I heard Pamela Palmater speak at the recent Climate First Tour. Like Anthony Hall, one of my favorite writers on Indigenous issues, Palmater has connected ecocide with genocide. In my view, they both have the same source—in European settlers’ original sin of disrespecting non-whites, non-men, and non-humans. As Palmater said, “We can no longer deny the ecocide of life on the planet than we can deny the genocide of Indigenous people. Ecocide and genocide go hand in hand.” They are both the poison fruit of the same contaminated source.
Palmater also pointed out, “Chemical valley is always on Indigenous Land.” This happens for the same reason that in the US toxic chemical plants are usually found near or on land belonging to African-Americans, Indians, or poor people. Poor people everywhere have little power, so frequently get shafted. The connection between injustice and pollution is perversely intimate. According to Palmater, “Indigenous people are the first to feel the dysfunctionality of the land.” Indigenous People are the canary in the mine. And to paraphrase that great but unheeded Canadian philosopher, Al Boily from Labroquerie Manitoba, my former boss when I had a summer job at Manitoba Hydro during my first two summers of University: “What’s bad for Indigenous People is bad for the rest of us too.”
Many of us now realize that Indigenous people the world over, are at the forefront of the fight against environmental contamination and destruction. You can see this at Standing Rock, you can see this in B.C. in the fight against the Trans-mountain pipeline, you can see this in the South American Rainforest, you can see it at the UN, and you can see it in many other places. We have to learn the truth of what Palmater said, “the planet cannot survive without Indigenous People.”
I thought Palmater said many very interesting things, but none more interesting than her statement “What we need is a new Treaty relationship. We need a treaty relationship for our mutual protection. We must revitalize it by including all living beings, not just humans. We have to ban ecocide along with genocide. This would be a true modern treaty—a real coming together. This treaty should combine social justice with earth justice. This will require a revolution—that would change everything! It would require a massive transfer of wealth, power, and decision making.” It sounds radical, but frankly, we need radical. Our climate crisis has progressed too far for modest solutions. We have wasted too much time.
Palmater is a student and teacher of the treaty making between Canada and its First Nations people. She knows a lot about it. But she wants to go farther than that. As she said, “the original treaty vision was that we would work together. Such an attitude can protect the ecosystems on Turtle Island too, as long as the sun shines and the rivers flow.”
Palmater urged us to consider “The Indigenous People survived genocide: Take that strength and resilience and allow it to transform you. We can come together to rise up and change the world so that this generation can lead us back to balance. We can unite under a New Treaty.” These were powerful words and the group gave her a standing ovation. I stood up too.
Before Pamela Palmater talked I did not know her at all. Now I think I Now a little about her.