Thanks to Rita Wong for permission to publish an early draft of the following piece. The final revised article will be published in an anthology on climate change planned for publication in the fall of 2018.
Rita Wong is a teacher, poet and water and land activist. (@rrwong)
This spring, I’ve spent many hours volunteering and keeping watch at Kwekwecnewtxw, the Coast Salish watch house set up to protect land and water from the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline (https://protecttheinlet.ca/structure/). A place of prayer and ceremony, the watch house was and is also used to watch for enemies.
Accusations of “national interest” fly through the corporate media, and recently the “we love this coast” banner at nearby Camp Cloud was defaced. Despite all the moneyed noise and roughly 200 arrests** of water protectors at the nearby entrance to the Kinder Morgan tank farm, here at this sacred space, I feel the calm and commitment that comes with a community voicing deep love for home, for each other, and even for the relatives who don’t understand or don’t care why humanity needs to stop fossil fuel expansion.
Water protectors come in waves day after day, singing songs like:
People gonna rise like the water, gonna shut this pipeline down
I hear the voice of my great granddaughter, saying stop Kinder Morgan Now
Moon after moon, people keep the camps going, with sacred fires, kitchens, workshops, open houses, steady activity both mundane and magical. It’s humbling and uplifting to feel part of a much larger movement asserting connection and responsibility to land and place, remembering the limits of the earth we call home and mother.
I hold immense respect for the Tsleil Waututh community members and allies who are determined to protect mother earth, so courageous and stalwart in their love for this land. They teach us so much through their sacrifice and their honesty, generosity of spirit, and wisdom. I seek to be a good guest on these Coast Salish homelands that I have had the good fortune to live in for the past two and a half decades.
For the past two years, I along with many others have spent much time trying to protect the living Peace River from being choked and killed by the Site C dam, a third dam on this river in Treaty 8 territory (northeast BC) that has already been devastated to provide BC with electricity. Previous dams were effectively attempted genocide on the Indigenous peoples of the river, and Hydro’s recent apology for the violence and trauma rings hollow as it prepares to inflict more violence and turn the sacred, fertile Peace Valley into a sacrifice zone for a capitalist economy that knows no bounds, no humility, no respect.
The past few months in particular have been devastating because of the provincial NDP’s betrayal of its base, the everyday people, but we have continued nonetheless voicing how crucial it is to protect what is left of the free flowing Peace River, a key migration corridor for remaining wildlife and abundant in sacred sites for Treaty 8’s Indigenous people. We hold weekly actions every Friday outside BC Attorney General David Eby’s office to urge him to ensure the province acts honourably on Treaty 8.
The Peace teaches us that those who live down south owe a huge debt to the north. It also offers the possibility of a future economy based in food security (with rich farmland) and respect for land. As places in the US are decommissioning dams, it is not too late to stop the Site C dam debt bomb.
Dams like Site C, Muskrat Falls and Keeyask are examples of ongoing colonization under capitalism, a new wave of hydro colonization, that will run us to the point of mass extinction, if people allow them to be pushed through despite bankrupting and harming us, big governments, and land. They are basically examples of how colonial governments are set up to benefit large corporations at the expense of the land’s health and the well-being of those connected to the land.
The dams greenwash the short term, disconnected greed that misses the bigger picture of what truly matters in life – for example, how the natural cycles like the waxing and waning of the moon teach us a rhythm of coexistence rather than exploitation to the point of destruction.
Many current struggles are connected through valuing the health of the water, respect for land and the land’s Indigenous peoples. There are so many contradictions under capitalism, but the truth remains clear as clean drinkable water: as a species, we cannot afford either the pipeline expansion nor the mega dam if we want to become better relatives with the earth and each other.
What links mega dams and pipelines are the growing inequities that arise with mega projects at a time when community economic development models provide more participatory and just possibilities for economies that fulfill the practical needs (not fleeing desires) of our loved ones.
At the end of the day, the night teaches us that we need to rest and respect our bodies as well as the earth. When the time is right, the moon gives us just enough light to navigate the paths to the watch house and the river. Each river, each place, is special and specific. But under capitalism, everything is reduced to profit and contracts that enforce submission to the banality of evil. I’m struck by Aaron Mills/ Waabishki Ma’iingan’s essay, “What is a Treaty? On Contract and Mutual Aid,” where he states “life under contract is a zombie horror” (215)… “beneath contract’s fiction…is carefully contained violence, always threatening to irrupt the artificial peace…”
Contracts attempt to replace the intimacy of trust built through relationships, through the processes of helping one another. They turn the natural cycles of place and time into endless business 24-7, restless to the point of collapse.
So the capitalist machinery needs to wane, like the moon. It needs to follow and respect existing natural cycles instead of wrecking them.
When we have a fever, we need to rest and sleep, drink lots of liquids and slow down. That is where we are today, from a planetary perspective. Whether we can achieve such a reprieve will depend on the people on the ground, working for their ancestors and the ones yet to come, in each of the places I’ve mentioned, and many more than I can name here.
**To donate to support the legal fund, go to https://stopkmlegalfund.org/ – I am also serving on the Board of this fund with the aim of ensuring that those who are poor can equitably access legal support.