INTERVIEW WITH TANYA KAPPO
Tanya Kappo is a citizen of the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 8. She is a recent graduate of the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba. Tanya has been active in the Idle No More movement since early December 2012.
What started the grassroots movement Idle No More? Is this a movement for only First Nations across the country or does it include people who are also concerned about environmental integrity with respect to increased oilsands production in Alberta and British Columbia?
The efforts began in response to the legislative assault the Harper government was getting ready to launch against First Nations people – starting with Bill C45. There are two sections in this omnibus bill that were extremely alarming because it had to do with lands and waters.
In regards to lands, the changes are to the Indian Act in which a lower threshold of consent is now in place, in which a community referendum on land designation for surrender or lease can take place. Basically this means that a community referendum for a designation can take place and be a legitimate vote, even if only 10 people show up to vote that day. The reasons given for these changes were to enable and facilitate ‘economic opportunities’ for First Nations. What it will really mean is that the reserve lands are far more accessible for development and developers than ever before and the likelihood of losing the lands altogether (for the First Nations) a very real possibility.
In regards to the water, the changes to the Navigable Waters Act remove protections from bodies of water across the country – rivers and lakes. The removal of this protection will enable an easier access to water – most likely for resource development and extraction. Many First Nations communities are located on the banks or the shores of rivers and lakes across the country.
While looking at these sections in isolation, it does not appear obvious that it really is about all Canadians and not just First Nations. First Nations are the ones who will be impacted first and most severely. And in many cases of resource development, it is the First Nation people who generally ‘stand in the way’ of business as issues of traditional lands and duty to consult are sorted out.
So these provisions are designed to circumvent those issues, in what appears to be their efforts for pipelines and continued resource extraction and exploitation. The harm that this will cause to the environment will affect everyone, for many generations.
Do you think that Bill C-45 is all about selling our fresh water to foreign investors…is this part of the extraction process? In other words, is our fresh water for sale?
I can’t say for sure if this is the intent of the Harper government in removing protections from the waters. But when it’s put in the context of an omnibus bill called Jobs and Growth Act and is part of an overall Economic Action Plan, it begs that very question.
What do you intend to achieve with this movement? Can you list about 5-10 objectives necessary to create change?
The efforts of this movement is to create awareness to not only the historic injustices that Aboriginal people have faced in Canada – and continue to face; but also to create a momentum to change that, to have justice. Because in doing so, it is in the best interest of ALL Canadians, and also in the utmost protection efforts of the lands and resources.
Reframing the relationship between First Nations people and Canada is critical, and must take place in the original spirit and intent it was meant to – which can be found in the various treaties from coast to coast to coast.
The Treaty relationship creates many rights and responsibilities for First Nations people and non First Nations people. And it can be described as one of the most sacred environmental covenants as the saying goes: Here on the prairies, the numbered treaties are to last, “As long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow.” That is not only the length of time of the treaty relationship, but it is also a profound responsibility to the land and protecting it.
To create change, there has to be a real opportunity and willingness to do so on behalf of all Canadians.
You are up against big business and the oil industry so what do you think it will take to get them to change their minds about making money at the expense of environmental degradation?
They won’t change their minds. It’s not their minds that we are trying to change. They do what they do because the Governments, provincial and federal, let them do it. It will take ALL Canadians to demand that their governments stop enabling the environmental degradation.
How effective do you think Idle No More will be politically across Canada? Will there be any other strategies used to make this movement more visible in the media? Would you say this is a political or environmental movement or both?
The movement, at least in its origins, was neither political or environmental – but spiritual. First Nation people have maintained their spiritual connections to the land and the response was born from that. This spiritual connection is expressed through traditions of ceremony, hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering. The destruction of natural environments will render these practices impossible
The media have been slow to provide coverage to events, but as the events grow in size and in frequency and start to happen around the world – they will be forced to pay attention.
Have any big citizen groups or celebrities decided to join the movement? Would you say the movement is gathering power? Will this be an ongoing movement or does it have an end in sight?
There have been some big citizen groups who have officially shown their support – unions like the Public Service Association of Canada and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Lately, there have been tweets from some ‘celebrity types’ like Roseanne Barr, Bianca Jagger and Daryl Hannah. However, the hunger strike of Chief Theresa Spence has a lot to do with the international support that is starting to build.
If one of the objectives of this movement is to obtain a meeting with Stephen Harper by the leaders of First Nations, what do they hope to achieve by talking to him?
Chief Theresa Spence says that she wants to meet with him so that Canada can begin to have meaningful discussions on the Treaty relationship and moving it forward towards real results.
What will be the next move if Stephen Harper doesn’t listen to the people of Idle No More? What then?
There is much uncertainty around this as the outcome of Chief Spence’s efforts will be very dire, if things go bad and she is forced to go until her end. I cannot even imagine what the response will be as it will be far beyond anything this country has ever seen, and one not limited to just Aboriginal people.
How can First Nations, progressive groups and social movements play a role in safeguarding lakes, rivers and other waters by fighting against Bill C-45?
Because the Bill has already been Royally Assented to, it is now law. These groups will have to begin a dialogue in how they can best work together towards a continued protection because it is in everybody’s best interest – not just First Nations.
What legal recourse does the First Nations have against Bill C-45 especially if it disregards First Nations Treaty rights?
As I understand it, there is one community who is working on finding out the options available for legal recourse.