There is a story we never hear. It is the story of the wealthy developer who procures a piece of land to build on, and then upon finding out the land is sacred to local Indigenous people and has heritage sites on it, chooses to not build go ahead with construction. Instead the developer chooses one of many other paths open to them, they try to find other ways to get money back out of their investment or perhaps they go after the previous land owner for not disclosing this information previous to sale. Or maybe they even try to find ways to return at least a portion of that land to the Indigenous.
Yesterday I sat in on the Grace Islet injunction hearing; where an injunction was being sought by a wealthy land owner named Barry Slawsky against protesters – specifically Indigenous people – from being allowed near the site where he is constructing his dream home on top of a native burial ground.
I find that nearly every time discussion comes up about this conflict; someone (generally a white person) will inevitably make a joke that the developer clearly has never read a Steven King novel or watched a horror movie. For the most part I find the joke seems rather tasteless and insulting given that it is easy to joke about for people with nothing at stake, but if it was their own families graves they wouldn’t likely be making bad jokes about it. Yet there is a reason why these classic stories have become such a genre cliché; and the reason is simply because there is such a long history of rich people metaphorically shitting on the sacred sites of Indigenous people. If developers didn’t so routinely say “fuck the Indians,” King and others wouldn’t have made a career out of stories involving people getting terrorized by ghosts for doing precisely that. Perhaps those books should be through of more as wishful thinking…? Or perhaps it’s time to write a new story?
Yet todays court proceedings had more parallels to fiction and TV dramas. The lawyer for Barry Slawsky lived up to every negative stereotype of a lawyer in court today. He came off as utterly despicable, slimy, and dishonest. He was such a caricature he seemed almost like a real life version of the blue haired lawyer often seen representing Mr Burns on The Simpson’s.
His tone was repeatedly condescending, his arguments were colonial and racist, and on a number of occasions he was accused of presenting his speculations as accepted facts. He began by trying to undermine any claims to Aboriginal Title or Treaty Rights and asserting it was simply a case of private property rights and trespass. He was also caught for misrepresenting his own evidence at least once, and on another occasion for trying to cite as evidence a media article quoting unnamed people who were claiming the Cheif’s said something, as proof. In the end he even tried to accuse the judge of bias because the judge lives on Salt Spring Island, where the protests have been taking place. At another point, he claimed that the entire defense was a red herring because if they were trying to stop damage to the burial site – and damage meant work being done – it was a mute point cause the work had already been started. but the one that really got me was when he tried to claim the injunction was necessary for the protection and safety of the protesters who might get hurt…. Yet he was also exceptionally dull to listen to, to the point that I saw two people sitting near me fall asleep. The defense council were far better orators and had a strong case that more time was needed as they presented numerous thick affidavits that had just been filed or were still coming in.
In the end, the judge ruled in favor of adjournment; that the defendants (which included 2 First Nation Cheif’s amongst others) would have 4 weeks to prepare arguments before the injunction hearing moves forward. Many people including myself will be watching to see what comes of this. I am by no means an expert of any sort in the matters of law, nor in the traditions and practices of any of the local indigenous peoples, I presume from my limited knowledge of other supreme court cases that this will be a long and drawn out process, and todays court hearing will be one of many. I also would presume this won’t be the last of the protests, which I hope will continue until work is permanently stopped. It is an interesting time though, with recent court rulings that acknowledge the land as being stolen and sovereignty never having been extinguished which may influence the outcome of this case. While I remain cynical that a court system of a state built on stolen native lands and a history of genocide and ongoing colonization will suddenly rule in favor of Indigenous lands rather than capitalist development; It is only my hope that we as a society can choose to write a different story than the cliché ones we have been enacting for so long.
These are just my observations as an interested and concerned outsider. If you want to learn more about this conflict, the court case, the lands it is taking place on or the history, I highly suggest checking out the Grace Islet facebook page where the people organizing to stop this shit have been posting updates. I am sure that they will be needing support, which can come in many ways
by Comrade Black