Futures with healthy rivers and agriculture — inspired by Indigenous values

It is a sad time in Canada: Our newly elected federal government, who promised to respect First Nations/Indigenous rights as part of their election campaign, recently approved Site C dam on a precious section of the Peace River – directly against the wishes of the First Nations leadership and communities, local farmers, and the many people across our province who care about First Nations, rivers and agriculture. Canada has a long and predatory history of building dams on rivers against the wishes of Indigenous and local peoples at home and around the world. But dams are an old-fashioned technology that belongs the past – not the future.

Dam building is part of a mindset that privileges human’s need for electricity – to power more technology, more buildings, more stuff in urban areas, or to sell for profit – over local peoples and living things (including the river itself).

This Western mindset also privileges what white, urban people/men want over what Indigenous and rural people want. This attitude, too, belongs in the past – not the future.

Most images of the future, whether in film, television, advertising, books, government programs (from the local to the global) depict the future as a singular thing: urban, full of highrises and elevated highways, dominated by white men, and nature is dead. Almost never are Indigenous peoples included in corporatized media images of the future, Avatar and destruction of the Na’vi (non-Earth) homeland notwithstanding (I’ve found one small independent film that includes a First Nations man). And wild nature spaces are almost never shown. Agriculture is never shown.

This singular notion of future as urban is what politicians are responding to when they consistently make decisions to destroy nature and rural landscapes to make way for the built environment. They see ‘progress’ as built – not nature or agriculture.

They see the singular future (and present) as led by white men (and women who are part of the hegemonic systems of power, lady patriarchs, as coined by Ursula Franklin) so they do not respect First Nations leaders.

This idea of a singular urban, white, masculinsed future is old-fashioned, too. It began with the 1927 film Metropolis. And has continued unchallenged since then.

The Canada government recently signed on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that outlines cultural, political, decision making, education and land-based rights for Indigenous Peoples, including Article 29: “Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources”.

And yet, the federal and provincial governments have made the decision to dam this section of the Peace River directly against the strongly expressed views of First Nations that they do not want the dam. The governments’ decision is so unfair to the First Nations that Amnesty International is supporting them to have the decision reversed. And RAVEN is supporting the First Nations with their court case.

This dam has been shown by experts to be unnecessary for power needs, which makes the governments’ decision is especially unkind (not to mention illegal).

Site C dam on the Peace River will be stopped. But it will be expensive, and exhausting for the First Nations and local rural people. Sustainability demands that the world wake up and make decisions differently, and different decisions, with respect for ecological and Indigenous values.

Let’s begin the shift away from the notion of a singular urban future and envision futures of vast human and ecological diversity where we live respectfully, and with kindness, for all people and all non-human species and the lands and waters of our precious, and only, world. Some people in these diverse futures will live in cities – and some will live in rural communities, farms and forests.

It is time for a shift in what our futures will be – to see futures with great diversity of landscapes and peoples.

  • Futures with some people living happily in cities, as they do now, but some people living happily in rural areas and amongst wild spaces, as they do now.
  • Futures where non-human species are valued and their habitats are protected, and where humans learn to live respectfully with other species in their habitats.
  • Futures where humans conduct rural practices mindfully within the web of life, which is alive in the soil and waters.
  • Futures where women and children are actively involved in decision-making that affects the public domain.
  • Futures where electrical power is gained without destruction of the life in rivers and agricultural areas, without the destruction of rural and Indigenous communities way of life.
  • Futures that value Indigenous Peoples — where they are included decision-making across the full spectrum of cultural, ecological, economic and social aspects of society; especially on their territories.

RAVEN Fundraising for legal challenge


Amnesty International


Sierra Club


 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Green Party of Canada


NOT this: Metropolis (1927)Metropolis



THIS: Peace River (2016)

Peace River

2 responses to “Futures with healthy rivers and agriculture — inspired by Indigenous values

  1. Great post… You might want to submit it for publication…

  2. Randal Hadland

    Well said Karen, and thank you for saying it. We use electricity too much in the same way we use so many resources, as if it is cheap. The thing is that it is so costly to generate in large hydro dams that the proponents don’t even want to talk about the damage they do. A future where we don’t use more than we need.

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