This week on Cross Country Checkup, host Duncan McCue was asking CBC listeners to weigh in on the B.C. Pipeline Protests, centring around the activism of the Wet’suwe’ten First Nation. I’ve decided to offer my reaction as a counterpoint to Andrew Scheer’s speech to the press on Friday.
First off, I support the protests. (Shockingly, Scheer doesn’t.) This is much easier for me to say as someone who has not yet been affected by the rail closures, but I trust these protesters. Indigenous peoples know the land, and knew it deeply for many millennia before settlers arrived.
They especially know water. They understand that water is sacred and not to be messed with. You don’t even have to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of this statement to know that it is literally true. Water is the actual source of life on this planet, and as such should be inviolable. The more of it we poison, the more we endanger our species. That’s just a fact. White folks do have a tendency to ignore it, but the perils of all those important environmental facts we tend to ignore are becoming less and less ignorable.
One of the things I loved about Scheer’s speech is how he kept talking about all these other activists who have “no connection with the Wet’suwet’en people” but are protesting nonetheless. Thanks, Andrew, for emphasizing how much support these protests are garnering from all kinds of people! And to think, they have “no connection” with the Wet’suwet’en nation – except an objection to this pipeline process, a distrust of the companies involved, a concern that the Canadian government is on the wrong path, a knowledge that pipeline spills are commonplace, an understanding that once you wreck a piece of land you can’t undo it, and an appreciation for the fact that sometimes a disruptive protest is your only option.
The big point that people focused on in Scheer’s speech was when he repeatedly flashed his gross ignorance by saying that Indigenous protesters should “check their privilege.” Yes, one’s jaw does drop. This guy wanted to be Prime Minister. He’s white, straight, male, middle-aged, and (kind of) Canadian – and just dumb enough to dare to speak about privilege as though he has any clue what it is. (He can’t; he’s too busy wallowing in it.) I will leave this rebuttal to the eloquent Jesse Wente:
These protests aren’t happening as a way to aggravate “everyday hardworking Canadians.” It’s not about average Canadians. It’s not even about the politicians, although they need to be listening. It’s about wrong decisions being made, and no other recourse but to make your voice as widely heard as possible. (As a teacher in Ontario under Doug Ford, I know a bit of that feeling.) In this way, this protest by Wet’suwe’ten and supporters is an amazing achievement. They remain unarmed even amid police violence, they have sung and drummed their message, they have stayed strong and their numbers have only grown – and they have made international news. When CN closed their rail lines, they assured this protest’s seminal place in history.
Though it seems Scheer is picturing all these folks lounging around in the “luxury” of being able to protest for days at a time, this demonstration of solidarity and strength of purpose is not taken lightly by its participants. To the protestors, it’s clearly not a game or a prank or even a political manoeuvre – at least not in the way that politicians are always manoeuvring. They have no voters to please, no polls to dominate. They have a mission. And I think what politicians need to be aware of is not people with the “privilege” to protest – it’s people with the urgency, the soul-deep investment, and in some cases, the desperation to protest. When you have that, the lawfulness or unlawfulness of the activism is no longer relevant. Scheer can go on and on about “law enforcement” and “enforcement of the law” (gah, he’s such a broken record), but this is now about right and wrong.
When one people marginalizes another people for centuries, it follows that the marginalized have much less to lose than the privileged. (And when I say “marginalized” in reference to the relationship between Indigenous peoples and settlers, I mean imprisoned, sickened, abused, murdered, driven out, generally treated as subhuman… and on and on.) It follows that the marginalized have a much better idea of what is real and crucial in life than do those who can afford to have petty problems.
And I personally think that politicians are going to come up against more and more of this: protestors who can’t afford not to take action. Environmental emergencies are marginalizing more and more people every day. Those people are seeing first-hand that the climate crisis is indeed a life-or-death calamity. At that point, the law seems superficial. In December, Australian authorities toughened up protest laws (not environmental ones) in anticipation of growing unrest over environmental problems, but that country is literally burning down. People’s priorities are forced to shift when they’re fighting for survival.
The one thing Scheer and I agree on is that Trudeau is disappointing on this issue. Except that while Scheer thinks Trudeau is not cracking down enough, I think he’s showing a shameful lack of progressiveness. His environmental buzzwords are for nothing now that he’s Pipeline Guy. It’s so unimpressive as to be embarrassing at this point. A true leader would look at this problem and say, “Hey, I have kids. Climate change is real. Let’s think outside the barrel and make a green economy actually happen so as to stave off the apocalypse.” But Justin is not up to that, apparently.
So, to sum up: thank you, B.C. pipeline protestors. You are doing an amazing thing, and you know it’s necessary. I support you.