth told stories about how their grandparents or parents used birch bark, picked berries, and ate pine noodles.
While our yintah has been clearcut and mined, ravaged by mountain pine beetle, flooded, and colonized we are still one of the few locations in the world to have old growth forests and a vast wilderness to support our diverse habitats. It is that closer look, the connection, that I hope to nurture in our children and youth. If all we see is stumpage rates and lumber supplies, we do not see the value in the life that depends on the forest, even the so-called dead forests that are now used as an excuse to open up the timber supply to get the last monetary drop out of the timber that remains. If we do not see real value, if we do not see life, we cannot love our land. Without love, we will not protect it.
Listen. Look closer.
PHOTOGRAPHY ON YINTAH.COM:
Please contact me if you would like permission to use any of my photos. For more of my photography, please visit my Flickr page: