There’s nothing like a good disaster to teach us about who our friends are in life. Think on your own life a little bit– there are moments where things were moving along very well, and you were surrounded by people who appeared to want to walk the road of life with you. Then you had a giant tragedy, a challenge, some major crossroads hit. Perhaps it was an illness, or a sick relative, loss of employment or another trying, similar situation.
The people in your life scattered themselves into two separate groups: Those who could not handle or chose not to be around during the immense struggles you and/or your family were facing, and those who stood with you more than ever. The first group of people are perhaps more common, but it is the second group of people that we cannot live without. They are the ones who have truly embraced friendship and do not put a price nor conditions upon their love– and their solidarity.
In our lives, sadly, it is often only the tragedy itself that makes fairly clear who it is that will be in either group. People we expect to consider friends become absent, and others from whom we were not expecting such shows of strength in our moments of weakness and vulnerability rise and make their presence known. Yet in our environmental work, such a divide is fairly easy to discern. We don’t– necessarily- need to wait until the breaking of the dykes around the tailings pond to learn who is what, and for what goals they speak of themselves as our friends in good times.
Nonetheless, the environmental disaster at Mount Polley mine, run by Imperial Metals on sovereign Secwepmc territory, has given a very clear illustration of this dynamic. There have been immense numbers of people commenting on this possibly irreversible disaster. Allow me to simply spell out two responses to the calamity– a calamity that has decimated several different tributaries of the Quesnel River, possibly the Fraser itself, and so much life in the wake of the toxic sludge replacing cool creek water.
Environmental organizations– Big Green– have argued for some years now, perhaps most notably in British Columbia– that in order to “win,” traditional green resistance that treats corporations and government as opponents, if not outright enemies, must be phased out in exchange for collaborative efforts where power can be influenced rather than forced into action. What this has meant, in practice, is that Big Green has engaged in often private, backroom negotiations with powerful forces, sidelined other environmental organizations that emerged from grassroots struggle, pushed aside First Nations and by default their sovereignty as well, and has established that they are able, willing and eager participants in planning how to ‘develop’ (industrialize) the land, but ‘better’.
Much ink and keyboard space has been used up in examining the deals, effects on industry and long term muzzling of environmental resistance that has resulted. But let’s try a slightly different look at it– the David Suzuki Foundation is one of the more influential and warmly welcomed Big Green outfits in BC. They previously have supported the BC government at election time, regardless of their actual record, for the appearance of a climate/carbon tax that had little discernible effect in reducing overall carbon emissions. They have even joined task forces set up by this same government, and one of their most prominent individuals, James Hoggan, has even become a direct consultant for Royal Dutch Shell, while still tied directly to the DSF.
But, time and again, those who criticize the Big Green collaboration strategy have been told– “we are working for the same goals but in a different way,” and that serious questions in public about the privatization of resistance is counter productive. So, when a disaster that may wipe out over 1 million sockeye expected to begin what is now essentially a hopeless trek back into the rivers and creeks reeling from this tailings dump, when bears will starve due to a lack of salmon, when the creekbeds will be inhospitable for life perhaps over generations, when a company is clearly not just stupid but in obvious criminal negligence– stated by their own employees– how do real friends respond?
Jay Ritchlin, the western region director general for the David Suzuki Foundation, said while there’s little doubt the dam collapse was “bad” and that it will require longer-term monitoring to determine its effects, he saw little use in arguing whether it was an environmental disaster.
Instead, said Ritchlin, the province should use the incident as a learning lesson.
He said the industry has to raise its environmental standards.
“It’s not a question of the sky is falling or the mining industry should be shut down, but we know that tailings management has advanced to the point that most really sophisticated mines dry and stack their tailings,” Ritchlin said. “They just don’t build the mud walls and put a bunch of wet, toxic soup behind it anymore.” (Vancouver Sun, August 12, 2014)
Well, it seems to me this is the damage control that the mining companies– not the ENGO’s– should be issuing. What on earth does this mean, anyhow? I would hazard a not-just-guess that the long, steady work of being seen as the environmental wing of the establishment means you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Or, looking at the basic premise of how real friends operate in a time of crisis, that this Ritchlin fellow is a true friend of industry, and when things are as bas as they are for Imperial Metals, then he won’t kick them further. The mass ecocide of rivers, animals, traditional lands and more? They are not friends to this. Their true friendship is with capitalist industry.
And what other major response has been carried out to the Imperial(ist) Metal assassination of the earth? From Intercontinental Cry, August 13, 2014:
The Indigenous protesters blocked access to the mine and demanded that Imperial Metals’ employees stop working. They also prevented diesel fuel trucks and shuttle buses full of mine workers from entering the site.
The disaster in Secwepmc territory– far to the south of where Tahltan have their traditional territory– has seen the establishment of resistance to the same corporation itself. The blockaders both in solidarity with the devastation of the Secwepmc lands, but also in direct self-defense of the land, rivers, fish and wildlife– have identified who the enemy is, will now fight them and call them as such, and who they are friends to: The earth.
The earth needs friends. Not corporations, they are and continue to be the targets of real, active resistance.
In Polley Mine, we have established that Imperial Metals have carried out one of the greatest environmental crimes perhaps in decades. The impacts will be felt across the Pacific Ocean, when the Sockeye are unable to return in a couple of months time. This will be a tragedy of epic proportions. This is not a teaching moment for mining companies to learn from. This IS a moment to talk of shutting down that industry, but if it is a teaching moment, it is of two things: One, the largest tailings ponds in human history exist not far over the mountains East, where tar sands are dug up at astronomical and growing rates every day. Where Shell is pumping far more, larger toxins into holding pens constructed in roughly the same manner as in smaller mines on Secwepmc Territory.
The DSF has long had a collaborative model thought process. They now give talking points to media to dim the criticism of their friends, even when those friends have clearly shown not just incompetence but global crimes on a new scale. Real friends stick together no matter what; Ritchlin of DSF is a true friend of corporate destroyers. We also know that James Hoggan is an active consultant for RD Shell, corporate owners of more than just the giant Albian Sands tar sands strip mine that has all but obliterated the Muskeg River.
We now have clear evidence of two things.
Shutting down and finding a way to at least move these giant tailings lakes from near the Athabasca must be done immediately, and damn the economy on the route.
Big Green, when engaged in collaborative, corporate models of friendliness are the friends of industry and actively work against fighting these giant industrial disasters. They must not be trusted, they must not be seen as friends of ours, they must be resisted.
They are the privatization of resistance. Today, the Tahltan speak for the earth. Those who understand the true nature of this fight must exhibit solidarity with the blockades and evictions of Imperial Metals at all their sites throughout the regions currently labelled BC. This is the time to right the path of resistance– and put the DSF (and other collaborators) on notice: Your friends are murderers. If you want to know where you are in life, take a look around at your friends.