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
Operation Great Bear has set out to defend wildlife from the annual, senseless slaughter known as the British Columbia trophy hunt. The Wildlife Defence League has blockaded the only road leading into the Sacred Headwaters from resident hunters to ensure wildlife are not pursued for trophy. We are working in solidarity with the Klabona Keepers, documenting, monitoring and exposing the trophy hunt.
This video introduces the campaign and the folks involved in defending one of the last truly wild places on the planet. We will remain on this blockade for the duration of the hunting season in this area.
BRITISH COLUMBIA, Unceded Tahltan Territory – September 18, 2014
The Wildlife Defence League (WDL) has been invited by the Klabona Keepers to blockade the only road providing access to the Sacred Headwaters. This area is home to numerous species of wildlife, including moose, grizzly bear, black bear, and stone sheep. In recent years these animals have been exploited by resident hunters, mainly for trophy. Moose populations have been most effected, due to no bag-limits that have precipitated a massive decline in the species. Consequently, the Klabona Keepers and the WDL are firm in their conviction that protecting wildlife and safeguarding habitat in the Sacred Headwaters from exploitation is a pressing priority. The Klabona Keepers with the support of the Wildlife Defence League, intend to blockade the entrance to the Sacred Headwaters from non-Indigenous and resident trophy hunters. Tahltan hunters will not be blockaded, as the Wildlife Defence League supports their right to live off the land as they have done for thousands of years.
Wildlife Defence League member Tommy Knowles stated, “It’s taken us 3 days to drive through what feels like the most wild place on earth. We’ve seen Grizzly Bears, Black Bears and Moose living out their natural lives in this unique habitat. It’s disheartening to arrive in the Sacred Headwaters today knowing that this land is a trophy hunters paradise, but it feels amazing to be standing in solidarity with the Klabona Keepers to put an end to this exploitation.”
Not only are the wildlife and the community that is dependant on them being exploited, but so is the land. This past week, RCMP surrounded a group of
unarmed, peaceful members of the Klabona Keepers. The group was occupying a drill site on the mountain behind this blockade because the company was drilling without consultation or consent. The Klabona Keepers had simply requested that the company (Firesteel) meet with the elders prior to releasing the drill. However, in a show of disrespect, Firesteel and the government disregarded that request and arrived by helicopter to remove the drill. They came unannounced and heavily armed. Thereafter, the RCMP prohibited members of the Klabona Keepers from communicating via radio to anyone outside the blockade, cutting the only means of communication they had with the elders and their family in Iskut, to assure them of their safety. They were threatened with arrest if they attempted to use their radios.
The situation unfolding in the Sacred Headwaters is illustrative of the interconnections between these issues; the corporate and political exploitation of the land, resources and animals of this territory and the communities that rely on them. The Klabona Keepers, with support from the Wildlife Defence League, are asserting their lawful authority to defend their territories and both organizations hope that the hunting blockade will raise awareness about the devastating impacts of trophy hunting and will draw attention to corporate and political exploitation of the Sacred Headwaters.
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The National Weekend of Action Against the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) is September 5-7.
The AETA labels animal activists as terrorists and is one of the most unconstitutional laws since COINTELPRO. In response to new indictments under the AETA, this weekend of action has been called as a show of solidarity, to increase the visibility of ongoing counter-intelligence, and to encourage activists to organize and resist in the face of repression.
In Portland, Resistance Ecology and Oregon Jericho are coordinating an afternoon of presenters and panels to discuss the AETA, and to use it as a platform to connect the more expansive processes and histories of repression that are incurred by systematically marginalized, colonized, frontlines, and resistance communities. We want animal and earth liberation activists to understand that all captivity must be ended. It is important to underscore the reality that many communities are always under state repression, not just so-called “activists” communities. It is imperative to stress the need for communities to show solidarity with each other to increase capacity and resilience against surveillance, state violence, and the prison industry. We must reject the misconception that prison or surveillance serve any sort of positive function and instead recognize repression for what it really is: a process engrained into colonial-capitalist society.
In the Face of Repression: Organizing in Spite of the Surveillance State will be a day of workshops, history lessons, strategy sessions, and solidarity. We invite you to join us and take part!
Lauren Reagan – Civil Liberties Defense Center
Kent Ford- Founder of Portland Black Panther Party and father of Political Prisoner Patrice Lumumba Ford
Saed Bannoura- Editor-In-Chief of the International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC)
Peter Bohmer- Activist scholar and former COINTELPRO target
Jonathan Paul- Longtime animal and earth liberation activist and former Green Scare prisoner