I can’t take it any more. I have to say something, say something more than just tweeting how disappointed I am and retweeting other people. This Kinder Morgan pipeline approval is the final straw.
So what follows is a letter I am sending to my Member of Parliament, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women.
Dear Minister Hajdu,
I am writing to express my unequivocal disappointment in the Government of Canada’s decisions to approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the Petronas LNG plant, and more generally, its numerous failures to live up to its promises to renew the government’s relationship with Indigenous peoples and take action on climate change. I am writing to you as a constituent of Thunder Bay–Superior North, but more importantly, as a teacher of adult Indigenous students in this city and a young adult myself.
At 27 years old, I have not had the opportunity to vote in many federal elections. I was not a fan of the previous government, and when the Liberal Party formed the current government, I was cautiously optimistic that for the first time in a decade voices of young people, and for the first time in … well, too long, voices of Indigenous peoples would be heard. I was pleased to hear of your appointment to Cabinet, for I am aware of your background and the experience and zeal you bring to your position. Indeed, the government’s move to establish an inquiry for missing and murdered Indigenous women is laudable.
Unfortunately, the government is not living up to other promises of its platform, including its commitment to sustainable energy and fighting climate change. Despite Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister McKenna’s rhetoric around the historic signing of the Paris accords, the government has decided to move forward with development projects that will make it even more difficult for our country to fulfil its commitments as laid out in these accords. At the very least, the approval of oil pipelines sends a curiously mixed message to Canadians, and the assurance that all technological measures will be taken to prevent spills is no assurance at all. By approving these pipeline projects, the government is taking short-term economic gains over longer-term ones; this is an unusually short-sighted move considering its willingness to otherwise play the long game, as evidenced by its decision to run deficits. The promise of jobs associated with these projects is an empty one if it comes at the price of the health of our lands, and indeed of the planet itself. Moreover, our continued reliance on fossil fuel production only stunts Canada’s potential for taking the lead as a producer of renewable energy and related technologies.
The government has also failed in its promise of a new relationship with the Indigenous peoples whose lands we occupy. For the past 500 years, too many Indigenous people have died, been displaced, or otherwise suffered at the hands of the government and government-backed institutions. This must change. The crises of undrinkable water and inhuman housing conditions on First Nations reserves have been recognized but not been addressed. The suicides and mental health crises in Attawapiskat and other communities have been recognized, but again, not addressed. Promises of funding and declarations that solving these problems might take time, requests for patience, are unacceptable. As of July next year, the Government of Canada will have had 150 years for redress—but the money is better spent on celebrating, right?
I am not an Indigenous person but a settler like yourself. However, like yourself, I have experience interacting with Indigenous members of Thunder Bay’s community. I have the joy of teaching Indigenous adults from various communities in Northern Ontario who are returning to their studies to obtain the Ontario Secondary School Diploma. There is no better feeling than the one I get watching and helping them move from a place of adversity to one of success and the promise of a better future. And one of the things I do with my students is encourage them to take a more active role as Canadian citizens, to follow politics, to get involved in their communities and in issues in our country at large. I tell them that they can speak up, that they deserve to have a voice.
But how can I do that when it is so evident that their voices are being ignored?
The ongoing demonstration at Standing Rock in North Dakota is one of the largest gatherings of Indigenous peoples, including water protectors from the world over. I stand with Standing Rock’s demand that settler governments listen to Indigenous peoples instead of allying with companies to damage the land and the environment. The Government of Canada’s decision to approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline at this, of all times, sends the message that it does not value this perspective and indeed values oil extraction over the lives of Indigenous peoples and the integrity of their lands.
Every day I go into class and I talk about these issues with my students. It is increasingly difficult for me to claim that they should care about voting, about following politics or about learning how our system works. They become disengaged, or I should say, more disengaged than they already were, because it is so clear that the Government of Canada’s Real Change is not change for the better, at least not for them.
Does my voice matter more because I’m white? I hope not, though experience seems to indicate otherwise. But I would be remiss in my role as an ally if I don’t at least speak up for those who are being ignored, amplify their voices, demand that you listen. It’s not too late. Your government has years yet to change its direction, to make history instead of repeating its mistakes, if only it starts now. If it does not, then come the next federal election, I am very fearful of the outcome. Because—I’m being totally honest here—the other players on the board scare me quite a bit more. But your government is making it really hard for me to back your plays right now.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I would not be writing to you if I didn’t think you might listen. I recognize that, in your position as a member of Cabinet, you are not always as free to comment on issues as other Members of Parliament. However, I thank you for considering the opinions I have laid forth here, and would urge you to share them with other members of the government, as the voice of one of your constituents.
Thunder Bay, ON