A RAVEN’s eye view: People-powered justice
Any visitor to Yukon’s Peel Watershed would be thrilled to take in the wild valleys, cut by rushing creeks and fringed all around with snow-capped peaks. This is a storied land: it is the setting from which skilled Indigenous knowledge-keepers have drawn inspiration for tales told around the flickering of firelight. Their stories are passed down the generations: full of heroism and conflict; these parables contain instructions for human communities in how to find our place within a dazzlingly interconnected web of life.
Learning from and crafting policies informed by Indigenous knowledge may be our best chance to carry out the transformations necessary to survive and thrive in an era of climate change.
RAVEN’s (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs) work is to transform the values of Indigenous Peoples—contained in those cherished stories—into laws which place ecological values front and center. Informed by the 'seven generations forward’ ethos of Indigenous stewardship practices, RAVEN raises legal defense funds for Indigenous Nations who have chosen to use the courts to protect their rights. We focus on cases with the potential to set legal precedents: our goal is to build a foundation upon which other Nations and communities can protect ecosystems and carry out healthy stewardship practices.
When three Indigenous Nations in the Peel Watershed were confronted with the threat of mining and oil and gas development in the heart of their territory’s most vital watershed, they turned to RAVEN to help them access the justice system.
With support from RAVEN, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Vuntut Gwitchin and Na Cho Nyäk Dun First Nations Nations took their action to the Supreme Court of Canada. Their victory in December 2017 protected 47,600 hectares of the most pristine wilderness left on the planet. That means that when children around future campfires hear stories about caribou, salmon and grizzly bears, they will know these creatures from their own lives and not from some mythical past.
Canada’s constitution affords Indigenous Peoples some of the most powerful environmental rights in the world. But these rights are only meaningful if First Nations can afford to enforce them. The playing field is far from level: small communities struggling to provide basic health care and education to their members are rarely in a position to stand toe-to-toe with industry and government in court. Typically, Indigenous Peoples are outspent $100 to $1 in legal actions—yet, because of their unique legal rights, they are on an incredible winning streak. With over 250 legal wins—and counting—Indigenous Peoples are reshaping the landscape in Canada.
The kinds of victories that RAVEN backs have measurable outcomes. For example, the wild Great Bear Rainforest is free from oil tankers; the salmon-rich estuary of the Skeena River is no longer a site for liquefied natural gas exports; and the mighty Peel River flows uninterrupted from the edge of mountain glaciers all the way to the Arctic Ocean.
There is a magic that happens in the intersections where our work flourishes. By offering a way to stand beside Indigenous Peoples in a tangible and strategic way, we invite people to move from a place of despair and shame over our collective colonial history to a place of respect and solidarity. Friendships develop and movements deepen, and incredible creativity is unleashed.
With the Pull Together campaign, our task was to gather as many supporters as possible to support the legal challenges of seven Nations fighting the Enbridge tar sands pipeline from coming through to the Pacific Coast. People generated wonderful (and hilarious) ways to fundraise: communities hosted everything from walkathons to burlesque shows, while businesses made chocolate bars, hot sauce and microbrews. Yoga studios, bakeries and marketing agencies also led “Eat! Paddle! Dance!” initiatives, joining forces with like-minded businesses to give a portion of their proceeds from a week’s earnings. We went from wondering: “How on Earth are we going to stop this pipeline?” to “Who knew stopping a pipeline could be so much fun?” And in June 2016, the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline was officially quashed.
As Jess Housty, councillor for Heiltsuk Nation and part of the original Pull Together community puts it, “The cross-community connections that have been built around the issue makes us feel so much more empowered when we're strutting into those new battles. Knowing that we have allies in the wider world, stronger relationships with our Nation's up and down the coast, and a really strong sense of our own capacity as a Nation to stand up, to fight and to win.”
We are always amazed by the creative ways businesses boldly lead through networks like 1% for the Planet. Last fall, NADA Zero Waste Grocery partnered with RAVEN to host an in-store film night and launch an online fundraiser for our “Stand with Coast Heroes” campaign with Heiltsuk Nation. NADA invited their customers to become part of the story of Indigenous communities’ courageous push for justice: the initiative sparked connections that, spanning diverse cultures and geographies, revealed the common ground we all stand upon.
Similarly, we value the creation of long-term partnerships with Patagonia, who provide reliable funding, so that we can make sustainable commitments to Indigenous Nations as they take their legal actions through all levels of court. Other amazing businesses like RiverBirch Executive Advisors, White Leaf Photography, Bluewater Adventures and Stoecker Ecological have also supported the constitutionally enshrined rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
We are grateful to our business partners who help to build the power to protect wild and sacred places. RAVEN’s work is igniting vital hope in community after community. We hope you join us in carrying on a storied tradition of protection and justice for generations to come.