Monthly Archives: November 2014

Walking Backwards up a Mountain

Yesterday, I walked up a mountain backwards.

This could be a useful metaphor. It is also literally true: on one of the most moving days of this moving movement to protect the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area and to protect our global environment from the tar sands and more fossil fuel development, First Nations elders and chiefs—including Grand Chief Stewart Philip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Ian Campbell of the Skowmesh nation, and Amy and Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation—gathered with hundreds of supporters.

They spoke of their passionate commitment to their land, their communities, and the natural environment generally. They spoke of their determination to stop this pipeline and protect the oceans, animals, and trees. And then they marched, with the gathered throng behind them—up the mountain, into the forest, and towards the police lines.

I was the marker they were to follow, their guide to the forest frontline. I walked backwards in front of them, holding a sign high above my head for them to follow. In some ways it felt like these incredible elders were pushing me, backwards, up the hill, into the path of this pipeline. They were the driving force, the magnets around which we—settler allies and committed pipeline opponents, land defenders and grandmothers, Burnaby residents, university faculty and students—were arrayed.

Backing uphill, it seemed to me, was also indicative of our slow realization and maybe even reluctant awareness of what we need to do and where we need to go. It’s difficult—walking up slope towards an uncertain future. We can’t see it—but we slowly edge towards it. We have to have a little trust—that we won’t fall off a precipice or down a bottomless hole. We worry—but we go on, because we must go on. Really, we need to go a lot faster than this—but this is how we approach the changes we must make—we fear rushing right into their midst—so we edge slowly, backwards, towards them. It’s not perfect. But we are far from perfect. We go on.

An alternative, renewable energy system is feasible and achievable (as long as we get our consumerist, artificial wants under control). Meanwhile, oil and gas companies are running our government and ruining our environment. We have lost our sense of the common—of common responsibility to a common land for a common future on a common planet. We are relearning this—to the extent that we are—through the leadership of indigenous teachers and teachings.

When I think about this pipeline running under our feet, my mind runs up to its source. I think of the tar sands and the utter destruction being wreaked upon the land and indigenous communities there. I think of the desert we have made in the boreal forest, depriving it of water and life and leaving only poison behind. I think of the Athabasca Fort Chipewyan First Nation, their illnesses and the fact that they may have to abandon Fort Chip. I think of the tailings ponds, the diseased moose, the scale of deforestation.

We are directly connected to that here, at the other end of the pipeline. We are standing, right here in Coast Salish Territory, on one corner of the tar sands, on the edge of the destruction we have wrought. We are walking, backwards, up a mountain—to stop this devastation, and to fashion a new future we can as yet barely see, but which we must trust will be there, the other side of fossil fuels.

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The Growing Resistance to Climate Change

On Monday November 17, the BC Supreme Court will decide whether or not to grant Kinder Morgan an injunction against protestors who have been occupying the public and unceded lands the US oil giant wants to carve its pipeline through. This will, or will not, potentially lead to acts of civil disobedience and arrests. Kinder Morgan will, or will not, proceed with its testing and “surveying” for its pipeline (it’s worth noting, since so many of us have no faith in the impartiality of the NEB, that this “surveying” is more likely in actuality the beginning of the pipeline’s construction). Respondents in a civil suit filed by Kinder Morgan may, or may not, have to defend themselves in court, and they may, or may not, be held liable for millions of dollars of supposed “damages.”

All of this seems momentous—and in many ways it is—but I also have my eyes on the proverbial “bigger picture.” Whatever happens in this one site of resistance on Burnaby Mountain, Coast Salish Territories, the struggle against fossil fuels, and thus against climate change—the struggle for renewable, green energy alternatives—is only growing. Events like those unfolding on a mountainside in Burnaby galvanize resistance. The charges against activists are widely seen as excessive and bullying, a classic case of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, intended to subvert democratic process and our freedoms of speech and assembly. A wave of outrage has arisen against Kinder Morgan, sweeping up critical energy insiders and economists, but more importantly, this wave has arisen against the power of corporations to tilt the systems of governance and the law in their favour, against an industry bent on profit over public interest, and against a system seemingly satisfied to burn the future for a few more dollars and diversions today.

What I’m learning, from this experience, is that we are rising, we are growing, and we are building our capacity, at every step, to resist the status quo, and demand another world.

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Everywhere this growing movement is led and inspired by frontline indigenous land defenders. They are the Secwepmec Women Warriors and Klabona Keepers, standing resolutely against Imperial Metals, demanding justice for the Mount Polley tailings pond disaster—and protection against any repetition of such a disaster. They are the Wet’suwet’en people of the Unist’ot’en Camp, dug in north of Houston BC, in the path of the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Pacific Trails pipelines. They are here on unceded Coast Salish Territory too, refusing Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion and the exponential rise of oil tanker traffic in these delicate coastal waters.

The climate justice movement lines up with and behind indigenous leadership because the impacts of fossil fuel production, and climate change, hit such communities first and hardest. It lines up here because there can be no justice without a just accounting with our colonial past, and without a just relation to the land. It also finds its crucial alliance and solidarity here because traditional indigenous land use and conceptions of the relation between human beings and the land they live on provide a window into a world that is vastly different from the one currently carving up tar sands and attempting to lay fossil fuel pipelines. This other world is, first and foremost, a world of responsibilities rather than rights, and a world premised on access not just to land today, but to the lands of tomorrow as well. It is a world in which we actively care for those who are not yet born. We see this clearly in the Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court definition of aboriginal title:

“It is collective title held not only for the present generation but for all succeeding generations. It cannot be … encumbered in ways that would prevent future generations of the group from using and enjoying it. Nor can the land be developed or misused in a way that would substantially deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.”

This is a dream of the common good—a dream of a world of shared responsibilities and shared benefits. We know that this world requires not only an end to our dependence on fossil fuels, but a change in our social and economic outlook—a change from competitive models of growth to practices of commoning and limited growth. We struggle for this world on many fronts. Social change functions by being diverse and multiple. People vote for change, they organize under the umbrella of NGOs to advocate and campaign. They organize as community associations and as grassroots activists willing to do direct action and even civil disobedience. They march and rally. The blockade and occupy. All these various practices—and more—contributed to what we have thought of as our democracy: we simply would not have universal suffrage, would not have work place protections and benefits—there would not have been a civil rights movement or a women’s liberation movement—without all of these democratic practices being engaged.

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Today, we will stop pipelines, close the tar sands, and develop a new, renewable and sustainable energy system by all these means. We will do so not by denying or decrying our differences, but by respecting them and finding a new capacity for solidarity.

I choose to align my own efforts with grassroots climate justice movements and indigenous struggles for decolonization. As a privileged settler, I feel this is the only just thing I can do. And I hope that whatever abilities I have as a communicator can benefit those struggles I am aligned with.

Personally, this has been a difficult time. A $5.6 million lawsuit was not one risk that I, or anyone else I have organized with, could have foreseen. Strangest of all has been having my words read in court (as evidence, it would seem, that I just don’t like pipelines). When corporate power—through its lawyers—uses a writer’s words against that writer—when those words become flesh torn between the teeth of capital and the state—the writer is left numb and dumbfounded. This is the intention of course: condemn to silence. Remove the inconvenience. The experience has certainly caused me to stumble. But I am trying to find my feet—and my words—again.

Sometimes We Resist

I was in a park

I could not see
Global capitalism

Its dinosaur bones
Covered in chrome

I saw     trees
Their leaves
Turning yellow and
Golden brown

I saw the harbour
And the city set
Down below
The mountain

A place you’d descend
To or ascend from

I asked someone
How do we resist?

Consider the trees
Bending in the wind
Their root grip
Deep in the land

Consider the mountain
That does not drift
A little east or west
North or south

But remains a marker
We chart day’s circuits round

I asked
What if they come
With saw teeth
For the trees

With horizontal
Directional drilling
For pipelines through
Mountain’s immobile heart?

And one there said
Sometimes the voice
Sometimes the voices
Tear teeth from saw’s blades

Sometimes a body
Sometimes all our bodies
Blunt the bits of drills
Dull dollar’s desire

Sometimes
Someone said
Someone just like
You or me

Sometimes we resist
Sometimes we win