Saturday, February 22, 2020


Outside Québec, Canadians aren't generally known for their propensity to protest in the streets.

There are occasional protests, yes, usually involving a small core of people dedicated to $CAUSE and a much larger assortment of hangers-on who like to torch cop cars and vandalize businesses that have nothing even remotely to do with $CAUSE. Such fun!

But normally, we don't bother with all that gauche marching around and demanding change. What would that accomplish? It's not as if every significant positive social change in the history of Western democracy just, you know, happened without anyone speaking up for it. Besides, we have phones to look at.

Protest, in Canada, usually takes the form of theatrics. We're a nation of bellyachers, whiners and grumblers-under-our-breath; our anger only really comes out to play online, where no actual effort is required and you're guaranteed the dopamine hit of "likes" and "loves" and the energizing kick of "why you son of a--". There's a lot of online froth...everywhere you look, in fact. Post a picture of your cat and in short order someone will have found a way to criticize our "drama teacher" of a PM and how he's "destroyed" the country, and then someone else will come in and say "whatever, you oily troll, the Conservatives are the real destroyers ROUND ONE DING DING DING

 We have so much to bitch about, don't we? Just look at these horrible ratings.  The seventh happiest country;  the third most literate; the eighth least corrupt; the seventh most democratic. We truly don't seem to appreciate how blessed we are.
I have a friend in the United States who will be moving to Europe this summer. He's always had the option in his back pocket: he's a triple citizen of Canada (by birth), the EU (by ancestry and regulation) and America (by choice he just might renounce). Why is he leaving? Because he's decided it's time. Seventy thousand people in concentration camps. A President who has declared himself a King, if not a God. Hate crimes ramping up nationwide. He believes, as do I, no matter what happens on November 3rd, bloodshed will soon follow.

We don't have that in Canada. Yet. We do need to "stand on guard" against it, because our politics are rapidly polarizing. But for now, we're golden.

Or are we?

Our national railways, absolutely critical to our economy, have been blockaded for two weeks by indigenous protesters and their allies, in support of a BC tribe and opposition to the oil pipeline that elected chiefs signed off on (because they were bribed) but hereditary chiefs have not.  Polls show that while a majority of Canadians are sympathetic to the plight of First Nations, a larger majority want the blockades removed and the "rule of law" enforced.

I'm with that larger majority. I want the rule of law brought back from whatever forgotten hole it slithered away into. Specifically, the law I want remembered and enforced is right here: the 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision that the Wet'suwet'en tribe (and the neighbouring Gitxsan, among others) never ceded title to their land. In other words: this isn't a treaty dispute: there is no treaty to dispute. This is their land, not ours. It is not and was never our land

Oh, that's not the rule of law that many Canadians are referring to: they're referring to the "law", never enshrined but regarded as if it's divine, that corporations in this country are entitled to do whatever they want. In this case, that one company called CoastLink can put a natural gas pipeline wherever they want, with the option to convert it to carry the filthiest crude oil on the planet.

The first thing to talk about here is "elected vs. hereditary chiefs", since the elected ones seem to be okay with the pipeline and hey, elected sounds democratic and Canadian so it must be valid. Here's the thing. Wet'suwet'en chiefs were never "elected" until there was a Canada around them. We imposed that system on them, the same way we sent their kids off to residential schools to be raped and killed, the same way we tried our damnedest to eradicate all traces of their "barbaric" culture.  We even stripped people of their identity and forced them to have European names.
The Wet'suwet'en, like many indigenous tribes, has had a system of "hereditary" chiefs for thousands of years. "Hereditary" is something of a misnomer: these aren't royal bloodlines, dubbed superior to anyone else's in the tribe by accident of birth, the way we feel about, for example, Britain's "Royal Family". Title can and often does pass down through families, but there is a consensus that needs to be struck fo someone to be appointed a hereditary chief. It's far from automatic.

The elected chiefs--the ones we imposed--have jurisdiction on reservation land itself; the hereditary chiefs for the entire territory and its people. Usually, they get along in close consultation, because our adversarial politics are not theirs. Occasionally, they don't. And our Supreme Court, the same court that acknowledged their title to their land, has concluded the hereditary chiefs have wider authority in most instances.

It's really complicated in the case of the Wet'suwet'en, because it isn't just one elected and one hereditary chief. There are five clans, each of which has chiefs of both types, and band councils comprising people from different clans. But--consider how you would react if a company decided to run an oil pipeline through your backyard. Now, you use your backyard all the time, and the oil company knows it. So, knowing they'll never get permission from you, they approach your basement tenants and sneak in that way. That's a rough analogy for what's going on in British Columbia.

"But why do they have to cripple the economy? It does their cause no favours". When people say this, what they're saying is that they support the right to protest, so long as all protest is invisible and doesn't affect them.

The powerless do what they must to get attention. Frankly, it's astonishing they've been as patient as they have. Indigenous women go missing and get murdered at three times the rate of non-indigenous women, and the official reaction, in Thunder Bay, Vancouver and elsewhere, has too often been a shrug or even laughter. Many reservations have lacked access to something as basic as drinkable water for decades. 

"But I'm not responsible for what my ancestors did to those people!"  Okay, boomer. Nobody ever said that you were. You are responsible for the state of things today,  and designing water treatment plants to fail doesn't fall on your ancestors. Systemic and personal racism hasn't gone away.


 Most of the  money that goes to First Nations  is their money, held in trust by our government (still as paternalistic as always), It amounts to a little over $2.3 trillion dollars, and the annual interest -- a shade over $35 billion -- accounts for almost all the money directly given to indigenous people. The reality is that our government has routinely misappropriated that money. Yeah, um, we're going to steal your children, erase your culture, take your land, and  also steal your cash. And we expect you to shut up and be happy about all of this.

Which brings me to the protests.

"But why do they have to cripple the economy? How do they expect me to support them when they act like this?"

"Protesters do not block traffic to gain your support. They do it so you can see what it feels like to be stuck in a powerless situation. How do you respond to this situation? Are you calm and peaceful? Do you want to spend years organizing political talks about it? Nope, you want to run those protesters over, kill them, kill them all. If you want to kill protesters who have you stuck in traffic, imagine what you'd want to do to a system that patrols, harasses and kills you. The sooner you learn perspective, the sooner you won't have to be stuck in traffic."
--Jason Nelson

--"oh well. Just boil it, you'll be fine." (Janine Manning)

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