By Andrew Frank
Proceeding with the Site C dam is a colonial political decision that yet again forces Indigenous communities to pay for the mistakes of the non-Indigenous majority. The B.C. NDP needs to own up to that, or do the right thing and cancel the dam.
In the unfolding revelations that famous and powerful men have been abusing and assaulting women, special anger and disappointment are reserved for those whose previous words and actions suggest they knew better. The actions of the Louis C.K.'s of the world can feel like an even greater betrayal of the public trust than the Harvey Weinsteins. There's something especially insidious about the hypocrisy and half-hearted apologies after the fact.
It's a similar vein of hypocrisy and effort to share inflicted grief that makes the B.C. NDP's recent pronouncement to continue building the Site C dam so painful and infuriating. Here was a government that recently committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a declaration that upholds the right of Indigenous communities to give or withhold consent for projects that affect them, and yet the NDP chose to proceed with construction of the dam without consent, knowing it would destroy lands and waters that are vital to the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations.
To add insult to injury, the NDP performed crisis communication talking points and encouraged cabinet ministers to express their conflicted emotions during the announcement. Premier John Horgan said he was making the announcement with "a heavy heart" and had disagreed with his wife over the decision (don't worry, she's not leaving him, he joked with reporters).
North Vancouver–Lonsdale MLA, Bowinn Ma, told her Facebook community that, "Me and my colleagues share your grief... More than a few tears were shed as we came to face reality [sic] of the situation as it stands today..."
This attempt to share grief while simultaneously causing it brings to mind a powerful statement by Caleb Behn, an Eh Cho Dene and Dunne-Za/Cree hunter and lawyer from Treaty 8 territory where the dam would flood thousands of hectares of traditional lands: "Residential schools violated our bodies and souls. Inappropriate resource development violates our land and culture. You can't address abuse while abusing. You cannot address injustice while perpetrating injustice."
For the time being, the B.C. NDP has chosen to continue perpetrating injustice, solely for financial reasons, as has been well documented by one cabinet minister, David Eby, on his MLA website. The financial rationale, as explained by Eby, is that the people of B.C. should not have to bear an incurred debt for zero benefit in cancelling the dam, and suffer potentially lower social spending as a result. As a friend pointed out, "Yeah, that is awful [incurred debt], but ask First Nations about that, who've continually had their lands and waters taken from them for little or nothing in return."
Do we really want $10-a-day childcare and/or [insert some other campaign promise that disproportionately benefits non-Indigenous people] if its cost is balanced on the forced sacrifice of Indigenous communities? When will we stop taking?
As political scientist, David Moscrop said on Twitter in reaction to the decision to proceed with Site C, "If you're in favour of Site C, then you think it's more important than Indigenous rights in this case. Premier Horgan himself saw the logical end of that coming. You have to wear that."
The trouble is Horgan and his party don't want to wear it. Instead, they want you to know that they feel your pain, even though they are the ones causing it. They promise to stop inflicting that pain soon, but not just yet. They are "heavy-hearted" colonizers.
Site C is the first and most important test of Mr. Horgan’s government's commitment to respecting Indigenous rights, and so far it is failing spectacularly. Fortunately, we are not yet past the point of no return, and there is still time to do the right thing by cancelling the project in the New Year.
What better place to begin a good faith effort at reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, than in the scars of a partially completed colonial hydroelectric megaproject? Cancellation of the Site C dam would be a powerful gesture that would require actual sacrifice by the non-Indigenous population of our province, a sacrifice that is long overdue.