Letter: Peoples, place and process and the madness of colonialism

The true cost is not to be measured in lost GDP but in time spent rethinking our approach

To the Expositor:

The rail blockades that have popped up throughout the country as a response to the stance of the Wet’suwet’en elders seem to be reasonably proportionate and but also highly symbolic. Though, perhaps, more importantly, they offer a remedy to what some would term the ‘madness’ of not building the pipeline by turning what I would call the madness of colonialism on its head.  

While Canadians rely on rail to transport many imported goods, we have other transportation mechanisms that seem to be able to keep store shelves well-stocked and the general flow of commerce unimpeded. And yes, some Canadians rely on rail as a means of personal transportation and, with the exception of the more disruptive blockades on GO lines in Toronto, the overall impact has been an inconvenience more than anything else. Even in the case of the commuter lines, buses have been able to pick up much of the slack. For many Indigenous peoples whose expectations for the Trudeau government to deal effectively and efficiently with  long ignored grievances and harms have been left underwhelmed and disappointed, this light impact on commerce and personal transportation is proportionate for this slew of unresolved issues between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. 

But there is also a rich symbolism here, especially for those Western Indigenous Nations whose original grievances arise from the period of the National Policy. This act of nation building by the MacDonald government, begun in the 1870s, led to Indigenous dispossession and the erosion of reserve lands and treaty rights. The shining plank of this policy was the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway linking the nation together from coast to coast. The targeting of rail lines could not be more appropriate in this case.

Proportionality and symbolism will be cold comfort to those who have a law and order objection to these peaceful demonstrations, I am sure. But colonialism was, and is, a lawlessness in and of itself, with a certain madness at its core. The economic ‘madness’ of not building this pipeline, of respecting the traditional rather than colonial source of authority for the Wet’suwet’en, turns the madness of colonialism on its head; it puts concern for the integrity of peoples, place, and process back at the centre of the national interest. Even though the pipeline is at the centre of the national economic interest, and therefore unthinkable for us not to build (madness), the process of reconciliation calls for different considerations. Reconciliation is costly and has been costly and will continue to be costly, but it demands more than financial reparations. 

The true costs are rethinking and expanding our ideas of Canada, placing the integrity of peoples, place, and process back as a central consideration of government policy. The inherent logic of colonialism puts these human aspects aside in favour of the pursuit of the economy and the accumulation of power for those new to the land. The discussions that ought to happen as a result of these protests might impose another cost of reconciliation, namely not building the pipeline. The cost of reconciliation here might be to turn colonialism’s concern for economy over people, place, and process (colonialism’s madness) on its head. The true cost is not the lost GDP, but the work to our thinking and by extension the working approach of the Canadian government as our representatives. 

Tim Vine

Little Current