BY GERRY CHIDIAC
Lessons in Learning
Swiss physician and author Paul Tournier said, “The worst thing is not being wrong, but being sure one is not wrong.”
I wrote a column several weeks ago stating that I support the Wet’suwet’en in their opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline being built through their territory.
What I have come to realize is that a number of Wet’suwet’en actually support the project, and it has not only become a divisive issue across the country, it has become a painfully divisive issue among the Wet’suwet’en people.
My goal as a teacher and writer is to always encourage respectful and honest dialogue, and I don’t believe I accomplished that with my previous stance.
It’s tempting to side with those who support our own opinions but this is a Wet’suwet’en issue and that means it needs to be decided by the Wet’suwet’en. Just as I have no right to tell the people living beside me what kind of trees to plant in their backyard, I have no right to tell my neighbours what to do with a natural gas pipeline.
This is a complex and multifaceted issue. There are no treaties regarding Wet’suwet’en territory. The land is unceded; it is and always has been Wet’suwet’en.
In addition, the B.C. government recently accepted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states, “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.”
We must also be aware that the Indian Act of 1876 was and still is an assault on Indigenous culture and well-being. Traditional lines of leadership were ignored and replaced with the methods of decision-making imposed by the Canadian government. This has made it very difficult to establish a process for resolving disagreements.
Despite the challenges, I know I can place my confidence in the Wet’suwet’en to resolve this issue. Working in the school district with the largest number of Indigenous students in British Columbia, one which emphasizes Indigenous leadership, I have had the privilege of working with and learning from some of the finest educators I’ve ever known. Two things they’ve taught me give me great confidence.
First, though they vary by name and tradition, the Seven Sacred Teachings form the basis of what could loosely be called an Indigenous code of ethics. They are humility, honesty, respect, truth, courage, wisdom and love. These are the guiding universal principles that one can always turn to when faced with difficulty and uncertainty. They govern the way people are to treat themselves and one another, and they’re central to the beliefs of the Wet’suwet’en.
Secondly, the traditional way of communicating among Indigenous peoples in this region is the talking circle. This is far different from the adversarial method of debate in European cultures, where each side tries to prove the other wrong. In a talking circle, people look at one another and truly listen. It’s a way of coming to a place of healing and peace, and it has been effectively used for thousands of years.
Despite the efforts of my teachers, I’m no expert on Indigenous culture, and I’ve only begun to understand the depth and beauty of their way of life.
To my Indigenous neighbours, I say thank you for welcoming me into your territory and patiently guiding me. To my Wet’suwet’en neighbours in particular, please accept my apologies for imposing my views and taking a side on what is perhaps the most difficult and divisive issue your community has ever faced. I have full confidence in you to find the best way forward.
Future generations of Canadians will study this moment in their history books. I don’t know what the best decision is regarding the Coastal GasLink pipeline but I do know how that decision has to be made.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students. Check out his website here. Find him on Facebook. Or on Twitter @GerryChidiac