The Chippewas of the Thames and the Clyde River Inuit: Colonial Narratives which need Retelling


Source: Paul Stephany, 2016

Water is Life!

 Water is Sacred!

For the majority of First Nations communities, current resource conflicts with the government and petroleum industries are first and foremost about rights to access important resources, protection of sacred spaces, and access to safe drinking water. Secondary to these concerns is the failure to adequately consult with First Nations on extraction industry projects in their immediate territories.

Consultation is important – not as an end in of itself, but as a means to ensure that Indigenous Rights are respected and upheld… now, and in the future!  Consultation is only important in context of these innate rights – but it has become the only legal option for many groups to ensure these rights.

On November 30, 2016, I had the privilege of traveling to Ottawa with a large group of social and environmental activists.  This day marked the beginning of critical court cases for both the Chippewas of the Thames and the Clyde River Inuit.  Both legal cases involve petroleum extraction activities which are potentially harmful to the land and water; as well as a question of inadequate consultation with First Nations involving treaty rights and protection of sacred spaces.

In the case of the Chippewas of the Thames, a claim is being made that the Crown (along with its partners and representatives – Enbridge and the National Energy Board (NEB)) has failed in its responsibility to properly consult with the Chippewa regarding the construction of Line 9.  This pipeline will carry diluted bitumen from Alberta – beginning in Sarnia and connecting to Montreal and transportation ports on the East Coast.  The pipeline will run through waterways and ecologically sensitive spaces that could negatively impact many First Nations and non-native communities.  For more on this issue, check out


Figure 1: Map of Southern Ontario, with Chippewas of the Thames marked in the center.  Source:


Figure 2: Chippewa of the Thames community members at the November 30th Rally. Source Paul Stephany 2016

The Clyde River Inuit are also fighting against the NEB, which has approved seismic testing in their northern territories in order to locate new offshore oil and gas opportunities for extraction.  This community has also raised concerns that the NEB has failed to adequately consult with them before permitting these explorations to take place.  As a result, they are indicating that significant impacts to sea life and food resources are already taking place.  Check out this site for more information:


Figure 3: Location of Clyde River, in Nunavut.


Figure 4: Banner representing Clyde River during the Rally. Source: Paul Stephany 2016

We began our day with a sunrise ceremony, held by Algonquin elders, on Victoria Island. This island, named Akkikodjiwan by the Algonquin, is a sacred space where First Nations came from all points of North America to trade and gather.  It is an important gathering place, surrounded on all sides by waterways which connect the oceans in all directions.  Historically, a significant waterfall created whirlpools and swift rapids around the island. The falls was originally 200 ft wide with a drop of 49 ft.


Figure 5: Chaudiere Falls in 1838, before the Provincial dam constructed. Source:


Figure 6: Chaudire Falls, taken in 2006 during Spring freshet.

Since that time, the Province constructed a dam and causeway above the island which diminishes the falls to a trickle in Fall and Winter months – as the water is diverted to power stations.  This area is considered unceded land by the Algonquin (supported by a treaty letter, reinstating the Royal Proclamation, written by Queen Victoria in 1835 (See Figure 7)), and they continue to petition the government to decommission the dam and return use of the area to them.  Considering that much of the industry built up around the dam has since closed its doors, this seems to be an appropriate request! In the long run, Victoria Island remains an appropriate symbol to misuse and miss-appropriation of First Nations’ territories by an adversely colonial Canadian government!


Figure 7: Letter written by Queen Victoria in 1835, outlining the rights of First Nations in Canada, and the duties and responsibilities of Canadian colonial authorities to the First Nations.


Figure 8: A view from Victoria Island, looking toward Ottawa’s Parliamentary buildings. Source: Paul Stephany 2016


Figure 9: Ruins of the historic carbide mill constructed on Victoria Island in 1904. Source: Paul Stephany, 2016

During the rest of the day, three separate Rallies were held in the front of the Supreme Court building.  People chanting, “Water is Life! Water is Sacred!” could be heard throughout the day.

In between times, live-streaming video of the proceedings were made available to public participants.  Due to the nature of the case, questions of treaty rights and Aboriginal sovereignty and whether pipeline projects are sustainable, safe and beneficial were not addressed.


Image Source: Paul Stephany, 2016

As I said in the beginning, consultation (or lack of) is the legal option the Chippewa of the Thames and the Clyde River Inuit have been forced to address; instead of the overarching concern that the NEB is not taking their concerns for safe drinking water and access to important spaces seriously.  This conflict has been reduced to whether or not the Crown has adequately engaged in due consultation with involved First Nations’ communities as required by Canadian law.

During the hearings, it became clear that there had been no actual consultation process on the part of the Crown.  The reason for this was that the Crown had chosen to offload their responsibility to consult onto the NEB – even though First Nations delegates or the NEB had been properly informed of this decision.  Even worse, the decision to offload responsibility for Crown consultation was made AFTER the NEB submitted their report!

Several times during the hearing, Supreme Court justices asked, “Who is the Crown?”  It became apparent by the end of the day that there was no clear answer, and that each invested stakeholder had a different answer.  Without this answer, it is clear that ‘Crown Duty to Consult’ with Aboriginal communities cannot really take place…

It was further found that the NEB provided the Clyde River Inuit a 3000 page document as an answer for meeting consultation requirements shortly before the final decision was made to allow seismic blasting.  This document was written in complex English and filled with legal jargon.  Considering that the majority of the community does not speak this language, it clearly suggests that the consultation process (as provided by the NEB) was inadequate.

Legal Representatives of the petroleum companies felt that the wording of one specific policy statement was enough to fulfill consultation requirements.  Construction permits filed under the NEB Policy 58 do not necessarily mean that public hearings are required to issue permits.  According to the oil industries involved, this policy means that the final decisions of the NEB were legal and require no further consultations.  Clearly, this argument stands in clear conflict of the government’s assertion that the NEB was a representative of the Crown, and therefore fulfilled the Crown’s duty to consult with Aboriginal communities.

It remains to be seen what the Supreme Court decision on this matter is.  Their final decisions will have critical impacts on the future of Aboriginal Rights in Canada!

The heart of the petroleum extraction conflict lies in the contamination of water resources and loss of important land and cultural spaces for both First Nations and low-income Resource Communities where oil and gas projects take place.  These are issues that are not being addressed in the consultation process.

For more on how the existing duty to consult is failing these communities, see my previous blog post on this:

While the questions of who is responsible for consultation, and how consultation needs to take place are important ones for most First Nations communities, there is a critical and foundational question which is not being addressed.

This question is: “can current pipeline technology and the extractive petroleum industry ever be ecologically sustainable and not harmful to all of the stakeholders involved?”

 This is the ultimate question that must be answered, regardless of Aboriginal Rights and Title, duty to consult, or even who is ultimately responsible for the consultation process!

A quick internet search will yield hundreds of cases where oil spills; extraction processes, petroleum transport, accidents, and human error have caused grievous and long-term harm to the environment and the people living in those spaces.  Governmental decisions to permit and increase pipeline projects – despite increased protest and conflict – enable the extraction industry to increase their own profits at the expense of people who hold little voice in these decisions.


Image Source:

It is apparent that the petroleum industry is neither sustainable nor safe for thousands of people who live with the consequences of industry mishaps and misuse of common resources.

The answer to the above question is one that many involved in the extraction industry may not want to hear.  At this time, pipeline transport technology, liquid natural gas (LNG) extraction, and seismic testing are not only unsustainable environmentally, but have proven to cause harm to many communities across North America.

Who has the duty to consult, what an adequate consultation process looks like, where it takes place, when consultation takes place, and even how it takes place, are questions which diminish the real needs of the people and serve to avoid uncomfortable changes in lifestyle which benefit everyone involved.

As long as we work to avoid the real question in this conflict, we all fail to begin work on the real answers necessary to bring everyone health, prosperity, and a sustainable future!

First Nations communities are not the only groups who need these answers – we ALL need access to clean water, food, and resources that will continue to benefit our children long into the future.  Poverty, food insecurity, poor health and disease, and the marginalization of certain groups of people in resource decision making are issues which affect us all.

We cannot adequately address these problems as long as we take the ‘easy’ way out and allow the extraction industry to continue in projects which benefit only a few and harm so many!

Ask the right questions, and the best answers will follow!

 Water is Life!

Water is Sacred!

Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the invisible, Visible!


Image Source:

Natural Resource Conflict and Protest: The Silencing of Marginalized Voices



We have been seeing a growing number of media reports lately involving protesters.  Media reporting gives us a sense of immediacy. We see protest as the issue – rather than a direct action which happens at the end of a long sequence of events.  Industry leads us to believe that protesters are simply selfish minorities who are working against the better good of the Nation. In reality, protest is a last resort.  People protest when all other means of change have been exhausted.  Protest happens when people feel they have not been heard or acknowledged.  It is difficult, uncomfortable, and even dangerous to engage in protests.  Protest is born out of crisis.

The number of protests and political actions against controversial resource extraction projects in North America is growing. With each protest, attempts to silence opposing voices increase.  Reactions to protests are becoming more militarized and violent.  Industry and government officials are ramping up efforts to hide the conflicts from public awareness. Interestingly enough, officials have taken to arresting media reporters in a thinly veiled attempt to make protests invisible to the public.  This is yet another way to silence the dissenters.

Protests occur when desperation finally takes hold and all other strategies have failed.  In cases of First Nations communities, protests are happening at the end of a timeline of events which go back hundreds of years!  Protest, or Direct Action, is almost always the result of human rights violations and failure of due process. It happens when people feel they have nothing left to lose!

I have provided a timeline of events behind the recent DAPL protests happening in North Dakota. For more information on DAPL, see my blog post:

This partial timeline illustrates the sequence of events which have led to violence and militarization. This timeline clearly shows that the Standing Rock Sioux began direct action only after other legal avenues failed. Obligations to consult with Indigenous communities were insufficient. Industry and government are trying to silence opposition, rather than finding solutions which benefit everyone.


2/17/15 The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) requests archaeological report for lands the pipeline would impact from the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO).  This is in keeping with obligations to consult as set out by the National Historic Preservation Act. THPO sends two follow up letters to the USACE, requesting a full archeological investigation. The USACE allegedly fails to respond to either letter.
9/15/15 USACE sends second letter to the THPO, asking the Tribal Chairman if they would like to consult on the pipeline project. THPO responds with concerns about negative impacts and failure of the process to address the National Historic Preservation Act.  The THPO accuses the USACE of trying to circumvent its obligations to consult, as required by law. No follow up action by the USACE appears to have occurred.
12/2015 The USACE issues an environmental statement which indicates that the THPO has informed them that “the Lake Oahu site avoided impacts to tribally significant sites” Tribal Nations, including the Osage and Iowa tribes, inform the American Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) that “We have not been consulted in an appropriate manner about the presence of traditional cultural properties, sites, or landscapes vital to our identity and spiritual well-being”. The Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Interior, and the ACHP send letters to the USACE criticizing the USACE environmental statement.
4/22/16 The USACE concludes their investigation, stating that no historic properties will be affected by the DAPL construction route. No apparent actions. No apparent actions.
7/25/16 The USACE issues a fast-track construction permit (Permit 12), which states that there will be no direct or indirect impacts to the environment or to the Standing Rock Reservation. No apparent actions. No apparent actions.
8/4/16 The Standing Rock Sioux file an injunction against the USACE, asking the court to force withdrawal of Permit 12. The Standing Rock Sioux, represented by EarthJustice, take legal action against pipeline construction. Energy Transfer Partners (a parent company of Dakota Access LLC) counter-sues the Standing Rock Sioux for blocking pipeline construction.
8/22/16 Protests at the Cannonball, ND construction site begin.


Thousands of area tribes show up in Cannonball in support of the Standing Rock Sioux, who are protesting the threat to their drinking water by the pipeline construction.

The division leader of Homeland Security, Greg Wilz, orders the removal of safe drinking water tanks and trailers from the protest site.

During a court hearing, pipeline officials declare that pipeline construction is 48% completed.

9/3/16 Despite an upcoming court hearing on Permit 12, Dakota Access construction workers bulldoze a 2 mile long path through contested burial grounds.  This particular site was discovered by the Standing Rock Sioux just days before the review. Protests continue.  This weekend was significant to Standing Rock, as it was the anniversary of the Whitestone Massacre of 1863 – more than 300 Sioux were slaughtered by the US Army. Social media videos of a private security firm hired by Dakota Access go viral.  The security firm employees pepper spray and set attack dogs on the protesters.  At least six people are bitten and 30 people pepper-sprayed.
9/6/16 US District Judge James Boasberg agrees to a temporary construction halt on the contested pipeline portion.  This comes before a court ruling to com on September 9th. Protests at the Standing Rock Camp have grown to over 100 tribal representatives.  Non-native protesters, environmental activists, and celebrities have come to the area in solidarity. No specific actions being taken at this time.
9/7/16 Jill Stein, the US Green Party Presidential candidate, is video-taped spray painting a Dakota Access bulldozer.  This video goes viral. Standing Rock protests continue. The Morton County Police Department issues an arrest warrant for Jill Stein, on two counts of criminal mischief and criminal trespassing.
9/8/16 North Dakota Governor Jack Dalyrmple calls in the National Guard for increased law enforcement Protests continue.


The Standing Rock Sioux prepare for the next day’s court hearing.

Law enforcement at the protest site is escalated as the National Guard moves in.
9/9/16 District Judge James Boasberg denies the Standing Rock Sioux’s injunction request, allowing for construction to continue. Area protests continue.

The Department of Justice, the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior issue a joint statement acknowledging the District Court decision, but refusing to authorize continued construction in the protest area.

Energy Transfer LLC is asked by the departments to voluntarily cease construction until the project can be reviewed.

10/9/16 A federal district appeals court refuses to grant an injunction, this time dismissing the Standing Rock Sioux’s request for a permanent stay on planned construction. Area protests continue. Energy Transfer LLC continues pipeline work, despite US government departmental requests to halt construction.
10/10/16 A second joint statement by Federal government offices is given, asking Energy Transfer LLC to halt construction, and refusing to authorize construction permits. Area protests continue. Energy Transfers LLC chooses to continue construction, despite Federal government requests.
10/13/16 A letter is drafted by Senator Bernie Sanders and four other senators asking President Barack Obama to suspend construction permits and force the USACE to complete a full environmental impact statement on DAPL.

Media reports indicate that journalists and film makers are being arrested on criminal charges.

Local protests continue. North Dakota authorities produce arrest warrants for Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) and filmmaker Deia Schlosberg on felony charges.

Military and Police actions against protestors are escalated.

10/14/16 to Present: Standing Rock protestors move their camp from its previous location to a direct construction location sold to EnergyTransfer LLC by a private landowner.  This location is contested as a spiritual historical burial site for the Standing Rock Sioux. Protest, Direct Action, and Blockade efforts continue to grow.

Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) is found Not Guilty of misdemeanor charges in her reporting role at the Standing Rock protest site.  Deia Schlosberg continues her court case on felony charges, which could result in jail time up to 45 years. Jill Stein settles out of court on her charges, and pays misdemeanor fees.

Military and Police actions against protectors escalate.  Well over 200 protesters are arrested.  Some of these arrests are violent and contentious.

A Standing Rock Media Drone is destroyed by military police, with charges that the drone was being used to endanger police helicopters.

Police forces begin counter-campaigns designed to sabotage peaceful protest efforts.  Some of these efforts include questionable images released to social media that ‘show’ natives shooting arrows at police helicopters and threatening police officials.  The validity of these images remains in question currently.

Construction efforts by Energy Transfer LLC continue at an accelerated rate.

This timeline shows that protests began only after traditional legal avenues failed the Standing Rock Sioux.  The pipeline industry has taken counter-measures against the protesters which are increasingly violent and militarised.  A question must be asked here: “whose interests are actually being served?”  Can a project which is so controversial truly be in the best interest of the majority? It would seem that this pipeline construction best serves the economic interests of Dakota Access, and not the interests of thousands of Indigenous and non-native individuals.  Rather than serving the ‘greater good’, Dakota Access seems more interested in hiding the truth of this growing conflict!

Interestingly, government officials are increasingly engaging in counter-measures to eliminate protest activities, rather than taking a step back and reviewing the events which led to protest in the first place! This strategy is ultimately ineffective in resolving the issue, and will serve only to escalate the existing conflicts.

Reporters and journalists are now being arrested and charged with felonies by government officials. What makes the recent arrests of reporters unusual is that they are being charged with conspiracy, burglary and sabotage.  It is not unusual for reporters be arrested for trespassing or disorderly conduct – both misdemeanour charges.  In the cases of Deia Schlosberg and Lindsey Grayzel, they have been slapped with felony charges – which can result in years of jail time.

‘SLAPP suits’ are now being used to greater extent than ever by industries being threatened by dissenters and activists.  SLAPP is short for Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation.  These suits, as discussed in Wikipedia, are “intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition.”  One example of this is the recent lawsuit against Alexandra Morton by Marine Harvest, which can be read here:

The real question in these conflicts lies in why we are expending so much effort to silence voices of dissent.  Conflict and protest can often be avoided, simply by working with all involved stakeholders from the beginning of a project, and avoiding strategies which are designed to silence dissenting voices!  We must begin addressing the actual issue – not spending valuable resources and time attempting to make the conflict ‘disappear’!


Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – Making the Invisible, Visible!

Social Media and Social Justice: Is Social Media a Remedy to Making the Invisible, Visible?



Social media has become an important means to spread vital information to a broad range of people in a short period of time.  Many people feel that social media is better than mainstream media, which often reports news that is biased, censored, or controlled by political influences. It is important to understand that Social Media cannot replace mainstream media reporting.

In many ways, mainstream media has allowed us to create a world where marginalized communities remain invisible – and whose voices are not heard. This is simply because mainstream journalism makes a choice for what news is reported – based on what it believes people want to hear. We believe that Social media allows us to hear the stories which aren’t reported by mainstream media. A blog post written by Billy Shore[1] suggests that social media has helped to create a world where the poor have become more visible, and we have instant access to people’s stories across the globe.  However, Shore reminds us that:

 “Social media can’t ensure social justice. But it can affect the invisibility that is the first barrier to achieving it…Social media makes our apathy and indifference visible as well.”

The downside to social media is that we can ‘discover’ the stories of other people without ever having to leave our computer screens.  As Roger Cohen (New York Times columnist) writes,

“To bear witness means being there – and that’s not free.  No search engine gives you the smell of crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream”.[2]

What this means is that social media can give us a false understanding of reality.  We think, simply by reading a Facebook or Twitter post, that we are understand what is happening in the world.  Unfortunately, we are limited in our real understanding of what is happening.  A virtual world has now replaced what is (or is not) happening in real time. The only way to truly ‘see’ what is happening around us is to be actively involved with the people who are the most invisible in our society.  Social media can give us a false sense of reality – and in many ways, serve to lead to even less understanding of what is actually happening.



A perfect example of this is the recent DAPL protests in North Dakota, which I recently blogged about at Social media reports may be giving us a false understanding of what is REALLY going on – simply because we make choices about what to read, and what to believe.  Unless we are actively participating at the protest sites, we don’t really understand what the protesters are experiencing and feeling.  We can make a very privileged choice about what the ‘truth’ of the conflict actually is!



Another issue with social media is that it can give us a false understanding of what is really happening. This can cause long-term harm to the communities we care about.  I read a blog recently which is a perfect example:

In this blog, Mark Shuller writes about the damage done in Haiti by hurricane Matthew, and how this disaster feeds into an ongoing narrative that Haitians are helpless and poor people who will never survive without outside assistance and disaster relief.  Humanitarian aid organizations move in to help – often funded and supported by self-interested multi-national corporations. He suggests that a new story is needed – one that puts Haitians in control of their own future, growth and prosperity.

Haiti Earthquake Relief


Social media is very important today, because it allows us to access information quickly.  It also is a way for us to have knowledge about the world that traditional media may not be delivering to us.  Issues of censorship or bias can be reduced when social media is used.  It is important to remember several important things when using social media, however.

  • Social media posts do not always reflect what is really going on. We need to understand that virtual reality is not always reality – and that we can’t really understand what is happening to a community without experiencing it firsthand!
  • Social media can create stories about people and places which can cause great harm to others, and support misconceptions about the poor and marginalized as helpless or incapable.
  • Social media is not all-seeing! We tend to only see or read the things which we are most involved with, the people we connect with, or the internet searches we have done in the past. This can cause us to see only a small part of the big picture.  Social media often fails to provide equal access to information as well.  As I have suggested in a previous blog post,, white privilege and education can give someone greater access to information and virtual connections than a marginalized individual in remote locations with little or no internet access.
  • Finally, social media posts which are taken out of context or not verified to be true serve to misinform the general public. Some people may use social media to promote their own agendas of hate, misogyny, racism, or cultural bias. We are all aware of internet trolls and unpleasant posts in comment sections!  Social media has given many people an outlet to spread their own brand of hatred across the globe.  These are the most dangerous downside to social media, and all of us have a responsibility to carefully vet and research every post we share or send back into the worldwide web.

If we remember these four important downsides to social media, it can be an important tool for promoting social equality, development and justice around the world!

Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – Making the Invisible, Visible!




[2] Ibid,

A Royal Visit to Bella Bella and The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy Initiative: A Story “Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing”?

“Dear Sir and Father, We take this opportunity of your visiting Kamloops to speak a few words to you.  We welcome you here, and we are glad we have met you in our country.  We want you to be interested in us, and to understand more fully the conditions under which we live.  We expect much of you, as the head of this great Canadian Nation, and feel confident that you will see that we receive fair and honourable treatment.  Our confidence in you has increased since we have noted of late the attitude of your government towards the Indian rights movement if this country and we hope that with your help our wrongs may at last be righted.”

~Extract from letter written to Sir Wilfrid Laurier by Chiefs of the Shuswap, Okanagan and Cocteau Tribes of British Columbia, presented at Kamloops, BC August 25, 1910.



The recent visit of Britain’s Prince William and Kate to Bella Bella BC immediately reminded me of Thomas Highway’s play, Ernestine Shuswap gets her Trout.  This story takes place in Kamloops, BC, and shows us the preparations of four First Nations women as they get ready for the arrival of Sir Wilfrid Laurier (the Big Kahoona of Canada) to their Reserve.  During the course of the play, we learn firsthand about the harmful impacts of colonial laws and settler society on the culture and well-being of the Shuswap First Nation.  The sad conclusion to the play results in great loss and disappointment as Laurier drives right on by the Reserve without ever stopping.  Despite profound efforts to make his arrival perfect, the special feast prepared for him goes untouched.  Nothing has changed, and the women are left with trying to make sense of it all.  In the words of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, it was a “tale…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

While Britain’s “Big Kahoonas” did in fact stop in Bella Bella recently, their whirlwind tour of BC seems reminiscent of Highway’s tale.  The Heiltsuk First Nation claims Bella Bella as the central part of their traditional territory.  Bella Bella is found on the west coast of BC, about 500 km north of Vancouver.



Heiltsuk territory is also centred in BC’s Great Bear Rain forest – a protected coastal area which was integral to the Royal Family’s visit.  This unique temperate rain forest ecosystem covers more than 6.4 million hectares between BC’s Discovery Islands and the southern extent of Alaska.  85% of the forests in this region are currently protected from logging activity. (



I have been closely following the preparations of the Bella Bella community for the Royal visit over the last two weeks.  During this time, the Heiltsuk have been extremely busy planning feasts, ceremonies and construction to get ready for the event.  It was the hope of the community that everything would be ‘perfect’ for the big day.  Despite the pouring rain on the day of the big visit, the Big Kahoonas did arrive, and the welcoming ceremony did take place.  Things may not have been perfect, but Prince William, Kate and their children were still honoured.

William and Kate were presented with honourary paddles, witnessed traditional dances and songs, met with hereditary chiefs, and even had the opportunity to walk along the newly constructed board walk on a rain forest trail.  While the planned helicopter and boat tours failed to happen, the Heiltsuk provided a beautiful cultural welcome to the Royal couple.  Several media images also featured BC Premier Christy Clark – wearing clothing adorned with coastal First Nations’ artwork.  Her choice of dress suggested an alliance with BC First Nations, which belied her stance on resource projects which negatively impact the same groups, especially with government announcements yet to come! Several news sources suggest that, while the arrival of the Royal family was met with cheers, Clark was booed as she made her appearance.

Royal Visit 20160926

Source:  (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)





The Royal visit was a historic event, despite the pouring rain and a rainforest walk marked – as one party member remarked – “putrid with the smell of rotting fish”, as the group encountered many dead and dying salmon along the river banks. ( It would seem that the Royal family does not often encounter the annual salmon cycle in their daily lives!

Much like Highway’s play, the “Great Kahoona” soon moved on, and the Heiltsuk community was left to contemplate the divide between them and a colonial government who pays little attention to the rights and needs of First Nations peoples.  It remains to be seen whether or not the Royal inclusion of the Great Bear Rain forest into the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy Initiative will make a difference in Canada’s desire to protect unique resources and to strengthen its relationship with its First Nation communities.

During their visit, Prince William made a speech about the importance of the Great Bear Rain forest to the world, in which he stated:

“The Commonwealth has at its heart always been about the values that bind its people,” he said. “This project, focusing on our shared natural heritage, is no different. The establishment of the Canopy is a loud and unambiguous statement that the citizens of all Commonwealth countries believe that nature is fundamental to the health of our societies. When we protect our rivers, oceans, atmospheres, or like today, our forests, we are telling our children that their future prosperity cannot be disconnected from the health of the natural world.”

He concluded, informing the gathering that the Queen was “immensely grateful to Indigenous people and the people of Canada, for the leadership they have shown”. (



 The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC) Initiative was created in 2015 during a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta.  This initiative includes 53 countries which are a part of the established Commonwealth.  The key objectives of this initiative include, (1) raising awareness of the value for preserving Indigenous forest systems, (2) creating a network of forest conservation projects, (3) improving the capacity of commonwealth members to work collectively toward forest conservation, (4) enable best practices for sharing knowledge and innovation in forest conservation, and, (5) “create a physical and lasting legacy of the Queen’s leadership of the Commonwealth”. (



BC Premier Christy Clark was quick to unveil her own support of the royal announcement. According to Clark, the Great Bear Rainforest is:

“A jewel in the crown of British Columbia’s magnificent landscape…(and) has been largely protected from logging in a landmark agreement between First Nations, forest companies, environmental groups and the government… It is proof of what we can do if we decide to find a common purpose.” (

Clark went on to proclaim that she had established a $1,000,000 trust to protect the rainforest and commemorate the Royal Family’s visit to BC. (

This… despite the fact that Clark has, and continues to, support resource extraction projects which put both environment and communities at risk in the Great Bear Rain forest ecosystem.  These efforts include annual Grizzly bear hunts, oil pipelines, and LNG refinery projects.  It might seem that Clark’s love and support of the coastal rain forests is “full of sound and fury… signifying nothing”!

Christy Clark


The Royal family soon completed their whirlwind tour of BC and the Yukon.  During this time, the Heiltsuk and many other communities made special preparations to make the visit a ‘perfect’ one.  Prince William and Kate were wined and dined, and treated to unique ceremonies and local delicacies.  As soon as they had left, however, the royal hype quickly became a distant memory.  The negative relationship between the Canadian Government and First Nations is so severe that some Indigenous leaders refused to meet with or acknowledge the Royal couple (  Despite the inclusion of the Great Bear Rain forest in the Commonwealth Canopy Initiative, Canadian policies regarding its land and resources became ‘business as usual’.  To paraphrase Hamlet, “Something is rotten in (the State of Canada)” – and it is more than dead and dying salmon!

Governmental resource policies which threaten both the Great Bear Rain forest and the livelihoods of First Nations and resource communities continue to be enacted and approved.  BC continues to allow its annual Grizzly Bear hunt in sensitive rain forest areas (  Logging, mining, hydroelectric projects, open-net salmon aquaculture, and pipelines are allowed to continue – despite the objections of scientists, activists, and First Nations alike.



Despite Trudeau’s campaign promises to First Nations, the Liberal government has approved the Petronus LNG project – a controversial natural gas pipeline which runs directly through the Great Bear Rain forest.  For more on this project, check out my previous blog-post: This project, which has been contested by several First Nations communities and environmental scientists, has been championed by BC Premier Christy Clark for several years.  Check out this news report:

Let’s approve those conflicted projects as quickly as possible, people!

The Great Kahoonas have ‘left the building’!

Once again, it seems that the promises made by Trudeau’s Liberal Government to Canada’s First Nations are taking a back seat to unsustainable resource extraction policies for the future – policies which benefit only a few, and do little to help First Nations communities.  Trudeau – whatever happened to #RealChange?!



Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – Making the Invisible, Visible!


Pipelines and Indigenous Communities: DAPL and the Standing Rock Sioux



 “Energy Transfer Partners has demonstrated time and time again that the bottom line for them is money. The bottom line for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is and will always be protecting our lands, people, water and sacred sites from the devastation of this pipeline.”  ~ Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe

Many of my blog posts have touched on what can happen when governments and resource industries fail to collaborate with the people who are most impacted by resource extraction.  Violent conflict can occur when people’s needs are not heard, diminished or dismissed.  This is proving the case in the current protests happening in North Dakota (ND).

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project will connect the Bakken and Three Forks oil fields in ND to refineries in Patoka, Illinois.  The proposed 30 inch diameter pipeline is expected to carry crude oil for almost 2,000 miles.  The projected transport capacity of this pipeline will average 500,000 barrels of crude a day![1]  The company responsible for this project claims that it is necessary, due to transport safety concerns by rail and trucking.  All in all, pipeline construction is expected to total more than 3.8 billion dollars, and run through four U.S. states.[2]

The primary conflict over this project comes from the Standing Rock Reservation, a Treaty space set aside for the Sioux tribe.  Protests over the construction of this pipeline, which runs less than a mile upstream from the Reservation, have been ongoing since April of this year.[3]  The Standing Rock Sioux object to the project, with very valid concerns over the impacts the pipeline will have on water resources and several sacred sites the pipeline runs through.


Although there are many objections with the pipeline as a whole, the real conflict lies with a portion of the project which runs just along the northern edge of the Reservation. This section runs approximately 38 km, and potentially affects the Cannonball and Cedar Rivers.



Energy Transfer Partners, a Dallas-based company involved in the project, insists they are protecting important cultural sites.  According to them, they “(have) taken and continue to take every reasonable precaution” to protect these areas.[4]  Tribal cultural experts have shown that there are many human remains in the area, and have worked to make sure the spaces are protected.

Because of these issues, the Standing Rock Sioux issued a law suit which challenges the project on the basis it violates Federal and Treaty laws (including the National Historic Preservation Act), and would disturb sacred sites.  Standing Rock then established a protest camp at the northern edge of the Reservation, in order to hold back construction while legal actions took place. In order to disperse protesters, State officials have tried several tactics, including removing sources of clean water from any areas surrounding the protest site.  Despite this, the camp has grown steadily since April, and includes several Native and First Nations communities, and well as concerned non-Indigenous protesters and well-known celebrities such as Shailene Woodley (Divergent).



Things became violent on September 3, 2016.  In actions which defy logic, a private security company in charge of guarding the construction site used attack dogs and pepper spray against the occupants engaging in peaceful protest.  At least 30 people were pepper-sprayed by the guards, and six people were bitten and required medical attention.







On September 9th, the ND State Court denied the Sioux request to halt pipeline construction, based on documented impact statements for environmental, water, and cultural sites.  Shortly afterwards, President Obama issued a declaration that the work was to be halted in the area surrounding Standing Rock Reservation.  In a statement put out by the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army, “Construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time.  We request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe”.[5]

Despite this, construction on the pipeline continues, and the North Dakota National Guard has been called to the location.  Over 20 people have been arrested during a recent armed confrontation.  Several prominent politicians have become involved, including Jill Stein (Green Party Presidential Candidate) and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.



Stein took part in a protest action in solidarity with the Sioux on September 6.  After spray painting on a bulldozer, she has been charged with counts of misdemeanor, criminal trespass and criminal mischief.  According to her, it would have been “inappropriate for me not to have done my small part to support Standing Rock Sioux.”[6]



Bernie Sanders attended a rally at the White House on Tuesday, September 13.  During this rally, Sanders called for a “full environmental and cultural impact analysis of the pipeline. When that analysis takes place, this pipeline will not continue.”[7]  Sanders also questioned our reliance on fossil fuels, and called for more initiatives in alternative energy research.  Check him out here:

Protest actions have grown steadily since the National Guard was called out a week ago.  Solidarity Actions are taking place all over the world, including Europe, Japan and New Zealand.  Recent marches have occurred in New York City, Los Angeles, and even London, England.  In Canada, recent actions have taken place in Toronto, Vancouver, and several other municipalities.  Indigenous communities across the world are standing in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux.





The outcome of this controversial project remains to be seen.  The ongoing conflicts will not stop, however, until Enbridge halts construction on the DAPL and enters in true consultations with the many opposing voices.  Perhaps, in the words of Bernie Sanders, it is also time to re-evaluate our reliance on fossil fuels, and “(transform) our energy systems away from oil, away from pipelines”.

Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the Invisible, Visible!










Site C: A Narrative of Resource Conflict, Economic Disparities, Marginalisation, and Social Injustice.



We have become the cash register for the province … .Now our way of life is going to be interfered with again.”  ~Treaty 8 Tribal Association Chief Liz Logan

A quick visit to the Site C Clean Energy Project website will tell you everything you need to know about this mega-hydropower project… or will it?  Check it out here:



According to the website, Site C is a third dam site proposed in the Peace River Valley of BC, which will provide new, “clean and renewable electricity for more than 100 years”.  Even more importantly, it will be ‘affordable’: “ratepayers will save an average of $650 to $900 million each year, compared to alternatives”.  Finally, the website promises that new jobs will be created.[1]  All of these benefits sound too good to be true – and, perhaps they are…



The website makes it clear that “consultation opportunities” are taking place with Aboriginal groups and interested stakeholders.  According to BC Hydro, these consultations are in addition to required environmental assessment processes.  While this sounds fantastic, the reader is not told that the “consultation opportunities” with First Nations are a legal requirement.  BC Hydro is not going ‘above and beyond’ in informing communities – they are simply stepping through each required checklist to receive government permits to complete the project.  Most importantly – most of the First Nations groups which BC has had the “opportunity” to consult with do not support the project!



BC Hydro has been involved in ongoing negotiations with First Nations communities, regarding Site C, since the 1970s.  The area where Site C is to be built is part of Treaty 8, a treaty made with several communities in 1899.[2]  The impacted communities include the Doig River, Halfway River, Prophet River, and West Moberly First Nations.[3]  These Nations fall under the Treaty 8 Tribal Association.  As a whole, the Treaty 8 Tribal Association is opposed to the Site C proposal, and has made their objections known during 2013 and 2014 Joint Review Panel hearings.  These objections include many negative impacts on cultural values, wildlife, fish, medicinal plant harvesting, and infringements on original Treaty rights.



Despite these conflicts, BC Hydro believes they are engaged in all necessary consultation with First Nations.  David Conway, community relations manager for BC Hydro, states “We’re committed to working hard with Aboriginal groups to address their concerns, and identify opportunities for them to benefit from the project”.[4]  BC Hydro, the Province of BC, and the Federal government all seem determined to make the Site C project a reality – despite lack of public support, conflicts with First Nations, and protest actions.  Over 300 well-known scientists have written reports showing concerns for negative impacts of Site C, environmentally, economically, and socially.

Prime Minister Trudeau has now announced that two key permits for Site C construction are approved.  The Canadian Federal court believes that BC Hydro has completed all Aboriginal consultation requirements. This has left many wondering how such a conflict-ridden plan can get the go-ahead to build, and many First Nations communities are now promising future protest and legal actions to protect their territory and Treaty rights.  If the First Nations have been adequately consulted, why is there still so much conflict?



The answer to this question lies in how ‘meaningful consultation’ is interpreted in the first place.  The Constitution Act of 1867 made it possible to exclude First Nations from land and resources.  The Federal government was given responsibility for “Indians and their lands”, and this relationship remains in place today.[5]  Understanding this, then, it is clear that First Nations communities are not equal stakeholders in resource use negotiations.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the duty to consult with First Nations:

In Canada, one of the government’s responsibilities to First Nations lies in a legal ‘duty to consult’.  In this context, there have been problems in British Columbia with successful consultation and accommodation.[6] All too often, this duty has become one of informing, rather than consulting. Under Canadian law, the government is not required to come to an agreement with the specific First Nations group.  Instead, consultation is designed to ‘reconcile’ conflicts between the community and the actions of the government, especially when those actions may impact Treaty rights.”  For more on this, check out

BC Hydro has entered into consultation with First Nations, already determined that Site C will become a reality.  The Provincial and Federal governments are supporting this position, believing that the dam project is necessary to provide for future economic growth and increased energy use. Where, then, do First Nations have the opportunity to engage industry and government in meaningful consultation, as equal ‘partners’?

They do not!



It is clear that BC Hydro, the Canadian government, the Province, and the affected First Nations communities have very different agendas and desires regarding Site C.  In many ways, it appears that these agendas were decided long before BC Hydro began ‘consulting’ with First Nations in the Peace River Valley.  It seems like the concerns of these communities are not being adequately addressed, and that  BC Hydro is spending the majority of their consultation time working to convince key communities that the project is a good idea, and coercing them into agreeing… no matter what the future costs are to them.



The conflicts between these First Nations groups, industry interests, and environmentalists are not going away, simply because BC Hydro has ‘won’ their necessary permits.  Until ‘duty to consult’ is seen as a way for two different Nations to be heard and considered – rather than as a legal hoop industry must complete on their checklist – these resource conflicts will continue long after Site C has been constructed.  Perhaps the time has come to redefine our resource relationships with First Nations: Now and into the future.



Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the Invisible, Visible!







[6] New Relationship Trust. 2009. Best Practices for Consultation and Accommodation. Meyers Norris Penny LLP.

Environmental Racism: A Story of the Aamjiwnaang and Ontario’s “Chemical Valley”

‘Environmental Racism’ is often used to describe the way marginalised communities (i.e. Blacks and First Nations) are forced to live in spaces which are dangerous, polluted, or ecologically unstable.  This could include living in floodplains, near toxic landfills, or next to large-scale mining areas, nuclear power plants, and petro-chemical facilities.  In Canada, a perfect example of this can be found in Sarnia, Ontario.



Over 40% of Canada’s petro-chemical refining and production occurs in Sarnia.  From here, refined oil, natural gas, and chemical products are sent into the U.S. and across the world, traveling via railroad and tankers through the Great Lakes.  Great quantities of corn are also grown here, and are used to produce ethylene co-products which are used in natural gas products.  Other countries send petrochemical products to Sarnia for further refining, to be used in many of the products we depend on – synthetic rubber, vinyl, and industry-grade plastics.[1]  Petro-chemicals even play a part in the ‘foods’ we eat, such as chewing gum!  Some of the synthetic materials found in gum are produced in Sarnia – including synthetic rubber compounds, petroleum wax, polyethylene, and synthetic paraffin wax.[2]



The concentration of petro-chemical facilities in Sarnia’s chemical valley comes with some severe costs.  These costs include noxious odours, releasing toxic chemicals into the environment, increased volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, greenhouse gases, acid rain risks, land and water contamination, spills, and storage mishaps.[3] In Sarnia, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation carries the brunt of these costs.  Environmental racism is alive and well here!



Up to the late 1880s, Aamjiwnaang traditional territory covered a vast area of land around Lake Huron and Lake Erie.  Their population numbered over 15,000 people.  The French knew them as Ojibwe, while the British called them Chippewa.[4] War between the British and the French, cholera and smallpox took its toll, and by 1827 the Aamjiwnaang population was reduced to 440 in Ontario and 275 in Michigan. Their territory was reduced to around 25,000 acres.  Today, the Aamjiwnaang are primarily confined to a small parcel of land in the Sarnia area which is surrounded by petro-chemical facilities.  The community numbers around 800 people, although many members are living off-Reserve.


The Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia’s south end is sandwiched between two oil refineries, Suncor Energy in the foreground, and Shell Canada at top. Glenn Ogilvie. Source:

On Sunday, August 21, I had the opportunity to participate in the community’s annual ‘Toxic Tour’ and Aamjiwnaang Water Gathering event.  The community holds this event each year in order to educate others on what is happening here.  These are some of the pictures I took during the day:


A view of refineries located near the sacred burial grounds of the Aamjiwnaang.  Today, these facilities keep cameras and warning sirens in this space – even though the Aamjiwnaang believe it is disrespectful and dishonours their ancestors.  It is clear that the cultural needs of the community are not being recognised or considered!  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.


This plaque memorialises the workers (mainly French) who lived in the Blue Water community.  These residents were relocated when it became clear the area was too dangerous for them to live in.  Residents of the Reserve did not receive this same help, and are forced to live here to this day, despite the fact they are living in the same conditions!  Interestingly, the back of this plaque contains the names of every Blue Water resident – even though they had not died, and only moved into Sarnia… Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.


One of the many views the Aamjiwnaang ‘enjoy’ looking out from their Reserve borders.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.


The old steel-workers plant and stack can be seen here.  The land this plant is built on has been proven to be stolen native land.  Despite this, the Aamjiwnaang are unable to reclaim this property.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.


Shell facilities feature in the background, as seen from the Aamjiwnaang resource centre and past primary and pre-school located on the edge of the Reserve.  The school was moved when it was recognised that benzene emissions were causing many respiratory and asthma problems for the children.  Despite this move, Shell failed to report excessive emissions in 2013, and many of the Aamjiwnaang children were taken to hospital – where they were misdiagnosed with simple influenza.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.


The Imperial Oil refineries can be seen here.  These facilities are the oldest in the area – Imperial Oil first established itself in the Sarnia area in 1880.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.


The Shell refinery, as seen from the Aamjiwnaang Reserve (marked by the painted wooden stakes).  Shell remains problematic for the community, due to inadequately announced spills and emission releases.  The Aamjiwnaang live in daily fear of hearing sirens announcing containment failures.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.


Many of the containment tanks surrounding the Reserve are unmarked and/or outdated.  The materials being held here are not public knowledge.  Transparency remains a tantamount issue for the Aamjiwnaang community.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.


The old school on the Aamjiwnaang Reserve, with the Shell Refinery in the background.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.


The abandoned Welland Chemical facility, located on the Aamjiwnaang Reserve.  This company produced anhydrous aluminum chloride.  Workers there suffered high rates of cancers, due to improper storage and exposure to dangerous chemicals and asbestos.  High levels of copper, nickel, lead strontium, and cobalt can still be found in the foliage and water surrounding the area.[5]  In 1995, Welland closed its doors due to prolonged labour disputes.  They left behind a toxic landscape which remains contaminated and unusable.  A tailing pond in the rear of the property was filled weekly with goldfish, in order to show that no further cleanup was needed by Welland.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.


Ankijig pond, located in the Aamjiwnaang Reserve.  This pond, like Talfourd Creek is being actively tested for high rates of mercury, hydrocarbons, and heavy metals.  Vanessa Gray, a member of the community, has been testing local waterways with the help of organisations like Greenpeace and the Council of Canadians.[6]  The community has placed signs on the Reserve waterways warning residents of the health dangers from these contaminated waters.  Image Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.


Members of the Toxic Tour 2016 participating in prayers and tobacco offerings to the water at Ankijig Pond.  Image Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.


Sign at the Aamjiwnaang community center, established in 1972.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

The Aamjiwnaang Reserve is surrounded by more than 60 petro-chemical facilities.  Markers designating pipelines are too numerous to count.  Some of the better known companies include Imperial Oil, Dow Chemical, Shell, Suncor, NOVA, Praxair, Enbridge, and Bayer.   Community members live daily with the threat of sirens indicating spills and accidents.  The smell in the air is overwhelming, carrying overtones of rotten eggs and petroleum.  Carcinogenic benzene compounds in the air remain a constant threat to everyone.



Numerous studies over the past several decades have shown that the Aamjiwnaang suffer much higher than acceptable rates of cancers, respiratory ailments and reproductive disorders.  Women on the Reserve have a 39% miscarriage rate.  Community members remain unable to engage in traditional fishing and hunting activities, due to concerns over chemical contamination.  An extraordinary number of children and adults suffer from asthma.  Despite all of this, life in Sarnia is business as usual.  Chemical companies continue to jockey for new facilities and more space.  For more on these issues, check out

The needs and concerns of the Aamjiwnaang are largely ignored.  Environmental Racism continues to show its ugly face.  New efforts for petro-chemical growth now include Line 9 construction efforts.



As Canadians, we need to make some hard decisions!  Is the convenience of products such as chewing gum, foaming shaving cream and chapstick worth the harm on the environment and people they cause?  Do we really need to use our cars for that trip to the corner store?  Does the economic value of new tar sands pipelines, including Line 9, Keystone, and Northern Gateway overshadow the potential for environmental degradation and harm to marginalised communities? As long as we continue to use our resources without thought to what our actions will do to others, communities like the Aamjiwnaang will continue to suffer needlessly.  If this blog speaks to you at all, please take some time to learn about the issues surrounding Line 9 here in Ontario.  For more information, start by checking out this link:



Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity, making the Invisible, Visible!








Global Poverty Reduction: Is There a Solution?

“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” ~Nelson Mandela

unnamed Source:

We tend to objectify poverty.  We see the poor, not for who they are, but as a ‘condition’.  Poor people become ‘things’ which we must deal with and take care of.  As a society, we often understand poverty through poverty myths which have been with us for hundreds of years.  Our social programs are created through these long-standing myths.  We believe that poverty can be eliminated simply by providing charity and financial aid to people unable to take care of themselves.

Policies which deal with poverty as a stand-alone condition tend to treat the poor the same way across the world.  It is clear that all communities have different needs, however!  The many conditions which lead to poverty are different in each community.[1]

unnamed (1)


The Developed World has created poverty reduction strategies which benefit corporations and multi-national industries.  Agencies like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), charitable Christian Missions, and the World Bank can cause more harm than good, because they institute polices which promote ‘hidden agendas’. These agendas often benefit the corporations more than the communities.



Some institutions, like food banks, can serve to increase poverty, rather than reduce it.  Food banks can increase health problems in poor individuals. Highly processed food options which many food banks provide can increase obesity, diabetes, and malnutrition.  This results in decreased capacity to work.   Social welfare programs become more costly.  More taxes are needed.  More laws are needed.  More administrative offices are needed to manage increased paperwork and tracking systems. The system becomes unwieldy and inaccessible to people who need help.  Most importantly, the poor are made to feel that they must take whatever is given them – after all, “beggars can’t be choosers”.



Before receiving assistance, the poor must prove they are ‘worthy’ of help.  Food recipients are interviewed to make sure they aren’t taking advantage of the system.  In some cases, they have to prove they are not using drugs or abusing alcohol.  In other cases, applicants must agree to attend classes or religious workshops before they can get help.

Poverty myths are at play here.  Poor people are seen as uneducated con artists who would rather receive handouts than engage in meaningful work. They are weighed, measured, and judged to be worthy or not.  The poor exist on the fringes of ‘proper’ society. They are dehumanized and ‘undesirables’ who must be taken care of.   We seem to have progressed very little from the policies of Victorian England.


Please, sir, I want some more…” Source:

Our social policies are based in poverty myths.  These myths must be abolished before we can hope to eliminate poverty.  People are not ‘things’, and poverty is not a “thing”.  The conditions which cause poverty are different and unique to every individual.  UN SDGs[2] may not be met, because poverty is addressed as a stand-alone condition in the world. We cannot address poverty as a stand-alone condition.  We must work with each community to find out what is causing their poverty.  The real question remains – “How do we do this?”

Two things must happen if we are to make the “elimination of poverty by 2030” a reality.  First, we must overcome our personal poverty myths.  We must understand that the conditions which lead to poverty are not the result of individual shortcomings.  Poor individuals are often victims of circumstances well out of their control.  They are people worthy of assistance – each with an important story to tell.  Next, marginalised communities are comprised of unique individuals.  Because of this, no two communities are the same, even when located in close proximity to each other.  The International Development community must recognise this, and collaborate with each community to discover their unique stories, experiences and needs.  Community members must have a lead role in the planning and implementation of projects!



In a previous blog series, I introduced the idea of a four C’s checklist ( which can be used to work with marginalised communities – communities which don’t have access to the resources they need to sustain themselves.  The four C’s include:






Any poverty reduction strategy which involves each of the four C’s has greater potential for helping, rather than harming, a community.  One strategy which may serve impoverished communities on a global scale is currently being used in Ontario.  Community hubs are a strategy which is collaborative and based in the understanding that every community has unique needs.



In 2015, the Ontario government outlined a strategic framework and action plan to help impoverished communities within the province.[3]  This plan established a nine-member advisory group for establishing community hubs.  Each community hub is a centralised access point which provides social and health services, while also working to create special cultural, recreational, and green spaces for each community.  Most importantly, each community hub is uniquely different – and depends on the specific needs of the community.

Community hubs will not work, however, unless there is complete cooperation everyone involved!  Barriers to income and food security (unjust laws, lack of infrastructure, and social inequality) must be removed.  It takes everyone involved to accomplish this.



Poverty cannot be addressed as a stand-alone ‘condition’.  Poverty is caused by specific barriers which are unique to each community.  Barriers to sustainability, social equality, food security, and access to resources must be addressed differently in each community.  The community hub model can be successful, as long as everyone involved has an equal say in what happens.  We must accept that poverty-stricken communities have the capacity, knowledge, and willingness to improve their condition.

Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the Invisible, Visible!






The Poverty Industry: Does it Help or Hinder SDGs in Global Poverty Reduction?



“As usual, in every scheme that worsens the position of the poor, it is the poor who are invoked as beneficiaries.”  ~Vandana Shiva

An important event occurred in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside (DTES) in 2014.  This event highlighted all that can go wrong when government agencies offload responsibility for the poor to private enterprise. In a Globe and Mail article, the DTES was described as the “epicenter of the poverty industry.”[1]  It is a space marked by extreme poverty and homelessness.  More than a hundred social agencies can be found here – each one is dedicated to helping the poor.


DTES “Paint-In”. Source:

The Portland Hotel Society (PHS) is one of these organizations.  The PHS manages housing for the homeless.  Some of the programs PHS offers are very controversial – including vending machines which disperse cheap crack pipes and workshops for teaching alcoholics how to brew ‘safe’ beer.  PHS receives funding from the Federal government.   In 2014 Mark Townsend, the executive director of PHS, was audited.



Audits showed that Townsend and his wife used government funding for expenses which included trips to Paris and Vienna.  He and his family took trips to Disneyland, ate at expensive restaurants, and took a Danube cruise – all at the tax-payer’s expense. Although Townsend defended many of his expenses and admitted to making mistakes, his actions raise an important question:

“Do privatized, profit-driven corporations always act in the best interests of the poor they are funded to help?”  The answer is a resounding “No”!

There are so many examples today where the Poverty Industry has harmed the poor.  Last week, I discussed the example of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  The government hired private industries to assist in recovery and rebuilding.  People who could afford supplies and services benefited, while residents of the lower Ninth Ward were marginalized and forgotten in the aftermath.  The poverty industry also harms the poor on a global scale.


In 1978, U.S. pig farmers became concerned by an outbreak of African swine flu in Haiti.  The U.S. gave $23 million to Haiti to exterminate and restock their pig population.  Haiti killed over 1.3 million pigs by 1984.  Once again, the U.S. stepped in to ‘help’, and replaced the previous population with Iowa-born pigs.  This plan demanded that new pigsties were built to U.S. standards.  Many poor farmers could not afford these standards.  Even worse, the Iowa pigs could not withstand the Haitian environment and either died or required expensive food.  In the end, thousands of Haitian farmers were left with no pigs – and Iowa hog farmers were better off for it…


“Pigs for Kids in Haiti”. Source:

In 1986, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned $24.6 million to Haiti.[2]  The Haitian government had to agree to reduce trade tariffs on rice in order to get the loan.  U.S. rice farmers were allowed to export rice to Haiti. The livelihoods of local farmers were destroyed.  Haiti now imports most of its rice from the U.S.  Poor Haitians can no longer afford rice.  The U.S. provided food aid, but most of that money went to U.S. farmers and companies.  The poor became poorer. U.S. agribusiness became richer.

In 2010, Former President Bill Clinton made a public apology to Haitians for the role the U.S. had played in destroying the livelihoods of Haitian rice farmers.  Explaining that “we made a devil’s bargain”, Clinton stated,

“Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake.”[3]



Canadian industry is guilty of harm to the global poor as well.  In the 1970s, Canada began a $45 million wheat farming program in Tanzania. This program was designed to help poor farmers.  The result was anything but helpful!  First, over 60,000 acres of land was taken from the Barabaig people.  Members of this community were migratory cattle farmers who needed the land for grazing. Next, costly and mechanized farming methods were used.  These methods required purchasing expensive equipment from Canadian corporations.  Finally, these methods produced unimaginable soil erosion. Tropical downpours soon produced deep gullies in the landscape.  Even more money was spent trying to fill in these gullies.  In the end, Tanzanian farmers were producing less wheat than before.[4]  Once again – the poor became poorer… and Canadian agribusiness was lining its pockets.


Barabaig woman. Source:

Many other examples of the harm the poverty industry causes the world’s poor exist.  I discussed some of these examples in a previous blog post titled The Four C’s of Social Justice: Creating a Foundation for Change.  Check out to read this blog (and many more).  It is clear that the poverty industry has been counterproductive to the mission of today’s UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Things need to change if we want to really help the poor!  Next week, I will discuss some of the things we need to do if we are committed to eliminating poverty by 2030.  Private enterprise can help the poor, but only if important changes take place!  Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – Making the Invisible, Visible!

[1] Margaret Wente. 2014. The fall of the poverty entrepreneurs. Globe and Mail. Accessed 8/3/16.