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Colonial Strategies and Land Defence Themes: Featuring the Words of Leona Peterson

Quotes taken from an interview with Leona Peterson

by Ashley Zarbatany

Eel grass of the Flora Banks
Eel grass of the Flora Banks

Leona Peterson is a Tsimshian land defender who has been actively defending Lelu Island, proposed site of the Pacific Northwest LNG project. Her story demonstrates the personal impacts of colonial strategies utilized by state and industry here on Turtle Island. She shares common themes and parallel experiences with other land defenders featured in this issue.

Commodification of life: While Indigenous Nations lived in diverse relationships with their ecosystems, the primary colonial relationship to the environment is that of commodification. Anything that can be sold is seized and any opposition is treated like an interest group to be bought off.

“They’ve taken trillions of dollars in resources out of my territory alone! The Tsimshian Nation has one of the biggest territories in B.C. Think of all the logging and fishing they’ve done on our land. Over the last fifty years, they’ve depleted and collapsed these industries. We have only half of what there was fifty years ago. We can’t keep going and chipping away at our resources.  

With the Trans Canada gas pipeline, I’m being told to divide the money they’ve offered us amongst our Nation. ‘That’s what you get,’ is what I was told. I’m not just insulted by these words; I feel like I’m being slapped. I’m tired of my territories and people being viewed as resources to be sucked dry.”

Genocide through ecocide: Throughout history, governments and profiteers have destroyed key species and local ecosystems as part of their drive to subjugate and exploit Indigenous people. This happened with the clear-cut of the eastern forests, the massacre of the bison, and continues today with the disappearance of Pacific salmon. Many anticipate that the construction of the Pacific Northwest LNG will be catastrophic to the Skeena River salmon run, the second largest in Canada.

“It's hard being up here. It's hard to know that the emissions from the terminal and associated operations are supposed to be equivalent to four million cars. Prince Rupert is situated on an island where we can’t even fit four million cars; so why on Earth is it okay to have those emissions in our area when it will cause acid rain? We live in a place that gets nearly 3 meters of rain a year…that’s a lot of rain. All that rain is going to land on us.

We are looking at a genocidal policy being enacted in front of our eyes. I’m tired. I've been dealing with salmon farms for the last ten years, and at one point they were debating whether to put the lovely Enbridge pipeline in our community or in Kitimat. I didn’t really know anything about it; I didn’t know about the Tar Sands.

Now Petronas is talking about removing a section of eelgrass from the Flora Bank and moving it somewhere else. A little fact I'd like to give you is that we are often called “The Salmon People.” So, if you take away our salmon you take away our people.”

Creating socio-economic marginalization of Indigenous people: Colonialism is a process by which the lifestyle and social fabric of Indigenous people are destroyed and the survivors are rendered dependent on the state for survival.

“I just got a link about the sorry prospects of the City because I've been told my son is going to a school with lead pipes and the contamination levels are high.

Our poor infrastructure within the community is just like every other Native community in Canada and I just feel like the rape culture of the Canadian government has to be stopped.”

Using marginalization to divide Nations and communities: Marginalized communities often struggle to meet their basic needs. State and industry forces recognize this fact and use it to manipulate these communities and consolidate control over them. The systematic poverty experienced by Indigenous communities is an intentional and necessary tactic used by the state to enable the ongoing colonial genocide taking place on this continent.

“They've really divided the community…it's hard to live here. A lot of the comments I hear aren't nice.

There's families that are being divided over this, especially the families with intermarriages between other Nations that have made deals with the companies and our Nation that has refused to be bought out.

I also didn't know that my family on my father’s side has shares in the Tar Sands. They moved from Montana, Germany, and Norway. They went from Montana to Alberta for the 64 acres of free land. I'm profiting. My family is profiting. It's devastating. So there's a lot of things that are coming full circle in my life and it's amazing to find myself part of something that I want completely shut down.”

Fear of reprisal and female leadership: Many Indigenous land defenders are targeted for speaking out. They can suffer serious repercussions, both within fractured communities and by colonial entities. The most vulnerable often become the most vocal and active, taking leadership in their communities and struggles and at times putting their own safety and livelihoods at risk. More and more we see women reasserting their authority and taking leadership roles in the defence of the land.

“My niece, who was working for the project’s proponents, decided to come and tell me what they wanted to do with Flora Banks. When she came, there happened to be a few ladies and a man from Hartley Bay visiting who wanted to have a meeting about it. We had to keep this meeting very quiet because a few of the other women involved were faces of the resistance within the community of Terrace and the industry knows them by first name. During that meeting we sat in a circle and shared with each other our histories, backgrounds, what made us interested in what’s happening, and why we decided to come together. It was very powerful.

It’s amazing to realize that the Idle No More movement and other grassroots movements were started by women.”

Media censorship and the need for grassroots media: Corporate and state media sources distort and suppress stories related to Indigenous peoples and Indigenous land defense struggles. This is one of the many reasons grassroots and non-corporate media sources are important for exposing the truth and providing fair coverage of important issues that affect the marginalized in our colonial and capitalist society. It especially demonstrates the importance of having Indigenous people and land defenders writing and speaking their own stories.

“We were able to get Vice Canada interested in this, even while our local media is shutting down all information.”

The necessity of solidarity and decolonization: Many featured land defenders have talked about the importance of solidarity and have received varied levels of support from settler allies, as well as opposition from settler detractors. Providing material support to land defenders is of utmost importance and must be accompanied by open ears. Decolonization occurs both on the land and in the mind.

“It’s important that we start taking a stand; that we start understanding the reason the Indigenous Nations thrived. They thrived because they honored the female. They honored the land. They took care of everything. If anything, start thinking more kindly about women. It’s a beginning: a step

I look at everyone who has been involved here – the anarchists that have been involved in Lelu – as reconciliation in action. It’s already happening. We can keep going on about what we want to see, but I’m seeing it in you guys. You’re here. You’re willing to listen. That’s powerful so thank you for being here.”

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