I had a wonderful visit in mid-December from a two of the actors (Georgina Beaty and Anita Rochon) from Architect Theatre working on The Pipeline Project, which is a theatre development project about, you guessed it, Enbridge's Northern Gateway proposal.
They were on the road through northern BC in November and December and came to spend a couple of hours in Driftwood Canyon. We (I!)talked as we walked across the arched bridge over Driftwood Creek and later over a cup of tea back around our kitchen table. It made me realize how long I’d been living here, how many environmental projects we’d been involved in over those years, and how the stories are still the same. Threats of economic disaster if we don’t do what is being asked of us, while industry insists that what we ask in terms of safeguards or alternatives is impossible. Neither has proved true.
(photo courtesy project facebook page)
This last important victory demonstrates that it is also possible for First Nations to work with the non-native community – both on economic projects like the Kyahwood Forest Products and the sale of salmon at Moricetown and on environmental campaigns to protect wild salmon from fish farms or oil spills.
This was not the case when I moved to Smithers in 1977. It was still a regular practice for the fire chief to ask town council for permission to have his crew practice burning down “derelict” buildings – buildings that were often shelters for otherwise homeless Wet’suwet’en. It was not uncommon for Wet’suwet’en to be asked to leave stores and restaurants. Back when they were called Carriers.
Things have, in many ways, changed. Beautiful totem poles stand in front of Smithers Secondary and Northwest Community College. The Office of the Wet’suwet’en is located in downtown Smithers. The Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre owns the building that used to house the jail. School District 54 has just published Niwhts'ide'ni Hibi'it'en – The Ways of Our Ancestors: Witsuwit’en History and Culture Throughout the Millennia.
|Turn the crank and you can hear, among other things, a Wet'suwet'en greeting here at Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park.|
(photo courtesy project facebook page)
The Wet’suwet’en went through a long process educating both themselves and our community about their history and culture. Work began in earnest in 1984 when the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en launched a suit that claimed ownership and jurisdiction over their territory and led to an exhaustive recording of traditional knowledge that has left us all the richer. Even though Chief (sic) Justice Allan McEachern wrote an insulting decision denying even their existence as a people, the process of gathering that information, of talking to each other, had a very powerful and positive effect. We all knew what had happened in the past, knew that steps had to be taken to repair the injustices of that past. And the Wet’suwet’en demonstrated clearly that they still existed and held onto many political and cultural practices we had pretended were in the past. The Supreme Court’s overturning of McEachern’s decision on Delgamuukw and Gisday Wa was welcome, of course, but a transformation had begun.
Which brings me to the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel. While it will be disappointing, we shouldn’t be surprised if the panel makes a decision as insulting and misinformed as McEachern’s was. But it will be too late. We have listened to the oral presentations from community members and read the technical evidence and cross-examinations from interveners. We have spoken to each other and there is no going back. We have heard hundreds of stories from across the province and we know how many of us oppose this project. We have educated ourselves and each other about the sham economics of the project and the environmental impacts of tar sands expansion, pipeline construction and oil spills both globally and locally. We cannot “unknow” this.
This is part of what I said as I poured tea for two young actors sitting around a table that had seen hard labour in the offices of the Telkwa Foundation, the Smithers Human Rights Society, and the home of Walter and Peggy Taylor, people who stood up against social and environmental injustice throughout their long lifetimes. We are honoured to be able to sit at this table every day and gather energy from those who have come before us.
So raise a toast to what we’ve learned this past year, and make a resolution to stand firm, together, in 2013.