Category Archives: Advocacy

First Nations and pipelines

by Karl Perrin

Abridged from a sermon delivered May 21, 2017, to the Unitarian Church of Vancouver

Chief Seattle once said: “This we know. The earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the earth. All things are connected, like the blood that unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

We are meeting today on the unceded territory of the Musqueam First Nation.  Unceded: what does that mean? Never conquered? Never sold? Never given away? So are we guests? Perhaps we are guests of guests, of our 2- and 4-legged relations, our finned and winged cousins, the lords and ladies of the deep, the whales who inhabit this home. We owe a debt of gratitude to all our relations. Thank you.

In “A Native Hill” farmer and poet Wendell Berry wrote:

“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world. . . .

We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. . . .  

For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.

On that very theme I take you back to 2004 when I had an insight into the spiritual rebirth of Coastal First Nations. I recall an exhibition at the UBC Museum of Anthropology entitled The Abstract Edge featuring Haida artist Robert Davidson. He had a new collection which used the Haida alphabet of shapes, myths and heraldry but which he had deconstructed and reimagined with a 21st century global sensibility.

Some pieces of his new collection featured an old shape with a new meaning. The tri-negative or tri-neg was traditionally used as a three pointed filler in negative space, i.e. the background, to add fluidity to the form lines and to simply frame the foreground. Robert Davidson’s innovation was to take the tri-neg shape and, through colour and position, turn it into foreground, i.e. into positive space instead of negative space.

At that point I had a revelation. I realized that just as Robert Davidson had demonstrated with his tri-neg space filler that foreground and background were interchangeable, so too were our cultural perceptions of the First Nations. Based on our cultural history we colonizers had seen the so-called wilderness – the heathen, dark pagan forest – as negative space. We thought it empty, devoid of Christian civilization, devoid of Europe, which was the only reality which made any sense to our collective wisdom. And the denizens of this emptiness were to us simply negative people lacking our blessings and the salvation of our Bible. We settlers saw them as un-settled.

But as First Nations broadcaster Candy Palmater has taught me: “We were not “settlers”; when we arrived this place was already settled. We didn’t settle anything!” Likewise, whenever I see old Haida representations of white men they look ridiculous. Not intentionally ridiculous, but the hats and beards seem odd as if they were copied but not understood. We were in fact lacking Haida culture. We were the negative space; we were the devoid and lacking savages.

Everyone had the same view of Captain George Vancouver on the deck of the HMS Discovery, whether it was the First Mate, a Musqueam warrior looking up to the ship’s deck, or a random eagle circling overhead. But what did the view mean to each? Captain? Devil? Friend? Foe? Disgusting? Maybe delicious? The visual information was the same, but the meaning was completely different.

As we know today only 40% of our vision is what is actually out there, the remaining 60% is what we expect to see. That’s why we have optical illusions – our biased brains just insist that our eyes must be wrong until proven otherwise. Usually we just categorize what doesn’t make sense as simply “wrong” and what does make sense as obviously “right”. Whether something is wrong or right is determined by our culture, our language, our fashion, popular history and mythology, our religion, and sometimes by what is called our “slow thinking”. Evidence and logic together make up our weltanschauung or worldview. And worldviews don’t appreciate tinkering or correction, e.g. creationist vs. evolutionary worldviews.

What does any of this have to do with the Kinder Morgan pipeline? It all depends on how you look at it. Does another oil pipeline mean development and jobs, or does it primarily mean tar sands exploitation, more corporate colonization, plundering our common ground, killing our Mother Earth bit by bit by bit? It all depends on how you look at it, your weltanschauung.

I won’t review here the litany of smallpox, addiction, residential school cultural genocide, and social fragmentation which has maimed First Nations since George Vancouver first appeared on the horizon. I do want to point out the prevailing, cumulative, corporate colonialism represented by the industrialization of Burrard Inlet, the Fraser River and the Salish Sea. Where was the “free, prior, and informed consent” to pollute this unceded native land? Where was the respect for the Tsleil Waututh clam beds and the Musqueam fisheries? Where is the invitation from First Nations to dredge Burrard Inlet for huge dilbit tankers?

As we approach the 150th Anniversary of Confederation we can remember what Tsleil-Waututh Chief Dan George said 50 years ago at the 1967 Canadian Centenary: “When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed his way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority”

What did John A. MacDonald, our first prime minister, say about Indians in 1879?  “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

My goal in terms of stopping the Kinder Morgan (Trans-Mountain) pipeline expansion project is to speak truth to power. The Unitarian fourth principle encourages free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and the seventh principle is to respect the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part. My goal is to fulfill my vow to my son and to his generation that I will do EVERYTHING in my power to prevent his premature death due to global warming.

So, take courage my friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. Take courage, for deep down there is another truth: You are not alone.

Buying Local, Sustainable, Ethical Meat

by Julia Smith

Blue Sky Ranch, Merritt, B.C. 

Seems like everyone is selling “local, sustainable, ethical” meat these days. It’s big business and even companies like Walmart and McDonald’s are cashing in on consumer demand for products that are produced using methods that take issues like animal welfare and the environment into consideration. There are all kinds of certification and labelling systems designed, in theory, to bridge the gap between production methods and consumer knowledge. But, for all these efforts, the waters just seem to be getting muddier and muddier, and increasingly words like “local”, “sustainable” and “ethical” are being diluted to the point where they don’t mean much any more.

One hopeful thing I’ve noticed is that, in general, farmers are quite forthcoming and trustworthy when it comes to communicating about their practices. The problem seems to be with the middle man and their inevitable team of sales people, marketers and spin doctors. So if you are a consumer who cares where your food comes from and wants to make responsible choices that reflect your values, here are a few pointers.

Find the Farmer

I’m in a unique position being both a consumer and a farmer which has allowed me to realize that you simply cannot believe everything people tell you, especially if they are not the farmer. I see meat that I know was produced using conventional methods being marketed as “grass-fed”,” natural”, “organic”, “sustainable”, “ethical” every day. That’s the bad news. The good news is that farmers will generally tell you the truth. So before you buy from a retailer, restaurant, etc., find out where they get their meat.

A lot of places get their meat from a distributor, so you may have to go through a second level of screening at this point before you can get the name of the actual farm. Most distributors source from a number of different farms that employ a wide range of standards and practices and it can be difficult or impossible to pin down from where the meat you are interested in purchasing really came from. In that case, you should assume that your meat is coming from the farm that has the lowest standards because they tend to produce much higher quantities than the smaller farms with higher standards.

Ask the Farmer Questions

In this golden age of technology, getting the story straight from the horse’s mouth can be as easy as typing the name of the farm into your smartphone. Many farms have extensive web sites that can answer most of the questions you are asking. If you can’t find the answers you are looking for online, contact the farm directly. Here are some good questions to ask.

  1. Do the animals get to go outside? 
    If the answer is “yes,” ask for more information about how and when and what the outdoor conditions are like. A tiny door in the end of a giant barn that is sometimes open and leads to a small concrete pad might not be what you had in mind.
  2. How much space do the animals have?
    This should be a fairly straightforward math problem. Take the size of the enclosure and divide it by the number of animals in the enclosure.
  3. Are the animals physically altered in any way?
    Practices such as de-beaking & toe-clipping birds and tail-docking of pigs are often employed in situations where large numbers of animals are housed together in a small space.
  4. What do they eat?
    “Grass-fed” doesn’t mean that the animals didn’t spend the last 4 months of their lives consuming huge quantities of grain in a feed lot. “Organic” doesn’t mean local ( and remember that “local” is only useful as a geographic reference). Commercial feed comes with a huge footprint so a general rule should be – the less commercial feed the animals eat, the better.
  5. Any “Hidden” Confinement Systems?
    Remember to look at ALL parts of the system. Are calves removed from their mothers shortly after birth and confined in tiny pens alone? Are mother pigs kept in gestation crates? How are the hens who laid the eggs that hatched into chickens that ultimately become meat or egg laying birds raised? Are the cattle pictured on a web site in open grassy meadows sent to a crowded feed lot for finishing?

A Word About Third Party Certification

If the farm participates in any kind of certification process, research that certification. You might find that what passes for “animal welfare” in some of these systems, is not in line with your personal values.

This post reproduced with permission.

 

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

by Jerry Growe

For some time I have been searching for other doctors who take this climate deterioration business seriously. I just assumed that most would be concerned because of the public health hazards inherent in the changes we are experiencing. But such does not appear to be the case.

So I was very pleased when I happened upon a community invitation issued by Larry Barzelai last year to attend a public meeting sponsored by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).

Although I have known Larry socially for many years, I was unaware of this particular interest  of his. He has worked as a family doctor in a clinic on Commercial Drive in Vancouver for many years, and has had a special interest in Geriatric Medicine. CAPE has been active for a number of years, most notably in Ontario and Alberta.

Two Alberta doctors who are prominent in CAPE addressed the David Suzuki Foundation (to which the Suzuki Elders are affiliated as a volunteer group) several months ago. Erlene Woollard, co-chair of the Elders’ Educational & Community Engagement Working Group, was anxious for the Elders’ Council to learn about them and their work. The two Albertans had been instrumental in increasing  general environmental awareness in their province and specifically played an important  role in convincing the provincial government to close the coal plants there.  Similarly, CAPE was an active player in coal plant closures in Ontario. The entire scope of their activities can be found on their website https://cape.ca/

Larry reviewed the goals of the CAPE organization, and then proceeded to tell us about his particular concerns about fracking, especially here in BC. He has presented this information in a number of health care settings  in Vancouver and hopes to carry his message more widely through the province.



 

PLASTIC HERE TO STAY: THERE IS NO AWAY!

by Erlene Woollard

Have you noticed lately what is happening in the world’s oceans? If not, please take the time to do so. A good place to start would be the website of the Plastic Oceans Foundation, a global network of independent not-for-profits and charitable organizations, united in their aims to change the world’s attitude towards plastic within a generation. There are currently four Plastic Oceans Foundation entities: United States, Hong Kong, United Kingdom and Canada (in Vancouver), serving both the ocean and the public.

I went to the Canadian Premiere of their film of “A Plastic Ocean” and found it very disturbing and hard to watch but also enlightening. I was encouraged to see so many concerned and qualified people working on the issues of educating us all and trying to protect the world’s sea life from society’s careless use of single-use plastic.

The suffering this plastic is causing is heart wrenching and so unnecessary. If only we, as part of a caring society, would be more thoughtful and even vigilant in our use and disposal of the plastic that surrounds us in our daily lives. In other words, we urgently need to RETHINK our use of the stuff. The hope is that once people know the consequences of our disposable lifestyles as well as understand the importance of the oceans and their bounty in our lives then we will start to care. From caring comes positive change.

Here are some pertinent facts from the Plastic Ocean’s website.

  • Plastic, once made, is always with us in some form. When it is thrown away in one place, it shows up in another, always.
  • More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year.
  • We have developed a “disposable” lifestyle; estimates are that around 50% of plastic is used just once and thrown away.
  • Plastic is a valuable resource and plastic pollution is an unnecessary and unsustainable waste of that resource.
  • Packaging is the largest end use market segment, accounting for just over 40% of total plastic usage.
  • Approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used annually worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
  • A plastic bag has an average “working life” of just 15 minutes.
  • Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.

Often, when we look at making changes in our lives, the changes seem daunting, unrealistic and very time consuming. Below are some things that can be done almost without thinking. These are things that help make each of us feel like we are part of a positive solution.

RETHINKING PACKAGING:

  • Bananas have their own natural packaging so do you really need to put them into a plastic bag in the store to take home?
  • When going shopping, take your own plastic bags from your collection under the sink!! I know this is easy to forget, but you don’t forget your purse or your jacket or your shoes, so……??!
  • Shop in stores that have bulk food. Do not just automatically buy things like cucumbers/apples that the store puts into plastic bags (you will find the others are usually fresher anyway).

 BECOME A BETTER CONSUMER:

  • Refuse to buy things that have excess packaging, and when you can’t avoid doing so then leave the packing behind for the store to deal with (and you can even write letters about this).
  • Use up things. Don’t squander resources on items that are hardly used or which you don’t need and then carelessly send to landfills.
  • Be willing to buy less and to pay fair prices for the things you do buy.
  • Take an extra few minutes to have that coffee in the café to avoid taking it out.
  • Take containers to restaurants in case you have any leftovers to take home.
  • Try to start remembering to ask for a drink without a straw in a restaurant. They even have stainless steel ones now.

BE BOTHERED AT HOME:

  • Hide the ziplock bags and Seran Wrap from yourself as well as other family members and train yourselves to use other methods to store that small bit of leftover onion which will probably end up in the compost anyway.
  • Wash those ziplock bags when you do use them and put them out to dry.
  • Recycle everything and into the right places.
  • Ask yourself “Do I need to use this?
  • When you do use plastic and are tempted to throw out, remind yourself about all the resources that went into making this amazing product and also about the fact that any plastic ever made is still in the world in some form.
  • Use your imagination to use things in new ways.
  • Make a habit of educating yourself about the needs and also about some of the wonderful innovative inventions happening all over the world to remedy this situation and support these as much as possible.

In order to help consumers become plastic literate and also so that we can make informed decisions about how and when to accept plastic, our intergenerational team in the Suzuki Elders would like to arrange a showing of A Plastic Ocean sometime this coming fall. If this is of interest to you please let us know.

There are many other things we can do and this is only to start you thinking about ways to change your mindset, your habits and home environment and to even begin to change the systems we live in.

One interesting idea is to teach ourselves to let the oceans speak for themselves. Listen to the stories of the sea creatures and the ways they have been made to suffer. Be an open space for learning from them and changing our own stories to save these beautiful creatures and their environment so that our own species can survive.

We need our oceans and the food they produce for so many reasons.

 

Watching you Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau;

You will recall that at your book launch in Park Royal you graciously autographed below my comment ‘Watching You!

An autumn of sheer delight over your victory, boosted by a blossoming ’SunnyWays’ atmosphere across the land culminated in Canada’s strong and confident performance at COP21 where you and your team were instrumental in persuading the world of the imperative to hold global average temperature rise to no more than 1.5oC above pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Bravo! Elizabeth May was over the moon!

The letdown began during Spring Break with Cabinet’s nonchalant approval of Woodfibre LNG despite very strong opposition by the people of Howe Sound and in the face of outright rejection by every local government in the region. That was an unexpected kick in the face.

June brought the deeply contentious NEB approval of the Kinder Morgan Expansion. Your TMX Ministerial Panel, hastily assembled as a means of damage control, suffered blatant conflict of interest, professed no mandate but to listen, appeared listless and disinterested, was toothless, and achieved little if anything useful except, perhaps, furtherance of your agenda.

Over the summer I have been watching you with mounting unease as a flurry of MP-organized ‘Democracy Talks’ across BC gave every indication of having been rigged to distract our attention from the stark realities and colossal environmental risks posed by major fossil fuel-to-tidewater projects, aimed instead at softening us up for cabinet approval of one or more projects by year’s end.

As a British Columbian and retired mariner who lived through the 1964 bunker fuel spill in Howe Sound, I cannot overstate my concern regarding the risk of massively expanding diluted bitumen tanker traffic through Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea. Reaction time, heavy tides, bad weather and human fallibility militate against significant spill recovery. Brave promises of a World Class oil spill clean-up capability become meaningless when dilbit sinks (according to a US National Academy of Sciences finding which was disallowed from evidence by the NEB).

Dilbit is exceedingly noxious stuff. A big spill near Vancouver could be catastrophic for the marine environment and precipitate a major health crisis across the Lower Mainland. Trans Mountain’s own experts have calculated a 10% probability of a dilbit spill of 8.25 million litres or more during a 50 year operating cycle. That’s 3000 times the size of the Marathassa spill (of mere fuel oil) in English Bay last year that caused so much fuss.

The Kinder Morgan expansion is incompatible with Canada meeting even our admittedly weak global climate commitment, yet the word is out that you are determined to approve an oil tanker project and Kinder Morgan is the favourite. Will you count that as a science-based decision?

What happened to your promise to overhaul the pipeline approval process? When are you going to step up and assume the climate action leadership role we saw in you? Most importantly, what will happen to our grandchildren if we fail to take the climate action so urgently needed right now?

Your father’s infamous middle finger salute to BC will be seen as nothing compared to your own hypocrisy if you, our climate savvy Prime Minister, – you, a grandson of Vancouver’s North Shore, – break faith with us who worked so hard, and with such good reason, to see you elected.

I beseech you, Prime Minister: do not approve Kinder Morgan Expansion!

Social licence not granted. British Columbia will not forget.

Watching You!

Regards

Roger Sweeny, Cdr RCN ret.

 

 

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