By Stewart Skinner
This piece needs to be prefaced with an acknowledgment that I am ill equipped to delve into this subject matter yet I feel the anger and hate bubbling up could lead to violence if those of us who want to find solutions that appease all sides do not speak up…
There is a beautiful red barn south of Mitchell, Ont. on Highway 23 that reads “Skinner Homestead, est. 1859”. It is the place my ancestors settled after making their way through the bush near the headwaters of the Thames River before Confederation. A place where some of the most productive farmland in the world exists, and a place from which the progeny of Thomas and Julia Skinner are spread across North America. Our family tree, which isn’t entirely unique, is a testament to the blessings that could be attained by people escaping oppression in autocratic European states by risking everything and hoping for more in a free society.
My Great Aunt Beth once told me a story about how our ancestors had been given a beaded doll by an Indigenous family who was given shelter at that farm. At the time, I took that story to be heartwarming, my ancestors showing empathy to a family in need. But I never stopped to think about how my family, one of hundreds that settled in the Huron Tract, and the hundreds of thousands that settled in traditional Indigenous lands across North America were the reason there was a starving family that needed empathy in the first place.
The impacts of individual choice reside in the short term, the results often available for judgement immediately. The impacts of collective societal choice are often not fully understood until the people who made them are gone from this world. When my ancestors succeeded in carving out a life in Perth County, they enabled thousands of their descendants to make meaningful contributions to this world, trying to leave it better off than we found it. Yet that collective choice made by the European settler in the 19th century that created so much prosperity also decimated nations of free people and the subsequent mistreatment of Indigenous peoples has stolen from many, the opportunities that have been afforded to me.
The protests that have spread across Canada these last days are invoking strong emotions on all sides. Tempers are flared and people are angry. If trains don’t get moving in the next week or two, violence is not out of the question. Individual people are fuelled by the engine of evolution, each one of us wants to provide for our family and when that gets threatened, we lash out. A solution is needed fast.
The flash point for these protests stem from the opposition to the Costal GasLink pipeline from the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. The Wet’suwet’en Nation has 20 elected band councils that support the project however the lands in question are governed by the 5 clans of the Nation. National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations explained on CTV’s Power Play, “In the ancestral territory lands of the Wet’suwet’en peoples, it’s the hereditary chiefs and their clans and their big houses that have the jurisdiction.” I respect the rights of these peoples and I hope that a solution can be found that satisfies the concerns of the clans. What is difficult, and I believe that many Canadians share this feeling, is that the genuine concerns of the Wet’suwet’en Nation are being co-opted by environmental activists and will lead to pain and frustration for everyday Canadians.
Many of the privileges we enjoy – a world class health care system, universal education for our children, roads and bridges – are in part paid for by the oil and gas sector. Canada has been blessed with more natural resources than we could hope to consume as a small country, and it is in our nation’s best interest to utilize the resources that are in demand today. The prosperity generated from those sales is what will fuel the innovation we need to tackle climate change. We are a country of that makes up a mere 0.5 per cent of the world’s 7.8 billion people. Many of those living around the globe can only dream of the luxuries we consider everyday essentials and they will not stop in their quest to live a life of Western comfort. Projects like this Costal GasLink pipeline, and others like the TransMountain pipeline help service that quest and are essential to future Canadian prosperity. The world wants the resources we have today. If we leave them in the ground it will not lower use, it will just mean that the sale goes to someone else and everyday Canadians will have their services reduced unnecessarily.
There is essentially no historical precedent for not reverting to violence when the sovereign rights of a small independent nation impede the national interest of a more powerful neighbour. The idea of respecting your neighbour’s rights, regardless of the cost, is a modern-day construct that still hasn’t taken hold worldwide. That is not said to justify running roughshod over the rights of the Wet’suwet’en Nation however if threats to progress are not acknowledged they are harder to avert. The first step to making progress on this issue is separating the legitimate concerns of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and other Indigenous issues connected with oil and gas production and exportation from the agenda of the environmental activist who only wishes to disrupt the sale of Canadian resources. The concerns of these two groups are not equivalent. Professional activists, whether an environmental protester or animal rights advocate, are blind to their privilege and they fail to recognize that being able to contemplate the well-being of the planet or a sentient animal indicates that their basic needs have already been met. I will never forget the laughter, and then shock displayed by my Kenyan friends when I explained Veganism. The idea that a person would be able to have the means to choose what they eat and pay more money for specific demands was hard to fathom. To them, the life of the chicken and the life of a human are not close to being on the same plane. The environmental activist is no different; they don’t care about the suffering of the masses that would ensue if their ultimate goal, the destruction of fossil fuel use, were actually met.
Actions must be taken now to eliminate the gridlock that will result from extended shutdowns. If Canada doesn’t get moving again quickly there is no hope that the time needed will be afforded to the Wet’suwet’en nation for fulsome negotiation. In that same Power Play appearance Chief Bellegarde stated, “What we’ve got to encourage right now, to resolve this, is to make sure the Wet’suwet’en peoples themselves get together,” he said. “Get together into their long houses, their big houses, and have the feasts and the ceremonies and have their laws and traditions govern how this is resolved.” I am by no means an expert but one would think that given the 20 elected councils of the nation are in favour of the project perhaps there is a solution that can be found with an end result of the pipeline being completed.
The Oil and Gas sector employs double the national average of Indigenous people and the Coastal GasLink pipeline along with the LNG Terminal it will supply will create thousands of jobs with many roles being filled by members of various Indigenous nations. Decades from now, I do hope in my heart that future Indigenous peoples can look back at this time and feel that it was the beginning of a return to equitable opportunity for their nations. I just don’t see how that goal could be accomplished without the economic windfalls brought on from resource development.
Stewart Skinner is a local business owner, former political candidate, and has worked at Queen’s Park as a Policy Advisor to the Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter: @modernfarmer.