By Scott Knowles
If you are vegan and you want participate in indigenous solidarity work, first things first, take your agenda and throw it in the fire. Second, shut up and start listening to indigenous voices.
I live in what is now known as Canada, on the unceded Coast Salish Territories of the Tsleil-Waututh and Skwxwu7mesh Nations (North Vancouver). In Canada and across Turtle Island, there is a long history of colonial repression, genocide and assimilation. It is a history that vegans need to ensure we do not repeat.
From small pox, the criminalization of culture, residential schools, the 60’s scoop and countless other attempts of genocide and assimilation, to now, we have seen little change in the colonial attitude that governs this state. These systematic efforts to suppress culture have affected indigenous peoples access to self-determination, creating a dependency on capitalism and the Canadian government, and impoverishing entire communities. The effects and continuation of this oppression can be seen to this day. From the threat of industrial projects aiming to further colonize unceded lands, to the racist stereotypes that permeate “Canadian culture”. From the overrepresentation of native people in the prison system, to the conservative governments refusal to do an inquiry into the hundreds of cases of missing and murdered indigenous women.
However, since contact, these systematic attempts of genocide and assimilation have not succeeded. Indigenous resistance has been too strong to defeat, a resistance that continues to this day and is rapidly building in so called British Columbia.
As this resistance builds we are seeing nations defeat government and industry in courts that have historically been used as tools of repression. We are seeing indigenous camps being set up to blockade pipeline and mining projects, and to enact their land and title rights. As this movement grows there is increasing support from settlers who want to see justice for the land, air, water and animals. However, as settlers we need to ensure that we do not co-opt this movement, invisibilize the past or stand in solidarity only when it suites our own agenda. We need to ensure we do not over simplify issues, we need to break down our privilege and we need to listen and learn how to decolonize our work. This is something that seems to be particularly difficult for us vegans.
However, as counterintuitive as vegans working towards indigenous solidarity might seem, it is absolutely necessary in building a true environmental justice movement – a movement that is the only real hope for saving animals and humans alike. It is time that animal rights activists start breaking down our analysis, finding intersections and working to build a broad based movement. This is something that is currently being achieved up in Tahltan territory, commonly known as the Sacred Headwaters.
The town of Iskut is home to just over two hundred people, most of whom are Tahltan. It is the closest town to the Sacred Headwaters, an area of land about the size of Oregon, one of the last truly wild places remaining on Turtle Island. The town of Iskut is also home to a group known as the Klabona Keepers. The Klabona Keepers describe themselves as, “an organization of Tahltan elders and families who occupy and use traditional lands near Iskut, British Columbia known as Tl’abāne, the Sacred Headwaters of the Stikine, Nass and Skeena Rivers.”
Over the past ten years, the Klabona Keepers have stood strong in their resistance of industrial development. They have kicked Shell off of their territory, they have kicked Fortune Minerals off of their territory, they have blockaded the over hunting of their territory, this September they were met by RCMP snipers after taking over a mining drill pad and on September 29 they lit a sacred fire, blockading Imperial Metals Red Chris mine.
Currently, the Klabona Keepers have a hunting blockade set up on the only road that leads into Tl’abāne (the Sacred Headwaters). In setting up this blockade, they asked for support from the Wildlife Defence League, an anti trophy-hunting group. Since September 15, the Wildlife Defence League has been supporting the Klabona Keepers in blockading all non-indigenous hunters from entering the area. They have turned away grizzly hunters, caribou hunters, moose hunters and wolf hunters.
Every member of the Wildlife Defence League is vegan. On the fire at the blockade vegan meals for the Wildlife Defence League cook next to traditional foods for the Klabona Keepers. There is a mutual understanding and respect between the two groups as they work together to stop the over hunting of the Tahltan’s sacred lands.
Why, you might ask, would a group of vegans aiming to defend wildlife be part of a blockade that is allowing indigenous hunters to continue killing animals? It is because this group of vegans recognizes that not doing so would be to act in a colonial, self-righteous and fundamentalist way, repeating a history of oppression. To stop indigenous people in the area from hunting would be to further colonize them, creating an increased dependence on capitalism, the colonial government and industry that aims to destroy their lands. Lands that are home to the very animals they are trying to protect. They recognize that the nearest grocery store is six hours away. They recognize that it is not their right to tell indigenous people who have welcomed them onto their territory how to live. They realize that the Klabona Keepers have saved more wildlife in their resistance of industrial projects than any person could by changing their diet. They realize that this resistance needs to be supported, as industry will continue in its attempts to destroy these lands. They realize that without the Klabona Keepers, there would be no Sacred Headwaters left to protect.
This article is not meant to bring vegan voices down, but to lift them up. It is written with the hopes that vegans can begin to decolonize our work and fight for the liberation of all, whether it be from the confines of a slaughterhouse or the confines of a colonial state.
“This video is a follow-up on our campaign introduction video, it captures many of the experiences we’ve had so far during Operation Great Bear. Meet some of the folks involved from both the Wildlife Defence League and the Klabona Keepers and watch footage from the frontlines, where we are putting our bodies on the line to defend one of the last truly wild places on the planet. This campaign is about more than just the defence of wildlife, it is also about supporting the Klabona Keepers in defending their culture. A culture that has been sustained by these lands for thousands of years.” – WDL