The massive “Canada 150” celebrations of July 1 are finally over, leaving little in their wake but hangovers, a multi-million dollar price tag and mountains of trash.
But for some Indigenous peoples in Canada, the festivities remain a visceral reminder of their continued dispossession from ancestral lands and waters. That’s especially true for those on the frontlines of megaprojects — pipelines, hydro dams, oil and gas wells, liquefied natural gas terminals and mines — that infringe on Indigenous land rights.
DeSmog Canada caught up with three Indigenous people directly involved in local struggles to resist such projects.
Beatrice Hunter is an Inuk woman living in Labrador. In May, she was arrested and jailed while defending ancestral territories threatened by Nalcor’s Muskrat Falls project. Hunter was released after 10 days in a men’s prison following a decision by the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Have you returned to the site since the court ruling?
Yeah, I returned on Canada Day. It was my way of saying that I am not Canadian, I am Inuk. It was my way of saying that what the government is doing is not right.
How was the experience being back there?
It was good to be back there. It was excellent. Ever since I went to the gate last year with other Labradorians, it’s almost felt like a calling. It feels like you’re actually doing something and you’re not just sitting around waiting for stuff to happen. You’re trying to change it yourself. It was excellent to be with other Labrador Land Protectors.
Obviously there’s been a lot of talk about Canada 150. What do you make of it in the context of Muskrat Falls?
It’s very upsetting and heartbreaking when the Canadian government doesn’t listen to you when obviously the natives of this land were the first peoples here. It shows a lack of respect for Indigenous nations across the country and for them to not admit the wrongs that have been done through the years. It’s another slap in the face.
The federal government has also been talking a lot about “reconciliation.” Do you feel there’s been any progress on that in the last few years?
I feel personally that nothing has actually been happening. It’s the same old story: they make promises and then don’t follow through with them.
What outcome do you and other land protectors hope for?
The best outcome will be to shut Muskrat down. And I still feel the same way. Everybody talks about it being too late, but I feel it’s never too late. The damage is already done but we can try and fix the damage. There’s been billions of dollars been done on the project. Why aren’t government officials and leaders and politicians being audited for it? They obviously have something to hide. If they didn’t have anything to hide, they would just come out with all the information.
Do you plan to keep going to the site?
Yes! Of course! I’m not going to stop. We can’t stop. We have to try to change it. We can’t let big corporations and politicians get away with this because it’s always going to happen if we let them.
Any last words?
I just want to let everybody know that I’m going to keep fighting. That’s what I want everyone to know. Myself and the Labrador Land Protectors are going to keep fighting. We can’t give up. It’s the future. We’re fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. We’re fighting for our children. We’re fighting for our grandchildren. We’re fighting for our ancestors that weren’t strong enough to go up against the big corporations and governments. I feel it’s like white supremacy. That’s what it feels like to me. Everywhere you look: on TV, on radio, you hear white supremacy. Everywhere. It has to change.
Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie is an Anishinaabe woman living in Manitoba. She is a student at the University of Winnipeg, co-founder of Red Rising Magazine, previously served as the vice-president of external affairs for the students' association and has been involved with the campaign to pressure the institution to divest from fossil fuels.
What do you make of Canada 150 in the context of pipelines and ongoing extraction projects in Manitoba?
I definitely think that Canada 150 is trying to instill this pride of ‘who we are?’ and ‘what is the Canadian identity?’ The fact is that part of the Canadian identity is that extraction of natural resources in their economy. Now, they’re instilling this pride where you have to be prideful of being Canadian which also includes being protective of these types of industries. That’s where it gets really convoluted. We need to dismantle that narrative.
What would you say to settlers and settler politicians?
You have to share responsibilities to these communities and respect Indigenous rights. You’ve done a horrible job historically on this. And you can’t just be approving pipelines using the Canadian identity as a justification of infringing on those Indigenous rights, and therefore having to present that to the Canadian public and government. It’s all fine and dandy that you want to celebrate who you are. However, we still have a lot of conflict that needs to get resolved.
What does that look like specifically for you?
Part of that is respecting Indigenous rights to the land and UNDRIP: free, prior and informed consent in terms of any development on our traditional territories. Even though Justin Trudeau is saying ‘yes,’ there’s no ‘yes’ from the actual majority of Indigenous communities that are going to be directly affected. I’m not going to say that there is 100 per cent consensus within the Indigenous communities on pipelines.
But part of the fiduciary duty to the best interests of Indigenous peoples is you actually having to see there’s a huge demographic of Indigenous peoples that are saying ‘no.’ We have a right to say ‘no’ and a consultation with us isn’t about getting to a ‘yes.’ It’s about meaningful dialogue and respecting the fact that we can say ‘no’ and that doesn’t change with consultation and engagement.
There are other procedures and other things that need to be in place to ensure that pipeline is able to go through. And they haven’t met those. They haven’t met Indigenous rights or the court challenge that’s going on. To assume this pipeline’s going to be jammed down our throats is highly disrespectful on the part of a government that says they want to reconcile with Indigenous communities.
Any final thoughts?
Canada 150 isn’t a celebration for me, as an Indigenous woman. I see it as a celebration for them, to instill pride in their identities. But part of their identity is still being a colonizer, and colonizing me. The historical understanding of taking pride in Canada for all the “good” things it’s done does not erase the actual history of genocide in this country. I think that’s a big thing that Canadians need to accept.
Caleb Behn is an Eh-Cho Dene and Dunne Za/Cree man living in British Columbia. He was the focus of the 2015 documentary “Fractured Land” and previously worked as a lawyer. Behn has frequently criticized the Site C dam — which, if built, would greatly impact the West Moberly First Nation, where his mother is from.
What do you make of Canada 150?
People have to recognize — and it should be quite obvious — that Canada 150 is a brand. Behind the superficial and contrived nature of Canada 150, you see something darker and more painful for Indigenous people.
It’s like from Calvin and Hobbes: they throw down the transmogrifier on colonization and genocide and missing and murdered Indigenous women and rape of the land and chronic representation of Indigenous people in the justice system and massive dispossession of lands and resources. And that becomes — through this magic rebranding exercise — some series of images and motifs and memes that sanitize and normalize what is abuse of relationships and law and land and people.
How does this tie in with the struggles over Site C?
From my perspective in northeast B.C. looking at Site C: behind this sanitized, non-abusive narrative that brands Canada and this 150 year grand experiment of colonization, you have actual tangible violations of good accounting principles, representation in the political process, systemically problematic and dangerous developments.
This urgency that Indigenous people are feeling is an urgency that the dominant colonial society should have felt from its very inception 150 years ago because it was grounded in the deployment of extractive technology and the violation of appropriate relations with human and non-human beings and environments.
That is hyper-relevant for the 21st century. That’s why Site C, Muskrat Falls, Line 3, fossil fuels, violation of law, disrespect of treaties, abuse is all interconnected.
There’s a lot of talk about acknowledging Indigenous rights to land. What do you think this looks like?
Land is such a weak word. It’s the violation of something truly sacred. But then to dress that up as something to be celebrated or unquestionably adopted and marketed within this decaying, decrepit, spiritually and physically contaminated time: that should be the clarion call for all human beings, especially in Canada.
Any final thoughts?
I hope your readers appreciate that as you celebrate the nation-state of Canada and somehow ignore the genocide and the rape and the violation of peoples, principles and land: even if you can get that far internally colonized and simplistically adopting a mindset and model, it’s in your best interest individually and collectively to still question what it is that’s being sold to you and what it is you’re witnessing.
I know what the red stands for in that flag. And I know what the white stands for in that flag. You see so many people unquestionably celebrating. It was really sad. And to see how many Indigenous people and other solid settler allies with their head firmly extracted from their ass are criticizing and engaging that — to me, that was the only real hope in that.
It’s a sad time.
Image: Caleb Behn in the film Fractured Land