In the musical My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle sings a song containing the line: “Words, words, words; I’m so sick of words.” I would not be surprised if the Indigenous peoples of this country know those words by heart. All the talk over recent years about seeking reconciliation between Indigenous people and the other inhabitants of this land appears to be just that: talk. At least on the part of the politicians.
Uxbridge council is one of many governing bodies across Canada that begin their meetings with an acknowledgement that the native people were here first. At the start of (almost) every council meeting, Mayor Dave Barton says: “I’d like to acknowledge that we are not the first people to live, work and play on these lands. Please join me in thanking the Indigenous people for their stewardship of the traditional lands that we now enjoy alongside them.”
It is not a controversial pronouncement and I’m quite certain that the mayor basically believes in what he is saying. But that reference to the natives’ land stewardship bothers me. That means that, for thousands of years, the natives cared for Mother Earth, recognizing that everything is linked together in one huge interdependent circle, and we are thanking them for their stewardship by letting thousands of acres of prime agricultural land be laid waste by rampant development or set aside (for 40+ years now) while the federal government decides just when it is going to build its Pickering airport. As a by-the-by, those agricultural tracts were the first way we ravaged the land, by cutting down huge swaths of forest in order to grow crops, not just to feed ourselves but also to be sold in vast quantities as commodities. We have paved over, plowed under, built on and polluted the very land, we are thanking the Indigenous people for “sharing” with us.
And that’s just here in Durham. Across the nation, we have seen oil and gas companies, mining companies and forestry operations decimate traditional native lands. It doesn’t matter whether it’s oil, gas, gold, diamonds, chromite, trees or whatever – if there’s something in the ground that a corporation can turn into vast profits and it just happens to sit on aboriginal lands, high-priced lawyers with huge corporate financial backing will run through every court in the land to get approval to go ahead. And, of course, we’re always told it is in Canada’s economic interest that they be allowed full reign.
Which brings us to the current situation in B.C., where heavily armed RCMP officers, some with dogs and some dressed as though they are on the front lines in Afghanistan, are arresting unarmed members of the Wet’suwet’en nation who are peacefully opposing the construction of a liquid natural gas pipeline across their traditional land.
The Wet’suwet’en attempt to block construction of the pipeline is confusing to many, including me. But as far as I have learned, although the band councils in the area have okayed the project, the hereditary chiefs are opposed. It should be noted that band councils were imposed by the Canadian government’s Indian Act years ago, while Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have, for thousands of years, maintained authority and jurisdiction to make decisions on unceded lands.
That apparently doesn’t sway the federal and provincial governments, who have decided the hereditary chiefs have no say, only the band councils. So they ordered in the police to remove people from their own land so that corporate Canada can have its way. On top of that, the Canadian Association of Journalists claims reporters covering the arrests have been detained, harassed and intimidated by the RCMP.
Supporting protests have sprung up across the country to the extent CN Rail and Via Rail have stopped running trains for several days, now (protests have shut down CN Rail in eastern Canada and much of Via Rail’s services nationwide by blocking a key artery in southern Ontario). And guess who’s being called in to handle these protests: the police, of course, being used to help corporate bottom lines and further various governments’ political agendas.
Some Canadian corporate bigwigs like Perrin Beatty, CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, want the protest stopped because “it is damaging our international reputation as a reliable supplier.” Maybe, but it certainly is underpinning the government’s reputation for speaking with a forked tongue.
It seems to me that the statement read at the beginning of Uxbridge council meetings would carry more weight if council also passed a resolution supporting the Wet’suwet’en protest.
Tell me, am I wrong?
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