Thank heavens for the Wet’suwet’en crisis. No, really, we might soon be saying that.
To put one’s mind in such a place of relative peace, we need to park a few things first. Let’s park the discussion about the legality of the cross-country protests for a moment. Let’s park the puzzling presence of the likes of Al Jazeera as a fitting commentator in the discussion (as in, “While it is obvious that the indigenous blockades occurring throughout Canada rattled the foundations of the current colonial regime…”…uh, we need peace advice from the Middle East?). Let’s park the image of our national leader appearing akin to a cannabis-addled groundskeeper who’s been asked to perform open-heart surgery because the regular guy called in sick. Let’s park previous conceptions about the indigenous condition and how it got that way.
Of course, it’s hard to set all that aside, because every single person in the country (and the Middle East apparently) has an opinion on at least one aspect of the above, and common ground is rare. But if we can, it is worthwhile to try to look at the current situation as perhaps a fulcrum, rather than as a blown-past checkpoint.
Let’s look at the Wet’suwet’en situation as the end of one chapter, and the start of another.
The new chapter starts with a few interesting plotlines. First, all the simmering, bureaucratic, marginal, ineffective indigenous programs and policies of the past are now being thrust into the spotlight, and it’s not pretty. There are not many success stories. No one enjoys seeing or hearing about the brutal lives led by many indigenous people (remember, we’re setting aside preconceived notions). No one wants to see the systemic weaknesses exploited for any purpose whatsoever (ditto). No one wants endemic indigenous misery to continue.
So maybe now, with so much at stake nationally and internationally, the voices of the indigenous will be heard in ways not heard before. Some will dispute that or fear it, with the spectre of UNDRIP on the horizon, and see it as a catastrophe waiting to happen – that if the voices of the indigenous get any louder or more represented in Ottawa, no infrastructure project will proceed again in this country, because its survival will hinge on political whims.
And that thought – that more indigenous consultation will lead to less progress – brings us to an extremely important nuance going on here that gets buried. Guess what? Industrial progress in Canada is grinding to a halt regardless. There doesn’t need to be an indigenous person within a hundred miles, and there will still be a wall of protesters, NIMBYists, political pettifoggers, and general haters to halt almost anything. Some of those blockages will be for sound environmental reasons, such as some sort of specific native habitat at risk, but many will not – they will simply block development because that to them is progress. A mining convention is the most recent to get the “no more of whatever it is that you do” treatment. At present, wind and solar installations sometimes get a free pass, but that is not guaranteed by any stretch – in many jurisdictions (California, Germany, Nova Scotia to name but a few) opponents have successfully blocked new wind or solar installations because, well, they don’t like them.
So, how is this all relevant in the context of the Wet’suwet’en situation? Consider how the forces of the anti-hydrocarbon have aligned behind the hereditary chiefs – everyone from Greta on down the line is saying “Support the Wet’suwet’en”.
Well, what if the Wet’suwet’en ultimately support the natural gas pipeline? Then what? What does that mean for those that insist we support the Wet’suwet’en? Is support for natural gas and natural gas pipelines grandfathered in? Who will be the natural enemy of the protesters then, or will they in turn support natural gas pipelines, because they’ve vowed to stand with the Wet’suwet’en?
Going one step further, coming up fast on the inside are groups like Project Reconciliation, whereby many indigenous groups are coming together to request a stake in development for the good of their people. These groups are channelling even UNDRIP in a pro-business, pragmatic, sensible way (see Resource Works’ excellent and sold-out January conference program for details).
What happens to this broader indigenous movement if a deal is struck with the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en, and if Coastal Gas Link can say to the world that they have full support for their project? What if groups like Project Reconciliation’s members become major owners and advocates of energy infrastructure development?
What if economic development/ownership of big infrastructure becomes the cornerstone of indigenous progress and their way out of the deep dark hole they’re in? This is happening already; the Squamish Nation is behind a multi-billion dollar residential project in Vancouver that could bring a staggering $10 billion in rental income to the Squamish Nation over the life of the project. What if this business vision keeps spreading outward?
What if the power and wisdom for an indigenous rise in prosperity flows from their active participation in projects on many more lands in question, rather than from the hands of bureaucrats and politicians?
What if self-determination means joining the game in terms of the national economy, and not allowing Ottawa’s perpetually ineffectual hand to be the game master? What if indigenous groups closest to the land embrace resource development if done on their terms and in a partnership?
If the country moves positively in this direction, that is, if the native groups can come to terms among themselves to support resource development (and a great many of them do), then all those groups become the allies of Canada’s energy sector, and not their adversaries. Far more importantly, such an alliance would remove the extraneous interference of those who use native issues to further their agendas. And possibly most important of all, resource projects would be developed in ways that minimize environmental impacts, in the pure way that we all should strive for, as opposed to environmental criteria more aligned with politics than with the natural environment. Don’t jump on me for that one; people with very clear ideological/political motivations have taken over the environmental folder and use it as a tool, and there is no denying that.
The good news is that it is quite likely that we will head down this path, that the Wet’suwet’en people in BC will join in with the majority that support Coastal GasLink. The stakes are incredibly high; if Coastal GasLink gets quashed by this small group of holdouts, there will be chaos and politicians know it. BC Premier Horgan has stated that cancelling the pipeline is “not an option” for him. The federal government would rock the country’s foundations if it stepped in to quash the project. There is a possibility that Coastal GasLink will be let through – even the feds say that the project is underway and permitted – and others not; we will have to see the outcome of the talks. But the wheels are in motion for a collaborative vision of some kind.
Assuming then that the parties come up with a solution of some kind to allow the pipeline to proceed, then all those activists – political, climate, otherwise – who said “support the Wet’suwet’en” will have to…support the Wet’suwet’en. And maybe if the rest of the country moves also to support a brave new world of widespread indigenous involvement in responsible resource development we will move forward as a country in great strides.
Time to stop disinformation in its tracks. Say no to the politicization of critical environmental issues, and yes to balanced discussions. Pick up a copy of “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity” at Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or Indigo online. These Amazon reviews may be the wisest material you’ll find on the internet (except that one loser).