“There has been over 150 years of disappointment in British Columbia, I’m not the first person to stand before you and disappoint Indigenous peoples”. – BC Premier John Horgan
History is littered with watershed moments-moments that represent the end of one era and the beginning of another. For Indigenous peoples in British Columbia, the approval of the Site C dam represents one of those moments. Instead of it being a day of justice and respect for Indigenous peoples free, prior and informed consent we received something much less. Today the NDP government of Premier John Horgan set the bar as low as possible for the province’s relations with Indigenous peoples. Welcome to the great leap backward.
For the better part of two decades, and for much of this century, the BC Liberals governed British Columbia. During that time, the Opposition NDP was steadfast in its guise of solidarity towards Indigenous peoples. It was a convenient pantomime. Opposition to the 2002 referendum on treaties, the practice of pipeline politics and the utterance of the rally cry of ‘Jumbo Wild’ were all matters of convenience for a party of perpetual second best.
This spring’s muddled election result brought humility to Christ Clark and power to John Horgan and Andrew Weaver. For a few weeks this summer, we were subject to an ongoing saga of will they or won’t they. Finally, at a rugby game outside of Victoria, Horgan and Weaver found Jesus. I suppose this was the first fidget of suspicion- rugby is as colonial a tapestry to backlight settler power as anything else. No sooner than Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon could utter the words, Christy Clark and her bevy of native shawls were out and the terror of Reynolds Secondary began.
I was one of those people who held some hope for this government. Of course, I was suspicious of the framework of piety towards the party’s support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. Those annoying iTunes terms and conditions agreements receive deeper consideration than settler politics apply to UNDRIP and TRC these days.
In spite of these reservations, I held hope that they would do the right thing. They had usually said the right thing and often had done the right thing too. With the swearing in ceremony behind them, and the boiler plate mandate letters to cabinet on UNDRIP and TRC in place, time was of the essence. Action was at hand.
But that is not what happened.
As the summer dragged on hope turned into an echo of expectation. By Labour Day, it was clear that the NDP was not going to do much of anything at all for Indigenous peoples. Whilst we were told to wait for action and that real change was not possible in the short term, we saw the removal of bridge tolls, an increase of a billion dollars in spending across government, a commitment to electoral reform and other announcements that clearly indicated what and who this government cares about.
If last three months has been a slow backslide, today’s decision is a great leap backward.
Premier Horgan’s decision to approve the Site C dam represents the sort of settler duplicity Indigenous peoples are all to familiar with. It is more than that however. Horgan’s decision is a repudiation of the UNDRIP framework of free, prior and informed consent that many have spent decades if not lifetimes working to establish.
Site C’s approval only happens with the rejection of UNDRIP’s framework of free, prior and informed consent. For Premier Horgan and his supporters, Indigenous peoples only deserve to have a chance to be heard and not to have our voices respected. Indigenous consent does not matter to the NDP government.
This is settler erasure in action.
Just consider this quote from the Premier:
“surely we can get passed the acrimony around a big issue a big project and start focusing on the things that matter to people”
The message is clear-the ‘people’ who matter to the Premier are not Indigenous peoples who withhold consent. Only the Weinsteins of settler society could uphold such grievous beliefs. We know where this this sort of ideology leads. The erasure of our rights and destruction of our land leads to the erasure of Indigenous peoples. It is violence by any definition.
Site C will be built. Treaty 8 lands will be lost under unionized concrete and social democratic hymns.
Bray on, brothers and sisters. Once again, the spectre of settler solidarity is at hand.