to justify land /4

The sacredness of a river is a matter of distance – of a few kilometres.
The sacredness of a river is not a matter of principle, but a matter of legality.

“the river is not considered sacred and the company has their consent to build in that location”

– Statement by development finance company FinnFund, on dam construction at Agua Zarca, 09/03/2016. Source.

The hydro-electric dam between Ottawa-Gatineau is undergoing a multi-billion dollar expansion on the Kichissippi without due consultation with the Algonquin community, encroaching on land passed into private ownership by the Windmill development. Despite the significance of the Kichissippi’s ecological, geographic and cultural significance, few studies have been conducted on the impacts of the hydro-dam on the massive river, with most research focusing on the potential for exploiting ‘natural-resources’. Where is the research about the river before current reconstruction of the dam? Where is the research on impact on ecology, on the species reliant on the area, by a massive residential and commercial development? Where are the reports on the water’s changing levels of oxygenation due to the disturbance of migration and breeding patterns of fish, insects, molluscs?

The eel is a striking case in the ecology of Asinabka, because its breeding and migration path lies on the path of the existing hydro dam, and its massive turbines, spanning the entire width of the provincial border. Hydro-electric dams are touted as a clean-energy alternative, but these claims are dismissive of the environmental impacts of turbines on the river ecosystem. Clean for whom? Hydro dams alter the movement of sediment, the chemical composition of water, the breeding grounds and migration of aquatic life, thereby disrupting the balance of a river’s self-sustaining network. The systemic neglect and muzzling of scientific research into the river’s ecosystem reflects an ideological problem that runs much deeper than the superficial approaches to sustainability that underpin the current approach to the generation and provision of renewable energy.

In an elegant deconstruction of the scientific objectivism, scientist Godofredo Pereira writes in “Underground Frontier” (Axiomatic Earth) on the systems of abstraction that erroneously create distinct sectors of social, economic, technological, and climatic concerns, permitting the reduction of land into parts, or resources. Pereira identifies that the very systems by which we relate to and measure the land are those that permit this ‘resourcification’. These methods of measurement and identification are inseparable from the machinations of capitalism.

“The important point here, however, is that once captured by quantification procedures, the earth is made commensurable with capitalist modes of valorisation and therefore becomes abstracted by capital as quantities whose differential relations are productive of surplus values.[4] In this context science becomes a motor of accumulation: each new analysis allowing for new forms of valorisation and circulation. The epitome of this process is the transmutation of both people and materials into “decoded flows” in the operation of contemporary financial devices.[5] Thus the constitution of the underground as a frontier, as well as the specific kinds of disputes that emerge therein, cannot be uncoupled from the modes of seeing and knowing the earth that are characteristic to the capitalist partnership with technoscience.

– “The Underground Frontier”, Godofredo Pereira. continent. 4.4.

This linguistic critique of an embedded resourcification in language, and thus the negotiation of policy that justifies such developments, is important to fundamentally destabilize the internal logic that is being applied by all levels of government and their explicit corporate partners to determine what makes a development sustainable. In the language of Natural Capitalism, it is reasonable to isolate water as an ‘energy resource’, to distill land into a “heritage resource” to be monetized. Natural Capitalism does not permit the entanglement of spiritualities, the ever-changing nature, the ethical framework that informs what cannot and should not be harnessed into commodifiable parts – the essence of ‘water’. In the logic of “Natural Capitalism” is unimaginable for a river to exist not as derivative of human concerns or to serve consumer demand – it is ludicrous for a river to exist as something more than itself, through other beings, and for its own sake. This immensity is antithetical to the reductive purposes of capitalism that, running ever farther on an internal and self-justifying logic, reduces all of life to singular, finite functions – the consumer, the resource – to familiar and pathological relationships.

The expansion of the hydro-electric dam, along the same site as the condominium development, is justified by the presumption that if a ‘resource’ is renewable, it is acceptable to alter the ecological balance of an environment towards human interests. But to understand nature as distinct parts, ‘reading’ them as resources, permits a framework of land ownership. From a rhetoric of commodification, we are moved to a language that is imbued with a philosophy that does not see nature in its specific elements. Algonquin claims to the land as sacred – Asinabka, the land, Akikpautik, the water – have been dismissed or trivialised in the breathless rush for green condominiums. Where there is grey water, who needs free water?

‘One of the critical points about the Asinabka plan is to remove the dam from the river.”

– Discussion paper: River Restoration Through Dam Removal Efforts, with a Particular Focus on the Ottawa River at Chaudière Island. Eric Lloyd Smith, July 2007. Source.

In an essay titled “Uncommoning Nature”, Marisol de la Cadena writes of the Peruvian indigenous resistance, the populist refusal to sell land and water, and the reality that energy corporations are currently engaged in the damming of ‘every possible river’ – circumstances shared across the Americas through a closely entangled net of investors, contractors, and beneficiaries of so-called ‘renewable energy’. The core of this resistance is contained within the linguistic politic of a Peruvian woman resisting the occupation of her land by a mining corporation. The woman’s choice of words reveals the deeper principles that draw parallels between many indigenous cosmologies – where the body is closest to land, not through a commodified acquisition. Where there was a mighty waterfall – and one of the most significant sites in world geologic and archaeological history – there is now a dam.

some further topics that need to be dealt with without academic debate or idle speculation

– stolen lines from F. R. Scott – sale of majority stocks in Ontario Hydro by Liberals – Quebec’s sale to the Americans – rerouting Peace River (Continued Investment in Reconciliation!) – Honduras & Hydrosys – one night outside of Fixx Urban Grill – “Pembina is an Algonquian term for a species of Viburnum, the low-bush cranberry or squash berry (Viburnum edule)” via wikipedia