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Voices for BC's Environment - Highlights from the "Take Back Our BC" Tour

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Highlights from two recent "Take Back Our BC" Tour events on November 7 - in Courtenay and on Quadra Island. Featuring Rafe Mair, Alexandra Morton, Damien Gillis, and John Snyder from CoalWatch Comox Valley. Addressing packed rooms in these two North Island communities, the speakers called for civic engagement in environmental issues and a public movement to reclaim our public resources and democracy.

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I'm all for "civic engagement in environmental issues and a public movement to reclaim our public resources and democracy," but the choice of the name blows my mind.

Take Back Our BC? The vast majority of the province is unceded First Nations territory! I can't believe that issue didn't come up enough for the organizers to nix the name as terribly inappropriate and just plain incorrect.

OUR BC - you betcha!

Sandra, I don't feel the name we have chosen for our tour is in any way inconsistent with our strong and consistent recognition of and support for indigenous title and rights in BC. If you observed more of our work you would know that. As a fourth generation BC settler, I reseve the right to experiene some sense of collective ownership of and responsibility for this land - while at the same time showing respect for indigenous peoples who long predated my ancestry here.  Until we see that we - the BC public and First Nations - are all int he same boat, united in a common cause against oppressive corportatism and global capital, then we will accomplish nothing.  PS it's not one event - it's a whole provincial TOUR proudly bearing that name. So get used to seeing it around.

Response to Common Sense Canadian

Hi Common Sense Canadian,

I would appreciate knowing with whom I'm having this comment exchange. It is unclear to me whether you are voicing your own opinion, or that of an organization or campaign. Assuming that consultations with all of the communities involved in the Take Back Our BC tour in order to get such a mandate would take months, I would appreciate it if you could sign your name to your remarks.

I find your remark "If you observed more of our work you would know that" a little arrogant. It's not a pissing contest. There are many, many excellent campaigns and initiatives. I am happy to have heard of yours via the video you posted on the VMC site, and I do hope to hear more from the tour around the province, either on VMC or elsewhere.

I also do not think that it is necessary to have extensive knowledge of your work in order to accept or critique the name Take Back Our BC. If someone told me a racist joke, I would denounce it as racist. I could listen to their background of years of work at some community center for marginalized people of colour, but that would not somehow change my mind about the joke being racist.

I completely disagree with your comment that "we - the BC public and First Nations - are all int he [sic] same boat."

First Nations aside for one second, who is this mysterious "BC public" that is in the same boat? The population isn't homogenous. Women living in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, Latin American construction workers without any legal or safety protections, impoverished single mothers, and the province's mining company executives making millions are *not* all in the same boat. Unless, of course, it's a multi-tiered boat of old, with fancy state rooms up on top with their own butlers, some private but less luxurious rooms a little further down, the crew's bunks, and then the slave quarters below deck?!

Similarly, First Nations and "the BC public" - no matter how that public is defined - are *not* in the same boat. Under Canadian law, as well as international law, First Nations have different rights. Also, the vast majority of BC's territory is unceded indigenous land. First Nations are sovereign Nations. Even the Band Council system falls under the federal Indian Act and not the jurisdiction of the province like "the BC public." There is overwhelming inequality in terms of the resource development projects faced by First Nations vs others in the province, as well as health, poverty, water quality, and a host of other issues. We are *not* all in the same boat.

However, of course, that does not mean that people and communities cannot work together towards common goals, for example, "against oppressive corportatism and global capital," as you stated. However, just because a number of people, organizations, and/or First Nations want to stop logging in a certain area, for example, does not necessarily mean that the end goal of all those involved is the same. Environmentalists may want to establish a conservation area of a certain size under the jurisdiction of the provincial or federal government, but First Nations may want to establish their sovereignty over the area, gain recognition of their hunting and trapping rights, assert Treaty rights, or manage a larger conservation area themselves.

While united action around common goals is a great thing, this divergence of perspectives is why many First Nations are requesting formal protocol agreements with environmental organizations to set mutually acceptable terms for how to work together and what to work on. The track record reveals lessons to be learned, such as the violation of protocol agreements by the environmental organizations that signed off on the Great Bear Rainforest agreement, to the detriment of the local First Nations' struggle against logging in their own territory.

I am aware that Take Back Our BC is not one event, but a whole tour around the province. That was clear in the video you posted. I do not expect the name to be changed, but I do take issue with your response to "get used to seeing it around."

I think that the response "get used to it" is part of the problem. In my opinion, "get used to it" is synonymous with "there's nothing you can do about it, so shut up." That's often the gist of government and company responses to communities and people who bring up criticisms of environmentally destructive resource development projects.

Do you really want to encourage people to "get used to it" as opposed to speaking out? That seems totally contrary to the goals of the Take Back Our BC campaign, as I understand them from watching the video.

In short, I disagree with the Take Back Our BC campaign's choice of name, and I strongly disagree with most of the remarks you posted, but I do hope to see more news from the tour as it travels around the province in the new year. If it does grow into a grassroots movement and spark local organizing, as I believe it has the potential to do from watching the Quadra island public event, I'm sure I will "get used to seeing it around." And since it is a "whole provincial tour proudly bearing that name," similar criticism may come up again. So, um, get used to it! ;)

Sandra Cuffe

Vancouver, BC - Coast Salish Territories

bogus colonial name for the tour

Thanks for your tenacity on this one, Sandra. Bravo, and you're absolutely right, yours is a very legitimate, necessary criticism, and the name "Take Back Our BC" is bogus for all the reasons you list.

I avoid using the gruesome and meaningless colonial terminology "British Columbia" if I can avoid it, and especially with Harper at the helm, I'm totally grossed out with the colonialist "Canada" construct.

Traveling in the world, in the past one might have sported a small Canadian flag, -not because of any nationalist pride, but so that people wouldn't confuse one as being American and thereby avoid being insulted, beaten or worse. But since the days of GWB, Americans now wear the Canadian flag all over the place, which doesn't help our deteriorating reputation. And certainly, since the rise of the Stephen Harper Neocon government, nobody abroad is impressed by the Canadian flag anymore anyway.

I love and appreciate what the tour is doing, but the name is unacceptable

Cheers,  Ingmar

Sandra and Ingmar: My name is

Sandra and Ingmar: My name is Damien Gillis and I speak on behalf of The Common Sense Canadian, which is the organization behind the "Take Back Our BC Tour" and

Sandra, you are indeed welcome to learn more about us online and also to offer your feedback here, on our site, or in any other forum in which which discuss these issues.

Our tour and our ideals are on full display in many places. They speak for themselves.

I did not suggest or behave as though this were a "pissing match", Sandra. I implied that criticizing a name without attempting to understand its context is both lazy and unfair, which it is.

I am well aware of the complications which attend a loaded term like "BC." However, with what would you have us substitute it? The "Indian Territories" (as this land was know to the British Empire before Queen Victoria changed it to "Britsh Columbia" in 1850) - which is of course also a colonial appellation? There is no broad-based indigenous name that would capture the whole territory we (or most of us) now call BC - given that this territory is constitued of over 200 different Fitst Nations - most of whom inhabit unceded traditional territories of their own, as you note, many of whom have different traditional languanges, and none of whom presume to speak unilaterally for all indigenous people in BC - let alone anyone outside of their own nation or tribal territory.

So what do we then call "BC" so that people - British Columbians and First Nations, that is - understand what we are referring to?  Seriously, I would appreciate both Sandra's and Ingmar's response to this question - something that fits on a poster.

Understand that we address the colonial political institutions that affect the management of our resources and environment. These institutions exist on four basic levels - municipal, regional, provincial, and federal. In order for us to be able to address decisions being made by, for instance, the Gordon Campbell BC Liberal government, we need to be able to use the term "BC" in some instances.

You dismissed my initial reply as overly curt. I suggest that's hypocritical, given you rushed to judgement regarding our name, before attemptimg to learn anything about who we are, and what we and our tour stand for. If you had you would recognize that while we use terms like "BC" and "our" they are itterated with a nuanced understanding of the inherent complexity of these terms - and our events are imbued with these nuances and with the very discussion we are having now.

We have documented and stood in support of indigenous title and rights and specific campaigns to protect our (there's that word again) environment on that basis, including but not limited to: The Tsilhqot'in people and their Williams Case; Chief Marilyn Baptiste and the Xeni Gwet'in and Tsilhqot'in peoples in their opposition to the destruction of Fish Lake (Teztan Biny); The Musgamagw Tsawataineuk First Nations and their class action law suit based on the impacts of open net fish farms on their wild salmon and traditional marine resosurces; The Sinixt people of the Kootenays in their opposition to having been declared extint to facilitate hydroelectric development both in the past and today; The Treaty 8 First Nations in their concerns about the impacts of hydroelectric dams and the currently proposed Site C Dam; The Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council in their opposition to the lack of consultationa dn accomodation regarding the Alcan/Nechako dam systems; The Coastal First Nations and Fraser Basin First Nations who are now standing in opposition to the proposed Enrbidge Northern Gateway Pipeline and coastal oil tankers; the various Alberta First Nations, particularily in Fort Chipewyan, dealing with health and environmental impacts from the Tar Sands.

We work with First Nations not only because we understand the law, legal precedents, our constitution, and colonial history - as you mistakenly charge that we do not - but also for the reason that beacuse of these laws and precedents First Nations are ideally positioned to protect their traditional territorires and thus all of our environment and public interest in BC.  To ignore this would be to oeprate from a position of ignorance that we most certainly do not.

Finally, Sandra, regardless of who you are and what your background is (which you have neglected to disclose, while expecting full disclosure from myslself, which I give freely), I do not presume to define for you your relationship with this land or wherever your homeland may be. So don't presume to define mine for me. I am born of and raised on this coast. I have a deep connection to these waters, this land, and the creatures and people who inhabit them. I pay my taxes and exercise my democratic right to vote in elections - and I have a responsibiluty as a Btisih Columbian to defend this place. And while the specific nature of my "ownership" of this land is - as we have both noted and do not in any material way appear to disagree on - admittedly different from the ancestral title and rights of First Nations in BC, it nevertheless exists in its own form.  It is "our" BC and "our" collective resposibility to fight to protect it.

And when I say we are all in the same boat, I mean it just how I said it (not in a literal sense, but in a figurative one, naturally) - vis-avis the new colonialism that confronts us all. Today it is not the Birtish Empire invading these shores - rather it is corporatism - the General Electrics and Royal Dutch Shells of the world. An unless and until we settler peoples unite with indigenous peoples to defend this territory we now share (notwithstanding the different specific legal rights we enjoy), then we will lose our environment and our civil society to a new and more powerful form of brigandry and undemocratic rule.

So thank you for your criticism, but we're keeping the name.

PS, you may enjoy some of these films of mine discussing both indigenous title and rights and the coming together of indigenous and settler peoples in BC to protect our shared environment:



In response to Damien

Hi Damien,

Thanks very much for taking the time to respond once again. I do understand how frustrating it can sometimes be when there is so much important work to be done. I'll try to be as brief as possible, while responding to a few points.

Your comment "who you are and what your background is (which you have neglected to disclose, while expecting full disclosure from myslself, [sic] which I give freely)" is just plain untrue. I simply asked you to sign your name to your comment, not for a life story or your relationship to the land or anything else. How did you interpret that I was asking for full disclosure, when I only asked you to sign your name to your comment, so that I wouldn't be having a discussion via comments with an anonymous organizer from the tour.

I am also curious as to how you came to the conclusion that I "presume to define" your "relationship with this land." This is also untrue.

If you would like a detailed history of my background, please feel free to email me at sandra.m.cuffe(at) and I can provide one. Short version, although I'm not entirely sure how this is all that relevant, except perhaps the first couple words here: White, middle-class upbringing in Burnaby. Montreal. Briefly University, dropped out. Central America for 5 years, working with the small NGO Rights Action, and directly in solidarity with indigenous federations and communities, and communities affected by Canadian gold mining. West Coast. Longest Walk 2. Workin' for $10/hour in plenty of coffee shops. Writing. Akwesasne. Back to Honduras right after last year's military coup, volunteering directly with a Honduran human rights organization made up of relatives of the Disappeared. Back up to Vancouver. VMC. You can search "Cuffe" here on VMC, the Dominion, and/or UpsideDownWorld to find some of my writing on different subjects.

Perhaps the misunderstanding of the criticism of the name is because your response is both to myself and Ingmar. Just to be clear, I personally did *not* criticize your use of the term "BC." I use it myself all the time. I agree that there is no succinct way to really address the complexity, as far as I know.

My criticism was of the "our" or actually more accurately of the "take back our" part of the tour name, not the "BC" part of it. I believe I highlighted the "our" in my original comment. This is why I brought up the issue of BC being mainly unceded indigenous territories. Not because I take issue with the term "BC," but because I don't think that a person or population can "take back" something that has never been "theirs/ours." I am not oblivious to what the tour is about or the nuances of the terms "take back" and "our" [not totally stupid over here], but I still find it inappropriate and incorrect.

Re me being "lazy," "hypocritical," and/or "unfair" because I commented on the name without knowing the tour's life story, see the third paragraph of my last response. Re the "same boat," I have nothing more to add.

Thank you for thanking me for the criticism. I should not have used the term "pissing contest." My point was that I found your "you betcha," "get used to it" and especially "if you observed more of our work you would know that" to be extremely arrogant. I appreciate that you have now acknowledged my criticism, although you may disagree.

Finally, thanks for your honest question as to how to fit the BC / unceded indigenous territories issue on a poster. It's a tough one, but I'm an acronym NERD! Yeah! If you like my answer, or anyone along the tour does, feel free to use it!

SHOUT BC! - Sharing Homelands On Unceded Territories

Oh yeah, that was 10 minutes of pure joy coming up with that. :)

Thanks for the video links. I'll have myself a private mini film night this week.

In solidarity,

Sandra Cuffe



colonial nomenclature

Hi Damien, Chris et al,

Damien, I'm surprised that this constructive criticism has struck such a sensitive nerve, -so please know this, of course I am more than grateful, impressed and delighted with your awesome efforts, -certainly not getting into any 'pissing match' to distract your momentum.

Nevertheless, I do stand by my comments and I know that Sandra has raised a totally legitimate, important concern. Certainly it is awkward to have to qualify a common location which brings us together, -and when you use the terminology "our" in the title, one presumes that you are speaking of the 'progressive' community, -'progressive' in and of itself being awkward terminology to describe our 'awakened, hip, thoughtful, compassionate, conscientious community.'

In my writing, I've given up on trying to find appropriate nomenclature to describe "us" so I just stick in the awkward qualifier "... 'progressive' -(I yearn for better terminology)..." into whatever I'm writing on the subject. But "British Columbia" has such horrific, loaded, painful connotations, I personally hate using it.

And not knowing of a way in which I can collectively refer to 'our '  'progressive' community that lives here in what is generally know as BC, I just try to find a way around using that, even if it looks awkward. People around here have been struggling with the colonial legacy, for example, we now use 'Haida Gwaii' officially instead of Queen Charlottes, and 'Salish Sea' is now common 'progressive (I yearn for better terminology) usage for 'Georgia Strait.'

Please don't discount this important, useful constructive criticism! If proper terminology for this part of the world does not exist, then our challenge is to create it. Perhaps you could put that notion out there as you go about your tour! 

Cheers, and with huge respect,  Ingmar



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