Is Unist’ot’en conflict a serious concern or much ado about nothing?

There seems to be a bit more tension in the valley than last time I was here. The key word is ‘seems’

There seems to be a bit more tension in the valley than the last time I was here.

The key word in that sentence, of course, is ‘seems.’

It is, perhaps, a trick of timing that I happened to arrive right in the middle of what appears to be quite a significant conflict between a natural gas pipeline company and First Nations.

So seemingly significant, in fact, that it even made local news way back where I currently hang my hat on the other side of the country. There, Labrador Inuit and supporters, or at least a very small subset thereof, known as the Labrador Land Protectors, themselves in the midst of an ongoing protest regarding the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, gathered in front of the local MP’s office to stand in solidarity with their Wet’suwet’en brethren.

Over the past two weeks Stewart Muir, executive director of the Resource Works Society, argued on these pages that the standoff between the Unist’ot’en and Coastal GasLink was an artfully-orchestrated, internationally-funded media stunt designed to garner precisely the national and international coverage it got.

I am naturally skeptical of both small-scale protests as indicative of widespread discontent and conspiracy theories of international cabals intent on disrupting the Canadian economy by co-opting well-intentioned environmental stewards.

Responsible resource development is, however, a complex issue and even the specific instance of that represented by this controversy would take me vastly more than the two weeks I’ve been here to fully understand. Heck, it took me the first full week to even gain a rudimentary enough grasp of it to write a basic news story about it that I wasn’t embarrassed to have my byline on.

Muir, on the other hand, is by all accounts deeply immersed in the intricacies of it and an impeccably-credentialed individual, a journalist and historian. And his piece was not unabashedly pro-pipeline, but a call for collaboration and balance.

Notwithstanding my admitted rudimentary knowledge, what occurs to me is that the vast majority of us are on the same side here.

There are, of course, always extremists, those who are anti- or pro- something at all costs, those who are willfully ignorant and those who are fully-informed but uncaring, those who do not accept the reality or desirability of co-existence and those who wish to simply crush dissent.

But let’s take this down to the most basic level. Very few people, indigenous or otherwise, want to see our beautiful environment destroyed and recognize the shortsightedness in doing so. And very few do not want to reap the economic benefits of development as long as it is done responsibly.

It sure would be nice if we could snap our fingers and live in a world in which zero-emitting renewables are our only energy sources. But we can’t; we can only, and must, work toward getting there some day.

It may be a trite argument, and one I have criticized others for making, but liquid natural gas is better than oil and pipelines are better than trains. That’s why we call them transitional fuels and technologies.

I am certainly not a blanket supporter of fossil fuel extraction and pipelines, but this project appears to be one for which the pros outweigh the cons for most of us.

What really sparks my umbrage is the uneven distribution of the wealth generated by these activities.

That is something we must tackle, but a column for another day.

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