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concordia 06/03/2018 - 01:00PM

Joining Forces in Decolonial and Environmental Struggles

Hundreds packed Cinema Politica Concordia’s venue on February 12th for the screening of three short documentaries centering Indigenous and allied resistance to oil and mining projects across Turtle Island. After being introduced by Travis Wysote, a Listuguj Mi’gmaq student, teacher, musician, researcher, and writer who hosted the event, activist and Water Warrior Suzanne Patles tuned in for a post-screening Skype Q&A. Her answers were fierce, poignant and inspiring, sparking cheers and punctuated by applause from the audience.  

Suzanne started by explaining how Indigenous oppression is normalized, and how in turn we must normalize resistance to systemic oppression every day and in every action. She shared personal experiences of being targeted by colonial institutions and white supremacist groups, and called for relationships of trust, consent and love between Indigenous communities and settlers as they collaborate in decolonial struggles. Her powerful words were particularly resonant as she had been present both at Burnaby Mountain (where THE CARETAKERS is set) and led a group followed by director Michael Premo in WATER WARRIORS.

The screening of the two documentaries was preceded by MI’KMAQ RESISTANCE; DEFEND THE SACRED, a short doc on resistance to the Alton Gas project in Nova Scotia to create salt taverns in order to store natural gas underground. Combining views of the camp and its natural surroundings with interviews, the doc focused on affirming that the land is unceded and that the treaties must be invoked in order to defend the land and water. Members of the group focused on the importance of elders and women as the backbone of the community, and reiterated the need to protect the next seven generations through their work.

The links between environmental exploitation and colonial oppression are also addressed in THE CARETAKERS; an activist poignantly calls out that Kinder Morgan wants to “drill Mother Earth” and that the Indigenous group has “a sovereign right to say no to oil”. Another community member says that “we belong to the land, the land doesn’t belong to us”, whereas Kinder Morgan embodies the colonial idea of private property, illegally cutting down trees and raiding the camp.

In WATER WARRIORS, residents are concerned when New Brunswick approves SWN Resources fracking in the region, which would impact a third of the province’s population. Resistance is enacted by a group of warriors from many nations and backgrounds, in their everyday life and in locations ranging from supermarkets to road blockades when the violence escalates, turning the conflict into an increasingly political issue as the next elections are fast approaching.

Both films also focus on the role of allies in Indigenous environmental struggles. One of the Caretakers explains that allies must share values of Indigenous sovereignty, which is often undermined in predominantly white climate justice struggles. During the Q&A, Suzanne Patles recalled that the Water Warriors worked with over thirty non-Indigenous groups, who handed over all jurisdiction and leadership authority to the Indigenous community. She spoke of the importance of allies in making Indigenous voices stronger, and building relationships of trust and care in the process. Allies must work towards becoming accomplices, working across nations towards the recognition of Indigenous rights and environmental justice, without fear of repercussion, because as Suzanne Patles powerfully added, “fear is a symptom of the oppressor”.  Every day we must all ask ourselves, “What can I do to normalize resistance?”.

To watch films on Indigenous resistance and resilience, check out Cinema Politica On Demand—you can sign up for a free two week trial and start watching films like CULTURES OF RESISTANCE, STOLEN and HONOUR YOUR WORD today.


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