By Andrea Palframan, West Coast Native News, September 25, 2014
One year after the Reconciliation Walk brought 70,0000 people into the streets of Vancouver to walk with First Nations, another epic march took place. With a contingent of indigenous women from Canada and around the world leading the way, Sunday’s 400,000-strong People’s Climate March in New York City shone a spotlight on a different kind of indigenous leadership.
The sheer numbers and diversity of those marching alongside aboriginal people— together with countless others who took part in marches around the globe—was a powerful symbol of the shift towards climate justice within the environmental movement.
Some of the most popular images from the New York City march came from the indigenous block, where Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton, and Mark Ruffalo walked, brandishing a “Shut Down the Tar Sands” banner. They want people to get the message that tarsands expansion— and pipelines across B.C. —will bring climate devastation to vulnerable communities the world over.
At home in B.C., stopping the expansion of the tarsands means the Northern Gateway must never be built. Standing together with the First Nations along the pipeline and tanker routes is crucial to realizing that goal. The passion of thousands of British Columbians who have marched and signed pledges to stop the Northern Gateway is being channelled into a new initiative, Pull Together, launched this month.
“I came to New York to talk about the disproportionate vulnerabilities frontline communities face with relation to climate change,” says Melissa Daniels, a lawyer with Woodward & Company LLP and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. She should know: her hometown is Fort Chipewyan, in the epicentre of the tarsands. Throughout her people’s traditional territory, fossil fuel projects are expanding at breakneck speed. The cumulative impacts of oil, gas, and coal projects—from extraction to transportation to climate change—are overwhelming.
“It’s crucial for us to tell our truth, that climate change is directly linked to violence towards indigenous people, violence on indigenous lands, and colonization,” says Erica Violet Lee of Idle No More. Lee’s home province, Saskatchewan, could become a new frontier of the tarsands if the Harper government realizes its agenda to double production by 2022. With tarsands expansion comes water and air pollution, loss of boreal forests and wildlife habitat, climate change and — less apparently— the destruction of indigenous ways of life. “It’s impossible to separate those things, those are our realities. In the environmental movement those discussions haven’t always been welcome.”
The Pull Together approach aims to change that paradigm. Indigenous leaders from across the north have invited help from all corners of B.C. to keep Enbridge out of their traditional territories. The campaign offers a chance to stand and be counted in one of the most important fights of our time.
Though they have invited help from the wider community, the message indigenous leaders are bringing is one of empowerment. Says Lee, who spoke at the opening plenary of the Climate Convergence, “There are so many people in our communities who are fighting these battles on the ground every single day. Connecting with other indigenous people from all over the world really strengthens my resolve in working on those issues. ” The solidarity being fostered—with the covergence of indigenous peoples and allies in initiatives like Pull Together— offers a way forward.
Susan Smitten, executive director of RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs), believes that First Nations constitutional rights are the strongest tool there is to fight run-away climate change in B.C. “With the dismantling of so much environmental legislation in Canada, the last —and hopefully inviolable— line of defence is First Nations’ Treaty and Constitutional rights,” says Smitten.
RAVEN are also in New York this week, to attend an international conference aimed at increasing indigenous philanthropy. One goal is to drum up support for a new campaign, Pull Together, that aims to raise $250,000 for five First Nations in B.C. who are taking legal action to stop the Northern Gateway pipeline project.
This new campaign invites the majority in BC who oppose Enbridge to unleash their potential and find fun, empowering ways to raise funds. Just weeks into the campaign, Moksha Yoga has pledged to raise $10,000 through their studios across B.C., while communities from Smithers to Salt Spring have pulled together to raise $25,000.
“Support for Pull Together offers a way for those who stand with First Nations in the fight for climate justice to put their commitments to reconciliation into action,” says Smitten. “It’s great to see people let loose their creative spirit in support of this campaign.”
Thanks to the millions of people who marched worldwide, and to the leadership shown by front lines aboriginal activists this weekend, the climate justice movement has gone viral. Grounding that energy are the commitments that spring from this historic convergence.
Says Melissa Daniels, “the only true reconciliation worth working towards is reconciliation with the natural world. Think in terms of responsibility: to care for the earth so we can sustain ourselves for time immemorial.”
The energy of the climate justice movement is contagious: there has never been a more urgent moment to pull together. To defeat the Northern Gateway project—and keep B.C.’s wild places, and people, alive and kicking—sign on to fundraise, donate, or organize an event at www.pull-together.ca