Wet’suwet’en land defenders are facing the threat of criminal records for their idealistic fight to save precious sacred resources for all of us.
Yes, they are working hard for all of us. They are courageously demonstrating the value shift we all face if we want our children to survive the ecological collapse that is now occurring everywhere.
Yet our laws do not value Mother Nature and her protectors—and for that reason, they are obsolete. A society’s laws are a reflection of its values and are meant to change as the values of the society change. Unfortunately for us, law reform tends to lag behind values shift.
What these land protectors understand, and the law enforcers do not, is that we are running against the extinction clock. This is a race we have not encountered before and our institutions are not built to win.
We all know the examples of slave laws and women’s oppression. The brute force of the state was used to enforce these unjust laws until “progressive values” made it into the halls of Parliament and then of justice.
Vested economic interests were also at play in regard to slavery and women’s oppression. Rich plantation owners did not want to lose a cheap labour force. Men did not want to lose control of women’s labour and their bodies.
As well, some of the resistance to human rights evolution was the fear of change. Even some of the enslaved and oppressed—those with compassionate masters or husbands—resisted emancipation. They resisted change because at least they knew how to navigate in that old, familiar world.
But now the world has changed around us with climate change, species extinction, and ecological decline. Scientists and Indigenous leaders around the world are telling us we must change the way we live on the planet. Human life depends on a healthy ecosystem, a healthy environment.
We do not have a choice and so much needs to change in our daily lives that it is easy to become overwhelmed. We are worried about our jobs, our safety, our food, our health.
And the social values challenge before us is not limited to how we treat each other as humans. It is also about how we view the natural world. Our current society treats Mother Nature very badly—much like a slave—exploiting her with no care for her continued existence.
Indigenous people have been persecuted and killed in an effort to extinguish their very beings—their spirituality, language, knowledge, and traditions. Yet it is exactly that Indigenous knowledge and spirituality, the treasuring and stewardship of nature, that Canada and the whole world now urgently needs if humanity is to survive on the planet.
We do not have time to wait another generation until the children of corporate and political leaders force them to change their practices and the laws. We cannot wait passively until institutions fall from their own weight.
We must not give in to paralyzing fear and hide under the covers gorging on chocolate or alcohol. Nor greedily seek profit from the crisis. Nor ignore reality and just continue on with life and business as usual.
When we see brave, clear-sighted people put their bodies on the line for the necessary social, economic, and spiritual change, we should honour them as our representatives of all the great social change leaders of human society.
The Wet’suwet’en land defenders should not be charged as criminals. Ultimately, they will be recognized as great leaders in human history—that is, if we manage to overcome our fears and make the changes necessary for humanity to survive.
Susan Tanner is a retired public servant with Masters degrees in law and environmental studies. In 1982, she was the founding chairperson of the Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), formed to promote the rights of women under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.