To Justify Land was published in a serialized form in Berfrois, and republished in the Media Co-Op. Thank you to Billie Pierre and David Gray-Donald for their close editing of the essays for republication in the Media Co-Op; Shuwei Fang and Berfrois for the first publication of the essays; and Nathan Medema for his support, patience, and encouragement.
link to full article on The Media Co-op: http://mediacoop.ca/story/justify-land-5-coercion-complicity-and-consent/36791
excerpt from To Justify Land: Of Coercion, Complicity, and Consent
Ethical justification for residential or industrial development projects is often created through a strategic purchasing of participation; that is, a propaganda campaign that celebrates the inclusivity and cultural diversity of workers who are manipulated for the profits of private developers and their investors. It is this ‘inclusivity’ that contributes to the normalization of exploitative practices and development projects, inculcating the idea that a development is acceptable because it meets a certain demographic quota. Conflicts that arise around the acceptability of developments are often reduced to levels in which negotiation occurs only on the unquestionable basis that the development will indeed go forward and be constructed. This means, for example, reducing the Zibi development to a conflict of corporate-approved ‘territory’, where the bargaining chip is the exchange of land between Algonquin people, Ottawa’s municipal government under mayor Jim Watson, Domtar Corporation, and Windmill Development with their realty partners, DREAM Unlimited. In this scenario, the developers mediate factors like which Algonquin people they approve and speak to, whether the land is indeed sacred, and where the margins of this sacredness technically begin and end. If it’s not approved by anyone who is not profiting from the project, it’s blasphemous and standing in the way of progress! By marginalizing the implications of ethical difference that would make their developments both unnecessary and impermissible, companies persuade public opinion in their favour because they flaunt inclusive hiring practices and syphon off money for the benefit of the most collaborative individuals.
There is an important distinction between Indigenous traditional self-governance and government-sanctioned First Nations, which may often differ in their principles in resisting or collaborating with private industry development. Contemporary territorial definitions for First Nations in the eyes of the Canadian state were formed largely following the 1876 “Indian Act,” which dismantled traditional systems of governance and subjected Indigenous peoples to dependence on systems of recognition and authorization from the Canadian government. Colonial-delineated First Nations governance, which is typically decided by an electoral system enforced by the Canadian government, tends to hold concentrated forms of power and wealth that are very different from the leadership structures in traditional governments. First Nations often receive both government and industry funding, and receive protected jurisdictions and rights for land-use. By contrast, autonomous, traditional governments like that of Unis’tot’en, represent a traditional way of life, and tend to exercise inherently anti-capitalist values that respect and protect the earth and water. They may not be officially recognized by the Canadian government, and may be in conflict with the priorities of the Canadian government and the First Nations governments and bands accepting what rewards industry dangles in front of them for compliance, partially filling gaping holes in the meager funding distributed by the Canadian state.
In Canada’s west, for example, oil companies have celebrated the support of First Nations for their projects during the tumultuous phase of approvals and reviews through 2015, to – well, today. The same companies were quick to throw their investments behind the creation of Indigenous-led pipelines. Throughout 2017, the Pacific Trail Pipeline, Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project, Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project, and Westcoast Gas Connector Project claimed support from First Nations in British Columbia and Alberta. “Frog Lake has built homes, community and senior centres, and helps fund education programmes with oil production dividends” (BBC, Dec. 7, 2016). Despite the protective action of the Unis’tot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation (in northern B.C.) against Lions Gate Metals and “seven proposed pipelines from Tar Sands Gigaproject and LNG from the Horn River Basin Fracturing Projects in the Peace River Region”, there remains a perceived economic incentive for some First Nations to collaborate with extraction companies.
On one hand, the urgency of providing for basic living needs that are denied through systemic colonial oppression will coerce First Nations into the acceptance of bribes offered by extractive companies and the Canadian government (explored in sections 2 and 3). One of the arguments being made for First Nations’ collaboration with oil companies or other extractive industries is that, facing an apparent inevitability of such projects’ approval, First Nations investment would relieve some financial support on the federal government, allowing for communities’ self-determination to be more quickly realized. As quoted in an article in the CBC on the Trans Mountain pipeline, Stephen Buffalo of Samson Cree Nation – president and CEO of the Indian Resource Council of Canada – said, “There’s a lot of money going through those pipes, and First Nations can’t stand to the side and watch it go by” (CBC, Aug. 21, 2017). On the other hand, there are simply inflamed desires for ownership, profits, and participation in the lucrative oil industry, for which identity doesn’t stand in the way of bloating profits. In this case, there are projects like the pipeline between Alberta and British Columbia which was proposed by Eagle Spirit Energy Holding Ltd., intended to be twice as long as the rejected Northern Gateway pipeline. The Eagle Spirit pipeline, under company president Calvin Helin, is Indigenous-led, backed by Suncor Energy Inc., Cenovus Energy Inc. and Meg Energy Corp, and intends to overturn a ban on constructing oil tankers along the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest (Financial Post, Nov. 23, 2017, and Financial Post, Nov. 29, 2016).
The Vancouver Sun quoted Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation Chief Fred Seymor in 2016 saying “As the old saying goes, we’re open for business.” This was portrayed as representing the support of the First Nation for B.C.’s pipeline projects,(Vancouver Sun, Oct. 7, 2016). The quoted Chief Fred Seymour is an ex officio member of the board of directors for Venture Kamloops, an economic development company in Kamloops, British Columbia. Seymour’s “support” for the oil pipeline appears to fit with the interests of other current members of Venture Kamloops, such as: Margot Middleton (President of Middleton Petroleum Services); A.J. (Tony) Ryan (Domtar Inc.); Greg Munden (President of transportation, forestry and commercial vehicle maintenance company Munden Ventures Ltd.); and Peter Aylen (controlling shareholder of agricultural product company Absorbent Products Ltd.). Oil companies will gladly champion First Nations-led pipelines and celebrate First Nations workers as part of their projects, if it means they will continue to make their ludicrous profits.
In Canada, as abroad, corporate stakeholders get to decide if their projects should continue because they make “significant investments in the country” or “help the area to flourish” – without consultation (gestural meetings staged for the media are equated with consultation), and often at the price of the lives of those who resist. In May 2012, Musqueam and Tsawwassen First Nations protested the construction of a condominium over c̓əsnaʔəm, or Great Marpole Midden – a four-thousand year old Musqueam village and burial site in Vancouver, B.C. The Musqueam First Nation succeeded in halting the construction of the condominium, under developer Sean Hodgins with Century Group, by purchasing the land in South Vancouver (Vancouver Sun, Aug. 6, 2012, and CBC, Oct. 2, 2013). In August 2017, Freddy Stoneypoint was arrested for blockading continued oil surveying by Jumex in Gaspé, Québec. In a statement released to his lawyers the same month, he wrote, “As a representative of Bawating water protectors, my only wish is to activate my ceremonial being in defense of land and waters through peaceful means. I am not an activist, I am an Anishinaabe man working to protect the land for future generations” (Camp de la Rivière, Aug. 17, 2017). In July 2015, James Daniel McIntyre was murdered by the RCMP outside of a restaurant in Dawson Creek, B.C., where a BC Hydro-sponsored event was happening for the Site C dam construction (CBC, Jul. 14, 2016). McIntyre was an Anonymous activist, and an outspoken activist against the Site C hydroelectric dam development in the Peace River Valley.
How fast are we to forget the Oka Crisis? Wherein the Mohawk of Kanesatake, Kahnawake, and Akwesasne resisted the expansion of Club de golf d’Oka over Mohawk burial grounds – a resistance that, under Trudeau Senior’s Liberal Government, received a militarized response from Sûreté du Québec (Québec’s provincial police), the RCMP, and Canadian Armed Forces. What exactly do these lives mean for those who only see “a lot of money” and are “open for business”?