Canada, some say, is fractured.
In the past few weeks, as events have unfolded on Wet’suwet’en territory, the seams of this stitched-together mosaic of a nation have been exposed.
In many quarters, the mask has slipped to reveal the ugly face of racism.
When a provincial premier spreads fake news, we have a problem.
When senior politicians are ignorant to the basic facts of Indigenous governance, we have a problem.
When a federal leadership candidate tries to provoke vigilantes to attack political protestors, we have a problem.
When a country is willing to trample the rights of Indigenous Peoples to push through a fracked gas pipeline that will annihilate its climate commitments: we have a problem.
Yet: at the same time, we have an awakening.
People across the country are learning about the inequalities entrenched in the Indian Act that have constricted the lives of Indigenous Peoples for 150 years. A conversation is happening in which realities long understood by Indigenous Peoples are finally being confronted by settlers. Across the country, people are organizing teach-ins and solidarity marches. Warmed by a sacred fire, sharing songs, food and stories, students are keeping vigil on the steps of the BC Legislature.
Alliances of environmentalists, human rights advocates, and groups pushing for divestment from fossil fuels are forming to demonstrate to Canadian governments that they are are not backing down in their commitments to support Wet’suwet’en land protectors.
When Indigenous Peoples were pushed to reserve lands far from settler towns and cities, the goal was to keep us apart; the result hid the shameful neglect of Indigenous communities from Canadians who believed that this was a fair and just country. Now, though, the frontline is everywhere and we are joining forces.
This powerfully unsettling moment is giving rise to relationship-building based on a shared commitment to justice. While it’s a time of great upheaval, it’s also a time of opportunity.
The unity that we’re witnessing? It’s a kind of anti-fracking. Instead of separation and destruction, it has unleashed forces of immense creativity and intersectional spirit.
We need to stand up for justice, so that the nearly 50-year process of asserting Wet’suwet’en rights in court can continue. We need to remind our leaders that the ‘rule of law’ in this country means abiding by Supreme Court decisions. We need to level the playing field to provide access to justice so Wet’suwet’en leadership can affirm Indigneous legal frameworks that are — easily — as much a part of the fabric of this land as European parliamentary traditions.
Instead of squabbling over how many hereditary chiefs are ‘for’ or ‘against’ the pipeline (pro tip: there are zero pro-pipeliners among the 9 serving chiefs), take the time to learn about the feast hall traditions of the Wet’suwet’en, or of the longhouses of the Mohawks. There, you’ll discover strong lines of matriarchs, guided by ancestral traditions in which the health of the land and the health of the people are understood to be interwoven. These laws are why demonstrators are committed to peaceful resistance: they are getting their direction from their aunties and their grandmothers.
Social media thrives on outrage; conflict is what keeps people coming back, again and again, to platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Let’s not shy away from having courageous conversations. Ask people to cite sources for mis-information. Interrogate the stories you’ve been told, and the stories you’ve been telling yourself. Use this set of resources to provide context for today’s conflicts. Make no assumptions about what motivates Indigenous land defenders and water protectors: go and meet with people at blockades and demonstrations, and ask them yourself.
The truth is, we can’t be torn apart: we are bound together by this land, this water, and this sky that shelters us.
Tonight, concerts across the country are taking place under the banner #WeAreTheStronghold. In what organizers are calling a ‘virtual round dance’, people across the country and around the world are being invited to join in online fundraising for Wet’suwet’en. If you want to do more, get in touch with RAVEN to find out how to organize your own event.
A legal precedent is a stronghold. A circle of allies is a stronghold.
We have an opportunity for the most ancient laws of this land to help shape our common future.
Together, we are the stronghold. Are you in?