On uniting our struggles

Is there any wonder the frustration is as thick as cream cheese these days?

commentary by Wayne Bradley

Wet'suwet'en Solidarity Event, Toronto, Ontario, February 22, 2020. Photo by Jason Hargrove, CC, cropped from original

I hope we will soon see political analysts and commentators acknowledging that the massive uprising we are seeing in Canada is far more than spontaneous solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people, although it certainly is that.

So far I have seen only one commentary on the larger scope of this activism. Taiaiake Alfred, until recently, the head of the UVIC Indigenous Governance Program, claims that we are seeing the rise of a truly revolutionary moment. He was quoted in the Georgia Straight newspaper:

“I can remember saying 15, 20 years ago, that if we ever had a development in our movement where the power of Indigenous nationhood and Indigenous rights could be melded and brought together with the power of young Canadians who are committed to the environment and social justice, it would be revolutionary…. And I think that that’s what we’re witnessing.”

I hope he is correct. I feel that we are seeing the fusing of the anger and frustration felt by several sectors of society, which sense that our governments are no longer interested in our views or our interests and will proceed as they see fit on agendas that they have no mandate for.

Greta Thunberg expressed this rage and frustration so eloquently when she condemned the lack of meaningful climate action by world leaders at the UN recently: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she exclaimed, “how dare you!” Empty words which, in the case of Canada and Indigenous Peoples, Senator Murray Sinclair (quoting Paul Simon) likened to “a pocketful of mumbles.”

I think we are seeing a massive consciousness raising among people like Thunberg and other youthful climate action campaigners. Facing their bleak moments of contemplating what their future will look like in the face of governments’ deceptive positive language while actions speak the truth of their opposite intents, many feel that they are seeing for the first time an opportunity to call “Liars” in the face of power. This growing awareness is also waking older Canadians as thousands, not just youth, are suddenly realizing that Indigenous people in this land have been confronting this sort of intransigent, single-minded agenda from our governments and corporations since “settlers” landed on these native shores.

The most egregious demeanor of government leaders who speak of “reconciliation,” yet invoke the “rule of law,” all while ignoring decisions of their own Supreme Court or Human Rights Council in favour of Indigenous people, leaves many of us almost speechless with rage. This, while promoting and subsidizing the decimation of our natural resources for profit and at the expense of our environment. The opportunity to get out in the street and “do something” is most welcome, even for many who have never “been in the streets” before.

A federal government that will spend over $8 million to oppose the work of one heroic advocate, Cindy Blackstock and her team in a struggle for health care equity for Indigenous children, while ignoring the strong advice of its own Supreme Court to negotiate Rights and Title for the Wet’suwet’en is imbued with racist, corporatist dogma almost beyond comprehending. Cindy Blackstock should be getting the Nobel Prize for her years long advocacy for these children, yet the government which even hired spooks to spy on her, is returning to court to try to cheat them out of the small award they have been granted by the Canadian Human Rights Council. Nine times this Council has ordered the government to settle, but “NO”!

Is there any wonder that frustration is as thick as cream cheese these days? It is not just decades of Wet’suwet’en demanding their rights under our constitution, but a string of barefaced lies from governments that left us almost beaten and deflated. Does anyone recall the “last election using First Past the Post” promise? What about John Horgan’s outright betrayal on the site C dam issue and his doubling down on the massive Liberal tax giveaways to facilitate the export of our fracked gas by foreign companies, giveaways he condemned while in opposition? The resulting decimation of any serious alternative energy promotion policies? The promise to move fish farms to land based production by 2025, already being walked back by Trudeau? The apparent policy of eliminating old growth forests on Vancouver Island? The refusal by Horgan’s government to confront the exploitation for profit of our ground water resources? The federal blind eye to the decimation of our last serious herring stocks, right here in the Comox territory?

I could go on and on. There is enough cynicism to go far, but the steadfast and centuries long struggle of Indigenous people in Canada for justice has arisen to the fore again and will, this time, perhaps with help the rest of us, rise to deal with the lying, duplicitous, fraudulent governments that hold sway now.

Recent significant struggles of the labour movement hint at a newly developing militancy among workers who have seemed almost absent from our struggles in the last few years. While the trade union movement is fraught with its own contradictions and internal struggles, the working class often sees things more clearly than their union leaders. If the working class can unite with the multi-hued alliances that are bringing their own perspectives into the movement for solidarity with Indigenous people, we may well see the “revolutionary moment” Taiaiake Alfred muses about.

We also need to keep a humble perspective on just what we are facing and what we are doing. Millions have been immersed in this struggle a very long time. We are not unique, but neither do we have the liberty to drop the struggle for our universal rights. I often recite to myself these lines written by Percy Bysshe Shelly in 1819 as a response to a horrendous massacre by the British military of unarmed civilians at Peterloo in Britain who were demanding democratic rights – it ends with this exhortation:

Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth, like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many – they are few!

(From Masque of Anarchy, 1819)

We’ve been at this a long while! Our challenge is to pick up and move this legacy forward.

Wayne Bradley is a Comox Valley resident of over 55 years (Merville resident for over 30 of those years), and a retired oyster grower involved in activities promoting peace, social and environmental justice for all those years.

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