Carolyn Egan spoke with Crystal Sinclair, an activist with Idle No More-Toronto who recently returned from a solidarity visit to Standing Rock in North Dakota.
I wonder if you could tell us what the issues are at Standing Rock, and why you chose to go down?
I chose to go because we have the Standing Rock community and all these other nations joined together in solidarity to take a stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline construction. Their issue is that this pipleine has desecrated sacred grounds that belong to the Standing Rock Lakota community. If it gets built, it will push approximately 570,000 barrels of bitumen a day through the pipeline. We know that pipelines break, and once the ground is poisoned and the water is poisoned you can’t use it, and it destroys life all around.
What was your sense of being there with so many Indigenous people and allies from across the United States and Canada?
It was an incredible experience. I was very humbled to learn so much from all these nations coming together and unifying to take a stand to protect the water. What I saw was people putting themselves on the line, being arrested, and taking that risk because this issue is so important. It’s a crucial time in our history. All across our nation and south of the border, people are taking a stand against corporations that are destroying the water. They have no regard for the life and the livelihood of people who live there and who need to protect their water.
You and I were speaking earlier, when you were an organizer for Idle No More – you were saying how you were getting emails from workers in the tar sands. What were some of them saying at that time?
When we first got word on Bill C-45, which removed the protection of the waters here in our country, the tar sands issue came up and became part of the forefront of the struggle. Not that it wasn’t before, but it became more apparent what was really happening and why they were removing the protection of the water. In the beginning of Idle No More, when I realized that the water was at stake, I joined up on that issue. And it’s been my fight ever since. The issue was with this one worker who had worked for the tar sands – just a stranger out of nowhere, who found me on Facebook and sent me messages stating that he was a worker at the tar sands and had developed cancer that was destroying his life. It was a sad reminder to me that there are people who have jobs, and it’s not that we want anyone to lose their jobs, it’s not about that – it’s about building another community and how to live with each other in a new environment where we can still have people working in the workforce, but moving towards a sustainable future and sustainable jobs and greener jobs that benefit all of us.
There are campaigns both within the unions and the broader community for good green jobs for all – climate jobs, jobs for Indigenous peoples, for racialized youth, for laid off workers – so that it is possible. You were talking about Germany, where you felt something like that had been happening…
Yes, they moved away from fossil fuels and now they have a greener future. So we can look to countries like that and see how they managed to do it and had that transition.
In hearing you speak, it seems you are actually quite hopeful about the future, that we do have a capacity for maybe making the change that has to come.
I’ve always maintained that hope, because I believe that once people are educated in what is really at stake, I think that they are able to take that information and be willing to look into a future that sustains them as well. Because the water is for all of us. And what would we do if we didn’t have water anymore? Water is life, and we need to protect that.
So you believe that it’s possible for Indigenous people and trade unionists and environmentalists all to come together in a movement to push back on the corporations and governments in this fight we are in?
I say why not? We’re all in this together – we all drink water, we all like our showers, we all need water to live. And I think we could build that movement and make it strong, so that we can grow together and educate each other, and be able to work towards a sustainable future.