Environmentalist, professor, activist and doctor of aboriginal law visits Mount Allison
The Crabtree Auditorium was filled to capacity last Monday, Sept. 21 for the first installment of this year’s President’s Speaker Series, featuring Pamela Palmater.
Palmater, who has a doctorate in aboriginal law and is a professor at Ryerson University, is an indigenous-rights advocate from Mi’kma’ki, N.B.
Speaking on Mount Allison’s intended “year of the environment,” Palmater had the full attention of her crowd as she explained why “indigenous rights are the solution” to Canada’s environmental crisis.
Palmater spoke of Canada not only as a territory on which many nations live, but also as an ecosystem. “Canadians are distracted from the most dangerous crisis we’ve ever faced,” said Palmater, adding that it’s not just the scientists who have been warning us. “The animals couldn’t be screaming a louder warning if they tried,” she said.
“How many people would justify destroying an entire half a mountain knowing that those are our lungs?” said Palmater while pointing out the many consequences of clearcutting forests. She reminded the audience that every aspect of the biosphere is interconnected and questioned the way society is weighing the costs of human intervention.
“I’m going to strategically look at, oh, just the last nine years or so,” said Palmater. “The biggest environmental disaster to ever happen to this country is ‘he who shall not be named.’”
Hinting heavily at Stephen Harper, Palmater discussed decisions made by Canada’s current government which have impacted progress towards environmental action, such as backing out of the Kyoto Protocol and investing in the tar sands. When responding to the climate crisis, “we don’t have the luxury not to act,” said Palmater. She went on to state that “[standing] up to protect our ecosystem” is the best possible act of citizenry.
Palmater then offered a solution based on the respect and care for the land that indigenous peoples have practised for generations. “Many of my indigenous brothers and sisters would even die to protect their territory,” she said. “You’ve seen what happens in the news when someone wants to destroy a lake or river. We’re the first ones on the front lines.”
Palmater pointed out that the media has been known to portray such efforts as confrontational and volatile. She cited a security report published by Donald Flanagan, an adviser to the prime minister, who claimed that “a nightmare of epic proportions” would occur if environmentalists and First Nations peoples collaborated.
What actually happened, she said, was “dancing in the street, drumming and singing, and educational talk-ins.”
Palmater suggested that section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, which protects aboriginal and treaty rights, will “take the fundamental decision-making power out of the hands of the people who have been doing a horrible job and put it back in the hands of the people who would die for this territory.”
Palmater urged the audience to see the value in supporting and working alongside First Nations peoples in environmental efforts. “You’ve got moms who’ve lost their kids to child and family services, families who lost half their families to suicide, you’ve got people without running water and sanitation. All of the people who have the least amount of resources and support to be defending this territory are the first on the front lines. You couldn’t have a better treaty partner. I think the CV is pretty good.”
“You’ve got the sword, we’ll be your shield, and if you put those two things together, we can absolutely stop this crisis.”