Over the past few years, Canada has become a point of contact for Hollywood stars wanting to show off their eco-friendly paraphernalia. Driven by commitments to sustainability, while publicly declaring their support for Indigenous peoples, celebrities like Leo DiCaprio, Neil Young, Mark Ruffalo and Jane Fonda feel free to lecture Canadians on environmental issues and their treatment of Indigenous peoples. indigenous.
The celebrity craze means Hollywood claims receive outsized media attention. A celebrity who has little or no ties to Canada, let alone to Indigenous communities, gets 100 times more coverage than a First Nations leader who speaks on behalf of their community. It hurts that the commentary could be so misinformed and destructive of what we have been working towards. Simplistic notions – resource development is bad, all Indigenous people oppose oil and gas projects – may be completely off the mark, but that doesn’t deter the stars.
Mark Ruffalo has denounced the Coastal Gas Link Pipeline and the Canadian government for ignoring Indigenous peoples. It was totally inaccurate. The pipeline has the support of 20 First Nations along its route. Indigenous communities are buying a 10% stake in the project and hope to buy an even bigger share. Hundreds of First Nations people and dozens of Aboriginal businesses are employed by the project. Our communities will receive millions of dollars in benefits, which will improve conditions for our people.
Not everyone supports the pipeline and other projects. In this, our communities are like all the others. But unlike opponents of the pipeline, First Nations leaders enjoy the overwhelming support of their people, who speak out openly at meetings or elections of chiefs and councils. Critics, meanwhile, haven’t garnered widespread support in a single pipeline community. Instead, they find favor mostly among urban sympathizers, international environmental organizations and, yes, Hollywood stars. None of these people will live with the consequences of their interventions, which only promise more poverty and cultural dislocation.
It’s not just pipeline construction going on on our lands. Our communities are extensively involved in commercial fishing, forestry, mining and other infrastructure projects, all of which meet our rigorous environmental standards and provide substantial benefits to our communities.
We’ve turned down projects that didn’t meet our requirements—for example, the Northern Gateway bitumen pipeline project—and we’ve spent years understanding the local and global impacts of projects undertaken on our lands. First Nations communities are also exploring geothermal power generation, investing in power lines, and contracting mining, hydroelectric, and other projects. For the first time in over 100 years, we are sharing in national prosperity, albeit still at a low level.
We worked hard to gain the power to manage our lands and determine our future, spent years in court to secure our rights. We lobbied politicians and connected with governments, businesses and non-Indigenous peoples. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples now has the force of law in Canada and in the province of British Columbia; he recognizes what celebrities do not recognize, which is that indigenous communities have the right to use their traditional lands as they wish.
We didn’t go into this fight just to be lectured by non-Indigenous celebrities who never met us or even visited our communities before telling us what to do.
Indigenous peoples have a term for outsiders who tell us what to do about development. They are environmental colonizers – unwitting heirs to their destructive predecessors: missionaries, government officials and social engineers, who all thought they knew what was best for our people and, paternalists at heart, did not hesitate to urge us to follow their example.
The early colonizers were wrong, and we paid a huge price for their arrogance. The people of Hollywood are reviving a familiar and unfortunate play, with an ending that only increases the marginalization of our people and erodes our languages and cultures. It’s hard to believe that’s really what celebrities think they do.
We want these media personalities to come to Canada and spend time in our communities. They would, we suspect, be surprised. Our commitment to environmental protection, both local and global, is unbroken. We are strong in spirit and culture, and proud of what our people have done to plan their future. We engage in economic development to give our communities the money we need to rebuild languages, strengthen relationships with the land, and restore health and joy to people who have suffered for too long.
Indigenous communities are shedding the shackles of welfare dependency, determined to throw off the government, striving to recover from centuries of colonization and foreign interference. The last thing we need is more non-Indigenous people telling us what to do with our land, its resources and our future.
Hollywood, we ask you to take the time to come visit us, witness the transformations taking place. Learn how we’re making economic and natural resource development work for our communities – truly for the first time in post-colonial history. Go beyond simplistic notions of indigenous peoples and environmental action. You will receive a warm welcome. You will change your mind about the future use of our land.
In the meantime, please stop pretending to speak on behalf of Indigenous peoples or that you know what is best for our communities. We can very well do it for ourselves.
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