Justice, Blockades, Environment and the Economy

NDP PEI Leader, Joe Byrne addressing those attending a rally in support of the Wet’suwet’en

The entire country is glued to the news waiting for the latest developments on what will happen with the blockades, the pipeline, the police, and the economy.

Many Canadians do not recognize Canada as a colonial power. The majority do not have the experience of residential schools or the 60s Scoop, let alone the historical loss of land or access to resources, the classification system or the Indian Act. These experiences are unique to the First Nations, Inuit and Metis and they inform the positions that are unfolding today.

The blockades have brought some of these issues into focus. Many people rely on the existing transportation infrastructure to move the goods that fuel our economy. What many witness are the impasses: the police setting up on traditional lands, hereditary chiefs that are not in sync with other chiefs, lay-offs as a consequence of not being able to move goods, concerns about some essential goods like propane.

There are lots of inconveniences from dealing with this conflict and it is important to remember that, as a country, we have demanded that First Nations, Inuit and Metis lived with inconvenience for an eternity longer that than the current blockades. As one of the Hereditary Chiefs noted, ‘there is a great gulf between injustice and inconvenience.’

NDP PEI President, Jason Alward

And what is to be done? First it is important to recognize that the roots of this problem do not originate with fracking natural gas in northern BC and the economic and profit need to get this resource to a market that will pay for it – this is a symptom not the sickness. For centuries various levels of governments reflected the dominant thinking in society and chose not to design consultative processes that would recognize the rights of the first peoples of the country and integrate these rights into the legal, economic, social and environmental framework of the country.

We are not going to fix this overnight – and it is critical to be committed to working out a long-term relationship which respects and acknowledges traditional rights while establishing a proper format for consultation and decision. No one need expect that the first peoples speak with one voice – there will be as much diversity in one society as another. What does a consultative process look like that recognizes the diverse ideas, experiences and realities of a particular people, society, province or country?

There is one clear lesson from history though; the imposition of majority needs, to the exclusion of the will of a determined minority with legitimate rights, is neither a just nor efficient way to build a society, an economy or care for our land, water and air. For centuries the power of Canada has sacrificed the rights of the first peoples on the altar of the sacrosanct economy. We can no longer do this. Many understand the economic effects of not building the pipeline in BC but we also understand that the natural gas which is trapped in the rock of the mountains is not going anywhere for several hundred thousand years. There will be a way to extract it in a way that honors the land, the environment and the people. Imposition of the pipeline at the point of a gun has not, does not, and will not work.

In the context of this particular pipeline and our times we must also have a vigorous debate on the environmental effects of fracking and fossil fuels. It is irresponsible to exploit resources and not consider the effect of extraction and use of these resources on our world.

NDP PEI Women’s Committee Chair, Susan MacVittie

The rule of law and the application of it is legitimate when the law itself is just. The application of unjust laws cannot rely on a perception of economic hardship for justification. Canada’s economy is strong and will withstand the blockade however our primary economic issue is not how we move resources but how the wealth of our country is so unfairly distributed.

The solution to this conflict will not lie with the police acting on behest of politicians. It lies in a shift of our collective attitudes that the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Metis are to be codified in law, integrated into our economic relationships and reflected in our attitudes.

In the meantime the security structures can approach a solution that honors the position of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary governance and the outstanding title they have to the land in question. Coastal GasLink can do the same – the economic benefits to the shareholders of CGL are not held to be of more importance to the rights of the Wet’suwet’en. These are different positions and discussions can be held that reflect the different perspectives.

And let us all breathe a bit – those who came before us were not able or willing to work out a system to negotiate these different interests and perspectives. Let us not allow our great-grandchildren to say the same of us.

Joe Byrne

Joe Byrne

Here on PEI, Joe has worked on numerous social programs in rural communities. He has done field work on issues faced by university and college students, has been Director of Youth Ministry, and has also coordinated pastoral planning for the diocese. He remains active in the Latin American Mission Program, and is President of the Cooper Institute, a grass-roots collective for community development. He also counts among his volunteer and community work Charlottetown Abbies soccer, church Youth and Music ministries, Voluntary Resource Council, Peace Vigil Group, Atlantic Council for International Cooperation, Canada World Youth, and Katimavik hosting. He keeps up his interaction with young people as a part-time instructor for the Abegweit Driving School. All of this, he does in addition to his work in the NDP. His vast array of church and community experiences have helped him cultivate his skills in communication, organization, and consensus building, and also brought him the joy of forming hundreds of friendships.

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