I, like probably many Canadians, are thinking what a mess, and what can we do to fix this? How can we acknowledge and be true to our commitment to reconciliation with indigenous people, but also recognize the challenges this may involve related to our current economy.
The case of the Wet'suwet'en and the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline is a mess. I think we can all agree on that. The challenge is how do we work our way through this mess, and ideally not just to address this situation but also to prevent it from happening again.
We need to move forward. The question is how?
Before moving along here, I think it is important for me to acknowledge who I am. I am a 51-year-old woman of European descent who grew up in Northwestern British Columbia in a community called Prince Rupert; which is located within the traditional territories of the Tsimshian First Nations. In my teens, I moved to Nova Scotia to go to university in the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kma’ki.
To move forward, I think we all need to think about and acknowledge who we are and what perspective we might be coming from. We are all people, and we all have history - and that history can make us very messy to deal with.
I grew up in British Columbia really not knowing much about First Nations people other than they were on the land first, and existed in our community but there was a lot of division and discrimination. I didn’t really understand anything about that though until I came to Nova Scotia and learned more about Africville and the history of people of African descent in this area. Suddenly I became quite aware that how people of African descent were treated in Nova Scotia, and it felt very similar to how First Nations people in British Columbia seemed to be treated.
In my twenties, I got a job with the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia. This was not long after the Marshall Inquiry. My job for the summer, along with a young woman of African descent, was to promote the new indigenous Black and Mi’kmaq law program at Dalhousie University. It was an effort to respond to some of the recommendations of the Marshall Inquiry; specifically the need for more people of indigenous black and mi’kmaq heritage to learn about the law, become part of the system that existed then and help to change it for the better.
For those of you not familiar with the inquiry, it came about after a young Mi'kmaq man, Donald Marshall Jr, was wrongfully imprisoned for murder for 11 years. Once the decision was overturned (after many, many people worked hard for his freedom), he was set free and a Royal Commission was formed to find out why justice was denied to him for so long.
I travelled all over the province and was struck repeatedly by the challenging conditions I saw in communities. I was shocked to say the least. I literally became ‘woke.’ Though I would say this was just the beginning of my own personal journey.
Since then I have become a specialist in innovation, learning and leadership. I have worked with a range of organizations; community, business and government. I have a Masters of Adult Education specializing in Community Development. I am President of the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet), and I am now part of the federal government’s new Advisory Committee on Social Innovation.
At the heart of who I am though, I believe, is a person looking to understand before I look to be understood (or trying to anyway). Line is from a wonderful professor of mine who used to specialize in conflict management. Through my education and learning from life, I have realized conflict is not something actually to avoid. It is also not something to manage. It is something to embrace as a means of exploring different points of view, and finding new, innovative ways of doing things.
So, if conflict is something to embrace as part of the foundation of a community that values diversity, inclusion, and yes, reconciliation as a key part of being innovative and just as a country - what do we do?
We do not, I believe, send in police to solve our problems. That’s #1.
Number 2, which I hear the government says it wants to do, is do our best to ask questions and listen as part of a process of dialogue that really seeks to understand - before to be understood.
The hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en territory have something to say, and many other people seem to want the government to really listen to them - or we wouldn’t have all these protests happening across the country.
To me, this is a symptom of a larger problem. What is reconciliation really about?
The protests by the hereditary chiefs and others are a cry for someone to listen to them, and I’m not sure of the details, but I imagine the protests are about more than just the gas link pipeline.
We need to have a deeper conversation in this country, in the world really, about not just the rights of First Nations people - but what kind of community do we really want to live in, together? And how can we ‘embrace’ conflict as a learning opportunity instead of trying to avoid it, or manage it in some way.
This is about change. Which is never easy.
We need to lean into how change happens deeply, and we need to work to understand how it happens. How it can be messy, and how if we truly want to be part of creating a better world for all of us, and our children - then we need to think deeply about our own role in this process of reconciliation.
And in the background of this conversation, the world is burning. Towns and cities are being flooded. Natural disasters are happening at a faster and faster rate, and whole islands in the south are drowning.
It feels like we are at the precipice of a huge opportunity as well as challenge. The question is which path are we going to take. Will we work together? Will we listen even when the message we are hearing is difficult to hear? How will we come together to deal with what’s happening around us, not just in terms of climate, but in terms of justice and equality?
It’s about people, people! And the planet. If we look at things through those simple lenses, maybe we can find a way forward. It will not be easy. It will be one of the most difficult things we might ever do. But we need to do it!