This spring, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a searing report, Honoring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, calling on each and every one of us to take action to heal relationships between settlers and First Nations.
As the report acknowledges, the process of unpacking our collective history is messy, challenging, and essential. Being an ally to First Nations means wading into the discomfort zone and carrying out the painful, cathartic work of discovering and confronting one’s own personal prejudices. Moments that offer a chance to move from remorse to remedy are precious indeed.
Pull Together may offer one such opportunity to put reconciliation into action. The campaign is an initiative of Sierra Club BC and RAVEN Trust to raise funds and support for the legal challenges of seven First Nations against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway.
Pull Together offers a new way forward for First Nations and their allies who share a commitment to protect BC from tarsands pipelines and tankers. It’s an example of what happens when people, moved by a hunger for justice, are given a means to act in accordance with the priorities and leadership of indigenous people.
As a result of that call, communities across the province have been coming out in full force to stand behind First Nations. Pull Together has motivated organizers, businesses, and community groups who understand the power, and principle, of standing with First Nations to protect salmon rivers and the beauty and abundance of this wild west coast.
According to Jess Housty, a Heiltsuk councilor who raised $6000 for Pull Together, “I know we have an incredible amount of influence, on the legal side of things. But from a community development perspective, I know what our resources are and I know what our responsibilities are.
“The thought of a lawsuit added on top of that is such a capacity strain. I have a huge amount of admiration for my community, and for many other communities, that never hesitated to take on Enbridge. But I’ve spent a lot of years hearing from allies, over and over again— ‘don’t worry, First Nations have got this.’ And I wondered where and how and when the support would come.”
Pull Together became a pathway for allies to offer that support. Individuals contributed by donating, fundraising online or organizing community events. Dozens of businesses have jumped on board the campaign, making the connection that oil and gas expansion is bad for local economies in the long run. “It’s really important to not just cheer for First Nations from the sidelines, but to actually participate in enabling their legal fight,” says Daniel Terry of Denman Island Chocolate. Denman Island Chocolate’s Simply Dark Pull Together bars have been sold across the province. Moksha Yoga has made Pull Together a centrepiece of their charitable work in BC, raising $13,000 through yoga classes and film nights, while Kitasoo-owned Spirit Bear Lodge donated the value of a vacation retreat in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Reckoning with Reconciliation
Striving to be an ally and recognizing Aboriginal title means more than making changes in our personal lives. It also means changing how we organize in our communities. Those of us working with First Nations are being asked to listen and follow, rather than assuming we know what is best. As reconciliation encourages a rethink of colonial styles of governance within all institutions, so too do environmental organizations need to re-think their approach.
“Sierra Club BC took a risk launching Pull Together,” says campaigns manager Caitlyn Vernon. “As an organization actively campaigning on many fronts across the province, with never enough resources, choosing to check our organizational ego at the door and fundraise for First Nations instead may have meant that much-needed donations went elsewhere. Yet these are the risks we all need to take, if we are truly serious about reconciliation.”
Such solidarity efforts are paying off. Pull Together has so far raised over $500,000 so that the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo-Xai’xais, Gitga’at, Haida, Gitxaala, Nadleh Whut’en and Nak’azdli Nations have the resources they need before court hearings are held this fall.
“Aside from the simple fact that we all stand to benefit when First Nations act to protect their traditional territories, at the root of it, solidarity is not just about standing with First Nations and supporting them to speak up or to organize—it also, and often, means standing behind,” says Vernon.
“There’s a lot of trust required on our part when we reach out to folks to partner with them,” says Housty of her role on the Heiltsuk council. “The most important thing I try to tell people is that we are equal partners, or we’re not working together.”
Pull Together may be an outlier— raising $500,000 in less than a year is an off-the-charts success — or the campaign may signal a shift in how we are learning to stand together against powerful corporate interests. The legal challenges have the power not only to stop Enbridge, but to advance First Nations rights in this country.
We hope the cooperation and solidarity that are flourishing, thanks to the gracious leadership of uncompromising First Nations elders and community leaders, can grow and sustain our movement. We need guts to stand up to Big Oil, but to stand shoulder to shoulder with First Nations—as individuals, each on our own path to reconciliation— takes humility, not heroism.
The call for reconciliation means we must do more than just talk: it means that, after marching together, we must also walk. The good news is that every step we take outside our comfort zones brings us closer together.
Andrea Palframan is a Pull Together campaigner.