On Aug. 20, with millions of Canadians watching, the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie praised Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to better reconciliation with First Nations.
But despite their promise to forge a new relationship with Indigenous peoples, the Trudeau government is facing tough criticism for supporting the Site C dam in B.C. — a project opposed by many First Nations leaders, Amnesty International and even the Royal Society of Canada.
The Site C dam is a $9-billion dollar hydro-electric mega-project being built on the Peace River in B.C. The dam would flood an 83 km stretch of the valley near Fort St. John. Those against it say it will destroy ancestral burial grounds, and threaten land that is used for traditional hunting and fishing.
Caleb Behn is a Treaty 8 member and the executive director of Keepers Of The Water, an Indigenous water protection organization focused on protecting the Arctic Ocean Basin. He has been involved in the fight against Site C for many years and tells The Current’s summer host Robyn Bresnahan that he feels “betrayed.”
“Indigenous people in this country know all too well what betrayal feels like and the betrayal is written in the destruction of the natural world.”
‘From the very beginning of this process we were very clear that we were not opposed to the creation of the energy, what we were opposed to was the unnecessary destruction of the river valley.’- Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation.
Behn tells Bresnahan that the Site C dam project is “the most damaging project ever viewed under the history of the Environmental Assessment Act.”
“People may consider the site C to be just a one-off project but when you put it in the context of cumulative impact, this is a region that has been massively impacted by oil and gas development, mining, coal hydroelectric etc. etc.”
Behn says he’s not alone with his concerns about this project and tells Bresnahan that “360 of North America’s leading scientists have identified and written publicly that this project has major issues.”
Frustration bleeds through Perry Bellegarde’s voice when he talks about resources that were allocated in last March’s federal budget but have yet to reach First Nations.
“It’s walking that fine balance between lifting up the Liberal government and lifting up the Prime Minister in a positive way,” said the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
“They are saying the right things on one hand, and then on the other hand saying, ‘Great to say these things, but let’s really make it happen.’ There’s an issue about implementing it now. There’s an issue about giving it effect on the ground,” said Bellegarde.
And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to say the right things. Following the Cabinet retreat at Laurentian University in Sudbury earlier this week, Trudeau listed Indigenous peoples as one of three “key relationships” for his government.
“One thing we agreed on this weekend is that the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples is so important, and the trust that we need to have in each other so essential to our shared success, that we must continue to make this relationship a priority moving forward,” said Trudeau.
Bellegarde said he was pleased to hear that, but action is needed to strengthen that relationship, including a roll out of the $8.4 billion allocated to Indigenous peoples in the Liberal government’s first budget.
“It’s got to have real meaningful impact on the ground. So you have to get that out to the communities.”
Bellegarde said it’s unclear to him why there’s a hold-up. He says he’s willing to work with the government on any issues –operational, organizational or capacity – that are causing the delays.
“There are so many questions and the answers aren’t quite forthcoming yet, so we’ve got to keep putting pressure on the department to get these answers out,” he said.
There is “distress” around the delay, he said. What will happen to the dollars allocated this fiscal year if they aren’t used?
“Is it lapsed? Is it turned over? Is it forgotten? Is it not able to be accessed next fiscal year? That’s why you’re hearing the distress in my voice,” he said.
He also points out that Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, along with other ministers, will have difficulty making a case for new funding for Indigenous peoples if the funds already allocated haven’t been used.
The lobbying strategy for the next fiscal budget is already underway for the AFN, he says.
Bellegarde isn’t ready to give the government a failing grade, nor is he ready to call Trudeau all words and no action. He said it’s unrealistic to expect the issues that have faced First Nations for decades to be dealt with in the 10 months the Trudeau government has been in power. Yet, Bellegarde admits to frustration.
“It’s 10 months. That’s why you’re hearing the sense of slowness in getting it out. There is that. That’s true. There’s no question on that,” he said.
He’s also disappointed that recent health talks between the federal government and provinces didn’t include Indigenous peoples at the table. He says First Nations need to be included in all areas, including economy, environment and education.
“It affects our rights. It affects our peoples. It just makes common sense to get our voices around the table. You’re going to get better decisions, better polices, better legislation when our voices are at those decision-making tables,” said Bellegarde.
There is no doubt that Indigenous peoples are enjoying a better relationship with the Trudeau government than they ever did with the Conservatives, Bellegarde said. But there is room for improvement, he believes, and vows to keep pressure on the government until it delivers on the resources allocated in the 2016-17 budget.
Canada is exploring the use of gender-neutral options on identity cards, Justin Trudeau told a television station on Sunday as he became the first Canadian prime minister to march in a gay pride parade. Trudeau, who participated in the downtown Toronto parade along with other politicians, did not give details, saying only the government was exploring the “best way” and studying other jurisdictions.
“That’s part of the great arc of history sweeping towards justice,” he told CP24.
If you’re not Canadian, this won’t mean much to you. It means a lot to me.
I’ve been crying for five hours and I can’t stop. Two Canadian heroes embracing at The Tragically Hip’s final show before Gord Downie’s illness escalates, which it will very soon. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Canada’s most cherished rock star was recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and has gone back to his hometown of Kingston to give one last concert.) There were tears in both their eyes when Downie addressed Trudeau in sincere appreciation of his leadership. I felt so connected to everyone in Canada, watching that. Everyone was watching, everywhere, because The Tragically Hip writes music for everyone – unpretentious, insightful, relatable, and specifically Canadian. It was becoming difficult for Downie to continue with each encore, struggling to remember all the words to his hits, needing help from his band to get up and down the stairs, gritting his teeth, hugging himself, clenching his eyes shut as the tears welled up, fighting harder to put on a good show when it seemed to suddenly hit him that it would be the very last in his life, and not wanting it to be. It’s so difficult to say goodbye. And through all this, he was still the delightfully awkward, passionate, flirtatious character that we know him to be. Half camp counsellor, half disco ball, with a glittery pink suit and a pinecone on his hat. It was a truly remarkable and profoundly emotional performance. I’m so glad that our Prime Minister was there. This was very meaningful. People will be talking about this concert for a long time. There was so much love and gratitude at this show. You know it’s a quintessentially Canadian band when fans in the audience are holding up signs saying, “THANK YOU!” Gord thanked each of his band mates with a kiss on the lips. His address to Justin Trudeau tonight will go down as one of the most iconic moments in Canadian cultural and political history.
“Thank you, everybody. Thanks for listening to that. Thanks for listening, period. Have a nice life.”
Set aside your political leaning or any complaint you have about the choices that various governments in Canada have made lately, and just look at this photo. It’s nearly impossible to imagine it being taken in any other country. Really look at it, because it was iconic the moment it was shot.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Canada’s current prime minister would make an appearance in Toronto at one of the largest gay pride parades in the world - maybe he could have dressed in a natty suit and his signature tan lace-ups, and waved to the crowd while waving the flag. That alone would have been enough to make history, to feed the news cycle and to build the Justin™ brand. Maybe even snag another GQ cover.
But, no. Appreciate what is happening in this photo. This G7 leader decided to bare his hairless chest in a salmon-pink shirt, and slip into curvy white jeans (there isn’t a straight guy alive that can pull off white jeans without irony - don’t even bother disagreeing with me), and shake his baby-maker under a high, July sun while being hosed down by a hundred water pistols wielded by all manner of race and colour along the straight, L, G, B, T, and Q spectrum. And in this picture, you can just make out the guy in the hat to the right of Trudeau’s jubilant armpit. He’s a recent émigré to Canada. A 5-foot-1, gay, HIV-positive Syrian refugee, which, if you look it up, is the definition of completely fucked back in his devastated homeland. And yet, there he is, marching and dancing next to the leader of his newly-adopted country, agog in the middle of Yonge Street.
Some might say that this is simply a picture of liberalism gone wild, or of biblical deviance, or of political opportunism. Go ahead – knock yourself out. Or, you would be partially correct to see this as a photo of a minority group celebrating a wider acceptance of its claim to humanity. It is that, and a great deal more. To look at this photo and not grasp its significance is to not only succumb to shallow, jaded and isolated thinking, but also to take for granted a level of freedom that is absurdly great in comparison to the utter bleakness in other corners of the world right now. This is a photo that says, “You have the freedom to not only feel love here, but to demonstrate it, celebrate it, sing it and shine it. Don’t squander it.”