I didn’t really know what I was walking into. My friend had invited me two weeks prior to see Dr. Vandana Shiva speak, someone I had honestly never heard of. He described her as “the lady who’s like: ‘occupy all the crops!’” I had never been food and climate justice, so I did minor research, learning that the breadth of Dr. Shiva’s work investigates and aims for the betterment of the connection between human rights and the environment. What I also did not know was that, as an introductory speaker, Cree Environmental activist Clayton Thomas-Muller, of the Mathias Colomb Cree nation, would speak about his experiences in Environmental justice, community action, and organizing. Clayton Thomas-Muller is a natural public speaker. He is charismatic, honest, and has an aptitude for interjecting humour during serious moments to lighten the mood and make the discussion accessible and comfortable.
During his talk on Wed. Feb. 29, in Accolade East’s lecture hall 102, organized by the York Federation of Students, Thomas-Muller discussed his opposition to Monsanto and the Tar Sands, and the relationship between food, the environment, and human life. Noting, “capitalism is the new god,” Thomas-Muller discussed the connection between the displacement of Aboriginal peoples, the placement of environmentally damaging oil refineries, and the economic benefits of this to the settler colonies of Canada. Utilizing Cree and Indigenous beliefs, the Indigenous Environmental Network (for which Thomas-Muller does the breadth of his activism) stands in opposition to projects like the Tar Sands in Northern Alberta. Thomas-Muller highlighted the relationship Canada’s Indigenous populations has with the Tar Sands, not only through the Tar Sands crude pollution of Mother Earth, but also through an institutionalized injustice, which Thomas-Muller calls, ‘environmental racism.’ Environmental racism is a harassment of the basic human rights of minority groups, and specifically, the Indigenous populations of Canada. It is the placement of minority communities in environments that are classified as uninhabitable due to their close proximity to factories with deadly emissions, oil refineries, areas used for surface mining, oil sands, and the like. This is undoubtedly an example of the systematized and normalized practices of modern-day colonialism in Canada. Put simply, Thomas-Muller states, “climate change is a problem rooted in social inequity.”
Unsurprisingly, we can see that Canada’s economic paradigm is embedded in colonialism and racism, with systemic environmental racism being driven by economic policies. The Northern Alberta Tar Sands is a convergence of all aspects of climate change, racism, colonialism, economic, and environmental injustices. While the subject matter of the talk was heavy, Thomas-Muller is a speaker that incites his listeners to act and mobilize. Upon closure to his talk, Thomas-Muller invited all listeners to join him in Ottawa in October for ‘Power Shift 2012,’ a day for thousands of students and citizens to march to parliament and demand an end to the injustices being committed against our environment.
Since attending Thomas-Muller’s talk, I have found myself reflecting on my notes every day, insisting that I will learn more about how we can affect change, positively, and efficiently, to the environmental situation. Daily, I notice one particular note I took during the lecture, circled, underlined, and now highlighted. This note was the most important note that I have taken from the entirety of the event, as it is personal, political, and a difficult question to answer. Thomas-Muller asks of me, and of all students and attendees in the lecture hall: what is your relationship to Mother Earth?
For more information on Clayton Thomas-Muller’s activism with the Indigenous Environmental Network, visit ienearth.org
Follow Clayton Thomas-Muller on twitter @ claytonIEN