by Craig Benjamin, Indigneous Rights Campaigner
Hundreds of people – First Nations, Métis and non-Indigenous – out on canoes and kayaks to celebrate the beauty of the Peace River and show their determination to protect the land from the massive destruction that would be caused by the Site C dam.
This was the scene last weekend at the 11th annual Paddle for the Peace in northeast BC. The event brought together people from throughout the province, across the country, and indeed around the world. Our colleagues from KAIROS even brought an entire busload of paddlers from Vancouver Island and the lower mainland.
360 panorama photo — click and drag to view the full scene
But for me the most impressive thing about the Paddle was the common ground that it demonstrated among people from the Valley. Over and over again, I heard from farmers, ranchers, small business owners and many others expressing the shared belief in the importance of upholding the spirit and intent of Treaty 8, the necessity of protecting the river for future generations, and the urgency of demanding fairness, transparency and accountability for the federal and provincial governments.
Amnesty International had the honour of being among the many social justice and environmental organizations asked to speak at the gathering. What I said was that to me the Paddle for Peace is great example of what it means to be on the pathway to reconciliation.
Other speakers included representatives from the federal and provincial NDP and the national leader of the Green Party. However, there were no representatives from either the federal or the provincial governments. And that was a real shame. Both governments talk about reconciliation. But as demonstrated by their failure to protect the treaty rights threatened by The Site C dam, they have a long way to got to put reconciliation into practice.They could have learned a lot from the Paddle for the Peace.