In April 2012 the town of Bella Bella, mostly Heiltsuk First Nation, were expecting to meet representatives of the Crown Canadian government to discuss Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. This was to be a pipeline carrying diluted bitumen to a terminal in British Columbia. Where the Heiltsuk fish. The Heiltsuk are a community intimately connected to their land. The coast, the sea, the cedar and fir forest. And the sockeye salmon. The sockeye salmon is an emblematic species and it is connected to its regional ecology through a network of interactions, eating, being eaten, and of course the migration from freshwater to sea and back before spawning in the natal fresh waters. The sockeye salmon reaches out and connects all the elements together.
The pipeline threatens all of this. Jess Housty, poet, librarian, and young leader, recalls to Naomi Klein their stance: “We were prepared to stand up with dignity and integrity to be witness for the lands and waters that sustained our ancestors—that sustain us”.
As it happened, the government delayed the hearings and moved them so that Jess had to travel for a day to make it to the hearing. Where they said “I respectfully disagree with the notion that there is any compensation to be made for the loss of our identity, for the loss of our right to be Heiltsuk.”
These words, as I was reading them in Naomi Klein’s «This Changes Everything», struck me. Powerfully.
The Heiltsuk are so intimately connected with their landscape and their ecosystem that a pipeline is not just a threat to their food or their way of life, it is a threat to their very identity. The pipeline threatens their identity and it is not surprising that they dig in, resist, and return the assault.
We all have identities that can be threatened.
I am from the internet. My ecosystem has components like computers, and online interactions, and networks, and data, and encryption. Encryption is a keystone species. Take it away and the network around it will collapse. Maybe not instantly, maybe gradually. Shopping will be less secure. My spending patterns just a little bit different. Our conversation less vibrant. Eventually the network will collapse, leaving nothing but sterile scorched earth.
When you attack encryption you attack my identity. And there is no compensation to be made.