When I began this blog not so long ago I thought I was setting off on one journey, only to find some weeks later that actually I am off on quite a different path. At first I thought I wanted to understand what the Alberta Tar Sands and the Enbridge Northern Gateway are all about. And I wanted to follow the massive Joint Panel Review Process to learn what I could from that. Those purposes still hold true.
But, what really overtook me on the path was the deep human power of the “oral testimonies” given before the JRP that began in January this year. Quite suddenly, the technical study became a background, and the foreground became filled with vivid experience, a whole interplay of a different kind of learning, as if a brighter light was shining in a whole new realm of understanding.
My study became not so much about naked facts and the opinions of “the experts.” Having been called a heavy duty rationalist on more than one occasion, I am pretty comfortable with “the facts.” But this is different. I’ve entered the realm of learning based on real people, do-it-yourself, hands-on knowledge and ages-old experience living today in the world. Well, glory hallelujah – suddenly this is a much more creative venture, a more humanizing striving.
The JRP rules around oral testimony can be viewed as hampering— and often they are. Intervenors have to stick to a list of pre-defined “issues,” information must be of such a nature that it cannot be provided in writing, is not technical or scientific (?), is not opinion or views of others, is not argument or recommendation. Those of us of a western European heritage may well ask – Well, what’s left, what can be said?
Well, thank goodness, what can be said is a whole revelation of human dignity, passion, understanding, knowledge, and learning in such a way as you have probably never heard in your entire life. These oral testimonies put together the most amazing fund of experience, from old and young, from First Nations and non-aboriginal people, from scientists, and fishermen, archeologists, whale-watchers, fishermen, divers, lodge operators, mill workers, teachers, nurses, youth, elders, home-makers, caregivers, community council members … representing everyone that you and I know as our family, friends, and neighbours.
So I am more interested in exploring these ideas – and find my focus on learning is drawn not so much by the detail of Enbridge pipelines and supertankers but on the whole world of comprehension that is revealed in the stories of the people who live in the north and on the coast. There is a threat present, we all know that. We have sketched out all the nightmare scenarios we can imagine, but what suddenly emerged out of that black hole for me was how much I wanted to explore and talk about who we are, where we live, what we know, how we choose to live and what we want to become.
The Joint Review Panel returns to Haida Gwaii this week, March 21 and 22nd. Hearings will be held starting at 9 am in the George Brown Recreational Hall in Skidegate. The sessions will be webcast live here.