By Erin Thompson
They say that no great adventure starts off with a smooth beginning. If that indeed is the case, then I should have packed for an odyssey rather than a short trip to Ottawa. Despite my boyfriend’s recently broken leg, a dead car battery, half a windshield wiper that flew off, and my dear friend’s steep, snowing driveway, my friends and family managed to come together to safely deliver me to the airport with time to spare. Thank you! Without their help, I wouldn't be able to tell you about the time I got to question the Minister of Environment's decision to prioritize industrial destruction over the rights of indigenous peoples and sound environmental impact assessment.
Ottawa warmly greeted me with -21°C, feels like -34°C weather, yet I was still very happy to be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first women in Canada gaining the right to vote. Since women’s right to vote was determined by each province, there is variance as to which areas joined at which time. It is also important to note that although the western provinces – BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba – passed the legislation in 1916, and Ontario in 1917, this right did not extend to all women, only women of white, European descent.
To acknowledge this major point in our history, Equal Voice, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to encourage more women to participate as political representatives, selected one young woman from each federal riding to join their Daughters of the Vote conference. I had the honour of representing the Kootenay-Columbia riding, and joined another 337 women from across Canada to commemorate this significant achievement.
On the night of our formal welcome, the keynote speaker was the Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna. During her address, she spoke of her concern for the environment, the dedication of her team of Ministers to reconcile with First Nations Peoples, and her experience in legally representing the indigenous peoples in East Temor as a young adult. When the opportunity arose for questions, I stood in front of room of over 400 attendees. After a couple of questions about her path to politics and managing work with family life, I had my chance to speak.
My voice cracking with emotion, I asked her how she could approve the Site C hydroelectric development on the Peace River given that it is displacing indigenous peoples who have lived there for thousands of years, and whose right to that land is written in the legal agreement known as Treaty 8. Her face closed as I questioned how her history in starting an NGO, designed to provide First Nations around the world with the necessary legal representation to fight for their rights, aligned with her decision to approve the desecration of the First Nations land in the Peace Valley to provide electricity for refining liquid natural gas.
Her response was not unexpected. She blamed the process on the previous Conservative government and acknowledged that the Environmental Review Process needed to be improved. She did not seem to know that there had not been an Environmental Review due to legislation passed in the provincial Legislature or seem to take responsibility for her role in pushing the approval along without adequate consultation with the First Nations impacted by her [in]action.
The response that was unexpected came from my fellow delegates, the amazing young women who have been selected for their community involvement, their personal dedication, and their passion for making change in a system that rejects their input. I was surprised by the applause that filled the room, the encouragement from the many women I had hardly met, if at all. This is what gave me hope.
It was not easy to stand up in front of hundreds of strangers to question the Minister of Environment. My heart pounded so forcefully that it nearly leapt from my chest and abandoned me as I approached the microphone. But I knew that it was the right thing to do, and I took a chance. I stood up for the incredibly strong people who represent the voice of the land in the Peace Valley because it is time that we made our dissent known.
It is time to step out of the shadows, and get involved however you can - as a volunteer, as a financial supporter, as an organizer. I will continue to stand in solidarity with the First Nations peoples of Canada, and indeed, all of our right to a clean, healthy, natural environment.
Past experience has shown that no government will make a change unless the citizens demand it. I know that I have the most power to affect change right here where I live, which is why I have chosen to become part of the West Kootenay EcoSociety.
It is now my turn to ask you to stand with me to call upon our local governments to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050. Will you contribute to make this a reality today?
When enough people come together thriving, sustainable communities are possible, even here. Without the support of individuals like you, our goals will not become a reality. I believe in having a more prosperous future for all of us, and I need you to take action today to make that happen.
P.S. We are stronger when we come together - whether we're in our communities, in our regions, or in our House of Commons, collaboration is what will allow us to achieve our goals. Want to join an amazing team of volunteers? Add your name here and check off 'I want to volunteer'.
Featured photo by Tamam Ahmed Jama.