draft: to justify land /7

“Quite simply, the modern canal, unlike a river, is not an ecosystem. It is simplified, abstracted water, rigidly separated from the earth and firmly directed to raise food, fill pipes, and make money.”

 (Worster, 1985)

Section 6 replicates the rhetorics of energy corporations – oil and gas, nuclear, and hydro-electric – who veil their enterprises with the terms of sustainability and renewability. The contradiction at the heart of this willful illusion, however, lies much deeper, as the fundamental premise of capitalism quantifies land and other living beings into exploitable resources. Projects like the hydro-electric dam development and condominium development on the Ottawa River need a more sustained critique of their epistemological basis: how they come to be justified to the public only after the internal pandering among politicians, contractors and their financiers, thorugh the terms of economic prosperity and the necessity of growth – without accountability to what this ‘prosperity’ means, and in whose service are these machinations of ‘growth’. Windmill developer and venture capitalist Jeff Westeinde cites the book Natural Capitalism as an inspiration; this book blatantly reframes the language and logics that construct an ethical justification around the exploitation of land and the ‘natural world’ as an available ‘resource’.

“What is consumed from the environment in not matter or energy but order or quality – the structure, concentration, or purity of matter. This is a critically important concept, because it is a “quality” that business draws upon to create economic value. Instead of focusing on whether physical resources will run out, it is more useful to be concerned about the specific aspects of the quality that natural capital produces: clean water and air; healthy soil, food, animals, forests, pollination, oceans, rivers; available and affordable sources of energy; and more.” (“Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution”. Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins. Little, Brown and Company. 1999. pg. 148)

Windmill Development Group has an “alternative business” branch investing in renewable energy, called Windmill Alternative. The developers represent a point of pride in the speed with which the development project was pushed through: “Although the site was very complex and involved multiple stakeholder groups (two cities, two provinces, NCC, Conservation Authority, Heritage, Brownfields and two First Nations groups), the rezoning was achieved within 6 months.” With a small change of words, business practices gain an untouchability.

“Natural capitalism is one such objective. It is neither conservative nor liberal in its ideology, but appeals to both constituencies. Since it is a means, and not an end, it doesn’t advocate a particular social outcome but rather makes possible many different ends. Therefore, whatever the various visions different parties or factions espouse, society can work toward resource productivity now, without waiting to resolve disputes about policy.” (“Natural Capitalism”.)

As in: “thinking about licensing an entire river system instead of lock and dam by lock and dam” / “to maximize the precious river resource” (Founder of Enduring Energy LLC and Enduring Hydro LLC, and previous undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, Kristina M. Johnson.) [HydroWorld, Dec. 6, 2013].  As in “cow-calf operation (producing calves that are sold to a feedlot to be raised for beef)”, “as well as meal for the livestock industry” “supporting the beef industry” [Ottawa Citizen, Sep. 9, 2016]. “the world’s largest pork producer and processor   /   market challenges from a lack of pipeline and related infrastructure”   /   There are, of course, a lot of risks, particularly in today’s commodity world. Nothing is black and white, Suttles said.” [Natural Gas Intel, May 17, 2016]. “Hog producers in Iowa ought to be thrilled … key market for pork producers, as their population grows, in both size and affluence … public relations manager for the Canadian Pork Council” [Financial Post, May 29, 2013].

Marisol de la Cadena wrote extensively on the entanglement of language and cosmology in the Indigenous-led struggle against extractive industry development in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador (“Indigenous Cosmopolitics in the Andes”). She cites the 2008 Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador on the protection of the rights of nature under the earth-being called Pachamama, and the recognition of the mountains – Ausungate, Quilish and Coyllur Rit’i – as sacred, as entities. As the intimate relationship to the world is understood through language, so the necessity for resistance is created, and interpreted, through the word.

“A reading of the Andean ethnographic record along epistemic lines shows that earth-practices are relations for which the dominant ontological distinction between humans and nature does not work. […] sentient entities whose material existence—and that of the worlds to which they belong—is currently threatened by the neoliberal wedding of capital and the state.” (Cadena, 341-342.)

The rhetoric of liberal environmental “activistism”, in contrast, often maintains the same relationship to the earth as a territory, its sloganeering rapidly and thoughtlessly retaining the rhetoric of land as separate from self, as quantifiable. With this understanding of nature as separate from self, the human directs a moral authority as either the aggressor or the agent of defence, denying the earth and the entanglement of earth-beings of an equivalent, sentient, and encompassing agency. The defense of territorial rights (such as the simplification of human habitation and ancestral responsibility for land to a concept of ownership and nationality) then becomes the locus upon which ethical justification or accountability towards development projects is based. Never is earth left alone, for itself.

Peruvian dissidence against the extraction industry, Cadena writes, can be traced to an understanding of place, an epistemology that is not separate from the self, an inseparable and non-hierarchical network of earth-beings that does not ‘reduce’ nature to a commodity—to be sold or to be defended. What is there to defend? Such an indigenous cosmology is, as Cadena states, ‘less than two’ (‘being other’ – or more accurately, ‘no other’). She writes, “an ecologized nature of interdependent entities that simultaneously coincides, differs, and even exceeds—also because it includes humans—the object that the state, the mining corporation, and environmentalists seek to translate into resources, whether for exploitation or to be defended.”

A condition as physical and geographic as it is emotional, created when the self is at odds with its relationship to space. Ungrounded – without place. To consider space as something outside of the body, and the body as the infallible centre. There is no separateness of nature and self, of individual species and some vague ‘network’ – there is inseparability, interpenetration, reciprocation, mutual responsibility. Simple presence, simple being – a reason in itself, because it draws no distinction, requires no justification. What is there to justify? To justify the ‘sacredness’ of the land would require a validation of this separateness that enables this commodification in theory and practice, and validates the logics that sustain the arguments of development and the compromised languages of environmental defence.

To imagine and work towards an alternative requires an ‘epistemic rupture’, an opposition to capitalism, and an opposition to its manifestations through statehood and corporatism. Algonquin Elder William Commanda spoke of not having to ‘justify’ or to ‘defend’ earth, but that its very existence is reason enough. It is not possible to justify the machinations of ‘natural capitalism’, or ‘green capitalism’ as sustainable, for we will find no end to these ecologically, socially, intimately destructive struggles through languages that already finite, compartmental, and contain the imaginaries of territoriality, capital ownership, and hierarchies of superiority. Political confrontation with extractive and industrial development has negated thought in entirely different languages that need to be reclaimed. Retribution, and reconciliation, requires entirely different ways of existing on the planet and relating to the earth, in which the clever logics of capitalism cannot be conceived, requiring, as Cadena writes, “an insurgence of indigenous forces and practices with the capacity to significantly disrupt prevalent political formations, and reshuffle hegemonic antagonisms, first and foremost by rendering illegitimate (and, thus, denaturalizing) the exclusion of indigenous practices from nation-state institutions.”


To Justify Land /6 Onwards, Ecofiscal Commissions!


To Justify Land /6: Onwards, Ecofiscal Commissions! is a project of assemblage and republication without altering the splinters of original text, creating an emergent narrative. The act of re-composing information, or found text, changes the legible context and the experience of reading, assimilating and forgetting information. Journalistic materials and press releases are interpreted outside of their chronological documentation or perceived span of relevance – when the spectacle is discarded and forgotten, and becomes history. This mimics both the parasitic character of most mainstream news sources, as well as spam sites that copy and re-post excerpts or articles in their entirety elsewhere (a venture through the looking glass). By collaging the found fragments, the project also reflects the prominence of particular sources which are most accessible (or simply reflect certain algorithmic affinities and the speed of their discovery), or which reflect the sources that hold the most interest in reporting these events (and thus tend to influence public perception and policy). As with the earlier, related project A Draft for Asinabka, this section of To Justify Land looks at the rhetoric that is used to represent to the public the interests of multinational corporate ‘entities’, the competency of corporate leadership, and the rhizomatic accumulation that leads towards prosperity.

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to justify land /5

an experiment in american associations

In April 2016, Honduran activist Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores was murdered in connection with the  Indigenous and populist resistance against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam under the ownership of hydro-power company Desarrollos Energéticos, SA (DESA). The dam was to be constructed over Lenca territory. While Finish and Dutch funders withdrew from the project after international pressures and reporting, the Agua Zarca dam continued construction under contract with Canadian hydro-power engineering firm Hydrosys – based in Montreal, Sherbrooke, and Vancouver – who are responsible for the design and construction of the Gualcarque Waterpower Project. Berta Cáceres was representing the Lenca resistance to the construction of the hydro-electric dam over the Gualcarque River because the Lenca community was not “meaningfully consulted about the project, putting the Honduran state in violation of International Labour Organization Convention 169 on the Rights of Indigenous People, of which it is signatory” (Jackie McVicar, “Indigenous Rights Under Attack: Canadian economic and political interests over human rights“, Canadian Dimension).

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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.

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to justify land /3

The Zibi ‘mixed-use’ condominium and retail development has been defended as contributing to a ‘green economy’; taking advantage of the environmental contamination caused by the Domtar paper mill that previously occupied the site, the developer and its subsidiary environmental clean-up corporation present an agenda of ecological restoration of the brownfield and a reconciliatory social enterprise. The developers tout passive energy provision and grey water systems, and purport to be a carbon-free community, but the supposed ‘green’ ambitions of the developers pretend ignorance of a fundamental issue – the masquerade that is “Natural Capitalism”.

“Jonathan Westeinde, BA’92, is promoting a new type of capitalism – one that puts equal importance on the environment and making profits.” [source]

“Zibi is new business”. The consumer nature of this development, not to mention the wealthy class that will afford to live in the condominiums, are parts of a system that perpetuates destructive and exclusionary politics. Architectural theorists and directors of dpr-barcelona, Ethel Baraona Pohl and César Reyes Nájera discuss in “A Tale of Two Cities”, the stratification and segregation enabled through urban ‘enclaves’. Formed as microcosms within cities, these enclaves exert some geopolitical influence upon the encompassing city, while being united by more or less homogenous economic and cultural characteristics. Pohl and Nájera specifically identify the amplification of the social stratification and systems of power that are further enabled by the presence of enclaves, citing Setha M. Low on the exacerbation of existing ‘social cleavages’:

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to justify land /2

Since the 2013 purchase of the Asinabka islands by Toronto-based developer Windmill Development and real estate company Dream Unlimited Corp. (formerly Dundee Realty Corporation), a persistent and controversial condominium development called ZIBI has been pushed forward by the Ottawa-Gatineau municipal governments. Despite resistance from Algonquin communities and activists, it has been enabled by the provincial and federal Liberals through a consistent rejection of appeals, an evasive and profiteering approval process, and a perversion of private land zoning policies that causes public interests to be in collusion with those of corporate property owners. The condominiums are being built in the middle of the Ottawa River, on a peninsula between Ottawa and Gatineau, directly across from Victoria Island, that is Asinabka, or Place of Glare Rock. The Algonquin have long considered this area sacred and Asinabka carries a legacy of being a place of meeting for visiting Indigenous councils. The area has been drafted for UNESCO World Heritage status with the continued discovery of over 6,000 year old artefacts and traces of human civilization being found along the river’s coast – but remains in flux and as an impediment to high-density development that self-assuredly began blasting at the islands to pour concrete foundations in 2016.

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to justify land /1

“…those who believe the land belongs to them cannot ever really understand”

Elder William Commanda


I  am  in  the  earth,  wind  and  waters; 

I  am  as  the  bird  flies,  the  wind  blows,  the water flows…

On the ancient river, seagull rock crests out of the waters. An outcrop within its sight is thorned by a few young silhouettes, taking turns plunging into the river some feet below. Riverboats and water taxis, white river cruise-ships weave short and cyclical tours between the two shores. When the black outlines all fall into the water, seagull rock disappears entirely underneath a white swarm. The steady rhythm of a drum carries down the rocky riverbed. At a great distance, an undulating song ripples through a woman’s throat, a few moments, and then the screaming birds are all that is heard again. Drumming and song are held here as if in a cup, the Ontario bank curving in to the gushing water. Millennia before, the Champlain Sea coursed through this cup. This river, and the humid nest of the city, is at the ancient floor of the sea. Shells and fish bones mingle with cemeteries. The condominiums and government buildings of the 80s settle comfortably on the graves of ancient people, on the fossils of ancient animals. Cranes and the hideous metal hydro towers grow in the east with each day, raising the condominiums of reconciliation. Grey gunmetal silhouettes cut the distance behind the Algonquin teepees that dot the island – those three sturdy pyramids, white as the screaming gulls.

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