This is not our Canada . . . Dismay and upset followed the Federal Government’s announcement to conditionally approve Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. How could a government claim it represents its people with any semblance of integrity, knowing that the 1,000 km proposed pipeline from the tar sands to the coast is opposed by 130 First Nation groups, 31 municipalities and the majority of British Columbians? More individuals registered to voice their concerns during the public review than any other environmental assessment process in Canada, ever.
Canadians should have been shocked and outraged, but for the most part it was hardly a surprise. That’s because in the recent past, the Harper government has been steadfast about vilifying Canadians who speak out in support of the rights of First Nations, the rights of society, and the rights of our environment.
Here, witnessing the flurry of activity amid the buzz of machinery in Fort McMurray, we can see the magnitude of this project. Oil is king here. Its importance is unabashedly touted as obligate to the needs of the Canadian economy through industry, manufacturing, transportation and as an export commodity.
But somehow the Northern Gateway pipeline signifies much more. It symbolizes poor judgment and understanding of the phrase true north strong and free. It symbolizes a lack of action from Canada’s leaders to address the very real circumstances in which climate change is impacting ecosystems and communities, particularly in the north. It speaks of an indifference to acknowledge the immense repercussions of detrimental impacts to infrastructure and human life, which are accruing in the wake of extreme weather events around the globe. And, it has also revealed how years of prevarication on Aboriginal rights ignored, but inadvertently empowered Canada’s indigenous people.
Our participation in the 2014 Healing Walk comes on the heels of the biggest decision on Aboriginal title in Canadian history. It could not be more fitting that this watershed moment should follow the decision of the Harper government to approve a pipeline that could imperil the land and waters for many First Nations on its path to the coast. Now on Canada Day, having reflected on our Healing Walk experience, it seems appropriate to search within ourselves about this country – a nation that is changing and evolving with each anniversary.
On July 1, 1967 – Canada’s 100th birthday – Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation presented a Lament for Confederation to a crowd of 32,000 people in Vancouver. As a poet and author, this was his most famous speech, and in it he ponders;
“Oh Canada, how can I celebrate with you this Centenary, this hundred years? Shall I thank you for the reserves that are left to me of my beautiful forests? For the canned fish of my rivers? For the loss of my pride and authority, even among my own people? For the lack of my will to fight back? No! I must forget what’s past and gone.”
Chief Dan George goes on to say that Aboriginal people will rise like the thunderbird of old to become the proudest segment in Canadian society. Indeed, as we observed the individuals from across Turtle Island at this year’s Healing Walk, each seemed to walk a little taller, head held a little higher. These are proud people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike, supporting each other, knowing that short-sightedness is impermanent, and knowing that there is a way beyond a dark past to something hopeful and good.
The Supreme Court of Canada declaration presents a much longer term vision of what Canada can be. Peter Robinson said that being Canadian means having openess to question our approaches, having the kindness to consider our impact on others, and having the resolve to do the right thing. Following the Healing Walk we no longer need to imagine a Canada where these things are possible. Within us this Canada exists . . .
This is our Canada.