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Achieving balance between environmental stewardship and the resource economy: Senator McCallum
June 30, 2021
OPINION
image Mary Jane McCallum
Mary Jane McCallum
ISG - (Manitoba)

Individuals, corporations and governments all want an easy solution to balance responsible environmental stewardship and a prosperous resource economy. These are two mutually exclusive concepts — or are they?

In Canada, we never give up hope.

It is a long road back to justice, which we have to traverse together without the resources — natural, human and environmental — that we had in the past.

When we talk about finding balance now, we can no longer go back to the abundance of the past. This is because human actions, in the pursuit of wealth, have contributed to so much destruction. We must be aware of what has been done to our lands in the name of profit and what we must do now to ensure future generations remain safe.

In Canada, whether we like to acknowledge it or not, this balance rests between resource extractive companies and Indigenous communities. There is no way around this discourse.

As First Nations, we have been unilaterally relegated to provincial jurisdiction, despite our federal treaties. As First Nations, we struggle to find stability and protection in our own homeland, despite the fact Canada has unilaterally entrusted itself with the sacred responsibility — never yet fulfilled — to care for Indians and Indian lands.

Canada acknowledges that Indigenous peoples along with their legal traditions and societies dominated this country before the arrival of explorers — explorers who would not have survived without the help and compassion of Indigenous peoples. These explorers then laid claim to what was not theirs.

We still have these explorers on our lands today; those who continue to lay waste to the earth and our lives.

For these explorers, "civilizing" Indigenous peoples who didn’t practice neoliberal ways of marketing and individualism was a common excuse to justify assimilation and subordination. People argue that history should remain in the past, but it cannot. This country’s traditions, philosophies and justifications have shaped the land and its peoples; accomplished through the actions of partisan politics, which cannot think or plan long-term.

Will we ever get past the discourse of jurisdictional issues that exist between provinces and First Nations? They were delegated what was ours; how do you reconcile what was stolen?

The provinces’ unilateral inheritance of treaty rights covers child care, natural resources, health care — all matters that are deeply ours. It places the country into a deep and abiding social division. Why is our country so intent on division?

As a society, we need to have an uncomfortable conversation about the root causes of this imbalance in the relationship between responsible environmental stewardship and a prosperous resource economy. It is only then that society will start to find its way back to ensuring that our future generations will inherit clean land, air and water. Those initial conversations must be between Indigenous women and resource extractive companies.

"Truth." It’s an easy word to say, but so very difficult to practice.

"Nothing exists in isolation." It’s an easy concept to understand, but also easy to ignore.

So how do we move from a climate of destruction through resource extraction to one that strives to live in harmony with all living things, while respecting their environments?

In the CBC opinion piece entitled, "Our colonial history, the colonial agenda and Bill C-15," Wendy Lynn Lerat, a professor at the First Nations University of Canada, states: "[The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] provides hope for a more just, sustainable and decolonized future at a time in history when ecosystems are collapsing as a consequence of global over-exploitation of Creation. Some call this 'development,' but in reality, it’s a time of human-caused climate change unprecedented in its magnitude and reach."

How do we bring the proponents of colonialism and capitalism to the table to take accountability for what they have wrought?

That is the main problem; thoughts take their own form of being — colonialism and capitalism — but they will not come to the table for discussion and resolution.

Senator Mary Jane McCallum represents Manitoba in the Senate.

A similar version of this article appeared in the June 16, 2021 edition of The Hill Times.