Nov 6, 2014 - Our Last Best Effort To Save The Sacred by Clayton Thomas Muller
Boozhoo, Tanisi its good to be here with all of you. Thanks to Bioneers and special recognition to the Oelone Peoples and the many other local indigenous peoples who sacred lands we are gathered on today. After a long period of resistance to colonialism and decades of devastation during the 20th century, Indigenous communities in Canada have reached a turning point. This is the culmination of specific struggles, ranging from the “White paper” struggle and resistance to development and environmental racism in Grassy Narrows, the Mackenzie Valley, and James Bay in the 1970s, through the legal and constitutional struggles of the 1980s and 1990s and a range of local struggles in the 1990s and 2000s. Indigenous communities in Canada have developed a complex ideological and legal framework for engaging with and resisting the colonial state. Today, across Canada, an unprecedented number of communities have risen up against colonialism and the ecological devastation of their traditional lands.
In Ontario were I live with my sons and wife Koren, the communities of KI (Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug), Ardoch Algonquin and Shabot Obaadjiwan, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Six Nations, Grassy Narrows, Moose Cree, and Temagami First Nations, among others, have developed organized political resistance to assert their right to say “no” to the despoiling of their traditional lands, and to govern them selves in accordance with their own traditions. Across the rest of Canada, the story is much the same, whether it is against dam developments in Manitoba or Labrador, the tar sands in Alberta, uranium in Saskatchewan, the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline in Denendeh (Northwest Territories), coal bed methane in the Skeena Valley and BC Peace. Fracking in Blood Reservation and in Elsipogtog First Nation in NB. Communities have confidently asserted their inherent and treaty rights, appealing both to traditional understandings of treaty and the intent of the ancestors in signing the treaty. There is a potential now for a broad social movement that issues a challenge to Canadian capitalism, colonialism, and ecological destruction that is as profound as the broadest social movements of the past 40 years. Part of developing this movement is creating spaces for Indigenous communities to share experiences with each other and strategize together outside of government‐created bureaucracies. Also important is the creation of a large body of supporters who are able to articulate and understand the issues, and intervene in ways that support, rather than bar, the formation of a broader movement.
Idle No More is one of the largest Indigenous mass movements in recent history. This movement has sparked thousands of teach-ins, rallies, and direct actions across the globe in support for democracy, Aboriginal and Treaty rights, and environmental protections. What began as a series of teach-ins in November 2012 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to protest laws that would scale back environmental protections and threaten Indigenous self-determination has now changed the social and political landscape of Canada, the United States, and beyond. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper crossed the Rubicon and slashed funding to Canadian Indian organizations, indicating his intent to pursue an aggressive plan of assimilation of Indigenous Peoples, these factors helped create the perfect storm that was Idle No More. Visibly led by Indigenous women, the movement rapidly inspired Native and non-Native people alike to shift from a sense a hopelessness, a feeling of idling, into action. Although only just over a year in existence, there are more than 300,000 people who are active in the Idle No More movement, with130,000 followers on Facebook, 100,000 event participants, 700 local Idle No More groups, and hundreds of organized events.
Idle No More has shown its ability to use social media to communicate to our base and to the broader public, coordinating actions and raising the profile of our issues in mainstream consciousness. Idle No More also has a track record of bringing people out onto the land and into the streets, often on short notice, such as the emergency solidarity actions with the anti-fracking struggle in Elsipogtog were in just over 48 hours Idle No More organized over 140 actions in every Canadian urban centre, every major USA city at every Canadian Consular Office and actions in a half dozen countries across the planet. At the height of Idle No More mobilizations last year thru non violent mass actions we shut down the majority of HWY’s across the country, 6 USA boarder crossings, and stopped every train in Canada’s largest most densely populated province of Ontario, all with only one arrest. This speaks to the power of mass social movements, combined with moral authority and the power of especially of Native woman who are leading our movement. We recognize that without the organization of people on the ground, and building of the movement’s capacity to act strategically and responsively, the movement will not have the leverage to achieve significant policy change. As part of our effort to deepen our strategic capacity, early last year Idle NoMore formally partnered with Defenders of the Land, a network of Indigenous Nations united in land defense. This collaboration has brought hundreds of person-years of collective leadership, strategy,and policy experience together with the energy and dynamism of Idle No More.Through these strategies, Idle No More continues to engage rural and urban Natives and non-Natives in a way that emphasizes our joint responsibility to struggle for justice, works to refound relations between Indigenous Peoples and non-Natives on a basis of respect and reciprocity, and develops the effective collective power needed to stop the extractive industries most responsible for the destruction of our planet.
Today’s fight for energy and climate justice has been redefined in both Canada and the United States by a new sophistication in resistance from Indigenous social movements.There are dozens of local examples in which Indigenous communities have effectively expressed community self-determination. Indigenous Peoples across North America have mastered the use of base-building strategies, including non- violent direct action, financial choke point tactics, and lobbying amplified by social media technologies and conventional media strategies. Rooted in a strong Indigenous spiritual foundation, these strengths have placed Indigenous Peoples in the forefront of the fight against our economic paradigm of neoliberalism and its worst manifestations like climate change and the associated drivers, such as Canada’s tar sands and the dozens of battle zones across the continent where the promotion of hydraulic-fracking is threatening the water of hundreds of municipalities, First Nations, and Native American Nations. Back home in Canada with the current Harper government and the passing of recent omnibus legislation, Canada has effectively thrown out 30 years of environmental, social and economic policy.
The one area the Harper government has not been able to stack the cards is the courts, and a Native rights-based tactical and strategic framework—supported by labour, NGOs, students and other social movements scaled up to the proportions of the 1960s US civil rights movement—is what’s going to not only dethrone Prime Minister Harper and his extremist government, but is the last best effort save our resources from Canada’s extractive industries sector and the banks that finance them. This rights-based approach has been tested time and time again, it is enshrined in section 35 of the Canadian constitution, it has been validated by more then 170 supreme court victories, it is validated by all of the Indian treaties, it’s validated by the United Nations declaration on Indigenous Peoples, it’s validated by the ILO convention 169 and many, many other legal instruments both domestic and international.
Today Indigenous Peoples are offering lessons on how to be resilient and to overcome the oppression from the archaic oil sector and from our own government who have lost their minds with power. Since the 2008 financial crisis, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has proudly advertised that Canadahas a strong, stable and safe investment climate. The Prime Minister and his ministers have repeated this message across the country and around the world in an effort to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) to Canada. While the government continues to paint a rosy picture there is mounting evidence that suggests that Canada’sinvestment climate is not as secure as the Canadian government has been claiming. With Indigenous resistance to extractive industries on the rise and news headlines stating “indigenous lawsuits could paralyze the tar sands” and “aboriginal rights are a threat to Canada’s resource agenda”, the situation is remarkably different than what the Government of Canada is telling the investment community. What the Canadian government is not telling the investment community is that Indigenous social movements across the country have created an unprecedented movement that is fighting in the streets and in the courtroom for the protection of their territories and sovereignty. This combination of indigenous resistance to resource extraction projects with a protective legal regime based on aboriginal and treaty rights and aboriginal title is the basis for much of the uncertainty in Canada’s resource sector. Constitutionally protected rights and title has become an important tool for first nations struggling to protect their territories from resource companies.
Numerous historic Supreme Court cases have created a legal precedent where the absence of consultation by corporations and government is leading to legal action by aboriginal communities from coast to coast and raising alarm bells for resource industries such as forestry, mining and oil and gas. Combined with numerous well organized and unrelenting acts of ‘protest to resource projects, this legal regime based on Aboriginal rights and title is giving resource development companies pause and is raising concerns within the government’s plan for increased resource exploitation in Canada. There are dozens of stories of resistance by First Nations communities to resource development projects which has led to the investment in Canada by extractive industries becoming fraught with uncertainty and this poses a high risk to corporations and to their investors that most certainly alarming. First Nations communities, environmental groups, social justice groups, labour unions and non-indigenous communities have come together and have successfully delayed or shut down projects due to protests and opposition. This has been best expressed by the successful stoppage of the building of export pipelines for the tar sands sector which has led to the shelving of billions of dollars of projects in the tar sands by oil companies such as Total and Statoil who cited a lack of pipeline capacity.
We are holding back the most powerful entities on the planet and doing it with the might of a social movement strategic framework that is about mobilizing mass pressure from the grassroots upward. Clearly the investment climate in Canada’s natural resource sector is darkening. Hundreds of front line land defender struggles all add to a long list of reports, articles and analysis showing how a movement of opposition built on a foundation of aboriginal rights and title is upsetting the plans of the Canadian government and extractive industries to exploit natural resources in our country with impunity. Historic cases in Canada have defined Aboriginal rights and Aboriginal title and have created legal means for First Nations communities to challenge the continuation of resource development projects through Canadian courts. With many exciting financial strategies taking hold such as the carbon risk strategy lifted up by the good people at Carbon Tracker and the fossil fuel divestment campaign going viral moving in a short time over 50 billion dollars from fossil fuel markets we are lifting up our own financial risk campaign that highlights the proven track record of Indigenous communities stopping corporations from privatizing and destroying the sacred thru our Native rights based strategic framework. We are in the final stages of research and writing are port on this the high risk scenario of investing in disputed Indian lands in Canada. We plan on launching this report and campaign this winter. Our strategy with this report is to ensure that key sectors of the financial community such as project financiers, pension funds, insurers, creditors, investment institutions, and banks will review and have access to the information that the report presents.
“It is clear that Canada’s investment is climate is not as strong as the government has been claiming. Companies who are interested in investing in Canada need to be aware of the risk involved with title, the extra costs involved with Aboriginal consultation, and the challenges this poses to projects when these legal obligations are ignored.” -Report Exert
Simply put, the system is politically corrupt. We don’t live in a democratic state. Instead, we’re living in a corporate state or, more precisely, a petro state. It’s time we recognized this together —as Indigenous peoples, as workers, as environmentalists. It’s time we realize that we can’t fight and win these battles on our own. It’s time we come out of our silos, link arms, and forge a common front against the tyranny of corporate power in Canada. These are the times when transformations and revolutions take place, but the energies must be harnessed and directed appropriately, and must bring together the right mix of vision, strategy, and democratic organizing with a convergence of different movements putting forward a clear vision for radical transformation.
The dream I have for us all, has its roots deep in reevaluating the relationship which industrialization has damaged most. The relationship we all share with the sacredness of mother earth. It involves deepening our understanding of systems of oppression that keep us from coming together such as race, class and gender power dynamics. It involves us coming up with comprehensive strategies that embrace an inter-generational approach to strengthening our movement for Justice. 10 years ago when I last gave a keynote here at the Bioneers I stated that climate change was the civil rights issue of my generation and set out on a journey with many strong Indigenous peoples to build what has become the most visible environmental and indigenous rights campaign in history, the indigenous tar sands campaign. After many battles ending in loss and many in victory we now are seeing the impact of our work. 400 000 people marched in NYC last month and were led by Indigenous peoples and people of color from the front lines of the fight for energy and climate justice. The message that came from the tar sands block of the march was that of Cree and Dene Indigenous campaigners from the tar sand region compelling the movement to “Stop Tar Sands at the Source.” I see a shift in power today and a recognition of the incredible leadership coming from those on the front lines.
We continue to be faced with tremendous odds, the end of the era of cheap energy, the loss of ecosystems to sustain unfettered economic growth and, of course, the global climate crisis. We must understand that these are all symptoms of the root problem with is our economic paradigm, capitalism. This economic system was born from notions of manifest destiny, the papal bulls, the doctrines of discovery and built up with the free labour of slaves, on stolen Indian lands. We have much to do in America and Canada to bring our peoples into a meaningful process of reconciliation. There is a powerful metaphor between the economic policies of the country Canada and the USA and their treatment of our Indigenous woman and girls. When you look at the extreme violence taking place against the sacredness of Mother Earth in the tar sands for example and the fact that this represents the one of the greatest driver of both Canadian and US trade policy and our economies, then you look at the lack of action being taken on the thousands of First Nations woman and girls who have been murdered or just disappeared, it all begins to all make sense. It’s also why our woman have been rising up and taking power back from the smothering forces of patriarchy dominating our economic, political and social and I would say spiritual institutions. In short violence against our mother earth begets violence against our Native Woman.
When we turn things around as a peoples, it will be the woman who lead us, and it will be the sacred feminine creative principal they carry that will give us the tools we need to build another world. I encourage you all to reach out and sign up to our list at IdleNoMore.ca and find ways to plug in and support. We have a very active Bay area chapter and hundreds more across the lower 48 that you should seek out on our website and connect with. I encourage you all to seek us out at the Polaris Institute and find ways to support the Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign and our emerging financial risk campaign. I am excited about this moment in time brothers and sisters, I am excited about finishing the work we were born to do. In closing I would like to quote 13 year old T’sliaman Pipeline Fighter, Ta’kaiya Blaney who said in NYC at the peoples climate march
“we should not be asking our selves what earth are we going to leave for our Children, but rather what kind of children are we going to raise to take care of the earth.”
Now here is the face of the environmental and climate justice movement
Ekosani Maha, Ki Na Na Skomitin