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Protest as Pedagogy

Teaching, Learning, and Indigenous Environmental Movements


Gregory Lowan-Trudeau

Written during a time characterized by catalyzing Indigenous environmental movements such as Idle No More, political upheaval, and the final years of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Protest as Pedagogy: Teaching, Learning, and Indigenous Environmental Movements was motivated by Gregory Lowan-Trudeau’s personal experiences as an activist, educator, and researcher. Insights from interviews with activists and educators in a variety of school, community, and post-secondary contexts are presented in relation to teaching and learning during, and in response to, Indigenous environmental movements. Looking toward future possibilities, the rise of renewable energy development by Indigenous communities across Canada is also considered. Throughout Protest as Pedagogy, these inquiries are guided by a theoretical framework built on concepts such as decolonization, Herbert Marcuse’s repressive tolerance, Elliot Eisner’s three curricula, and broader fields of study such as social movement learning, critical media literacy, Indigenous media studies, and environmental communication.

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Chapter 2. Indigenous Environmental Activism and Education in Urban, Rural, and Remote Contexts: a Tale of two Cities

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A Tale of Two Cities1

Snow crunches beneath my feet as I reach the top of the ridge. A puff of warm breath temporarily melts the ice in my beard and obscures my vision. I pause and appreciate the frigid calm of this winter morning. I inhale and hold my breath. My vision soon clears and I gain a stunning view of the curious panorama before me. Beyond a small duck pond, the new lego-inspired Children’s Hospital looms in the foreground, obscuring the suburbs, foothills, and Bow River valley that eventually give way to the Mistakis, the western horizon line of the Rocky Mountains used by the Blackfoot for cartography and navigation (Binnema, 2001).

This snowy field was once a prairie grassland, crisscrossed by dirt pathways and pockmarked with gopher holes that served as the playground of my youth. My friends ← 31 | 32 → and I would ride out here on BMX bikes, build jumps and forts, dig pits, and battle with rival groups for the right to prime territories. I remember coming home at the end of a day of hard play, coated in dust with a painfully dry throat, dying of thirst, but profoundly content.

As we grew older and became more focused on our studies, organized sports, and mountain adventures, we rarely visited ‘the field’. However, it eventually became my running place. Three or four times a week, sometimes more depending on the season, I would jog the five minutes from home and circumnavigate the field, pushing myself over the same dirt trails that once bore our bike tracks, past copses of aspen and willow, pausing occasionally to take in the view.

One day, midway through a run, I came to a small ridge above a slight depression in the land, a natural rollercoaster that often made my stomach jump. As I began my descent, I was surprised by a dozen russet fox pups out for a brief foray from their den. I remember their plaintive peeps and cries and a feeling of awe at being surrounded by creatures I had only ever glimpsed at a distance. Fortunately for all concerned, this encounter did not lead to a conflict with the mother, but it did remind me of the animate complexity of this landscape, increasingly threatened by development on all sides despite municipal, provincial, and university assurances to the contrary.

As an urban Aboriginal person, this place also began to hold cultural meaning for me. As I paused more frequently to pay attention and respect to the other-than-human inhabitants of the field: deer, fox, hawk, coyote, I also reflected on their significance in the lives and beliefs of my ancestors. Coupled with exposure to cultural teachings and practices, my understanding of this field and its importance in my life were gradually transformed.

So, it was with mixed feelings that I recently returned to find the field replaced by a carefully manicured landscape complete with asphalt paths, roadways, buildings, and an innovative storm water filtration pond. In the end, the developers won and a deal was struck despite years of protest and negotiation with local residents. As a parent, I am grateful to have a world-class pediatric facility five minutes from home, but I still can’t help but lament the loss of wildness in this field, a rare refuge within an increasingly sprawling metropolis; I wonder what became of that fox family and the deer who sheltered and fed in the willows nearby? I see hawks circling on occasion, but the others are gone. However, this place is still special for me and I am grateful to be back after an especially challenging year.

I take a deep breath, exhale, and give thanks for clean air, clean water, and good health. I ask the same for everyone else: humans, four leggeds, winged ones, and swimmers. I pray for strength, patience, peace, and a sense of humour. ← 32 | 33 →

A Tale of Two Cities

This chapter is a tale of two cities. Both lie within sight of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, one to the west, the other to the east. Similar to many Canadian municipalities, both intimately rely on natural resource development for their tax base and livelihood. Both were also built at the confluence of two rivers—displacing and obscuring, but never completely eradicating Indigenous communities; as Donald (2004) might suggest, the Indigenous histories and geographies of these landscapes persist to varying degrees.

In the following I reflect on my experiences in these two connected, but distinctly different communities with reference to broader dynamics within and between urban, rural, and remote contexts in Canada.

Home on the Range

As discussed in the previous chapter, Calgary, Alberta is my hometown. I grew up here and returned five years ago after several years spent living and working in smaller centres in northern Ontario and British Columbia. Calgary is a city of just over a million and is known internationally as an intellectual and financial centre of oil and gas development; a labyrinth of petroleum companies and related firms providing a wide range of services are headquartered here. Despite contemporary romanticism to the contrary, Calgary was not founded by ranchers, cowboys, or pioneers; in fact, it was first established as a military post by the Northwest Mounted Police, now known as the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), as part of their final efforts to secure our southern border against American whisky traders and military insurgents (Touchie, 2008; Turner, 2012). As such, oil and gas or, ‘black gold’, as some call it, didn’t precipitate the establishment of this city, but it has fuelled explosive growth since the early twentieth century.

Like most Calgarians, I have many acquaintances, friends, and family in the oil and gas industry. Despite such intimate links to resource development, Calgary is, somewhat ironically, consistently rated as one of the cleanest and most liveable cities in the world (Malone, 2011). In general, Calgarians enjoy a very high standard of living complete with clean air, water, municipal buildings and transit powered by renewable energy sources, and an intricate network of bicycle pathways connecting the Bow and Elbow Rivers with the rest of the city, toponymic reminders (Carter, 2005; Kingston, 2009) that we are in Blackfoot territory (Armstrong, Evenden, & Nelles, 2009; Touchie, 2008). ← 33 | 34 → In fact, Calgary has the highest number per capita of the top one percent of income earners in Canada (CBC, 2013).

However, as I learned through direct experience several years ago while living in a distinctly different setting, there is a socio-ecological cost, albeit not locally apparent, to this high standard of living. While Calgary is an intellectual and financial centre, the majority of oil and gas development, processing, and the associated ecological impacts occur at a comfortable distance from the city, in remote, rural, and international locales, often with lower socioeconomic status and in many cases, high Indigenous populations (Brody, 1998; Nikiforuk, 2008). Unfortunately, these are common trends for resource development of all kinds (oil and gas, forestry, mining) across Canada and around the world (Haluza-Delay, 2013).

Not in My Backyard

A local controversy further highlighted the ‘not in my backyard (NIMBY)’ mentality of many Calgarians when a small petroleum firm, operating within legal guidelines, proposed to drill an oil well within sight of an affluent suburban community on the northwest fringe of the city (Varcoe, 2013). Exploration was initially approved, however, due to massive outcry and mobilization by the community association, the project was ultimately halted.

I fully support this, and any, community’s right to challenge such developments; had this been my neighbourhood, I would most certainly have been involved in the resistance. However, given that, it is safe to assume, many of the residents of this community were associated with the oil and gas industry, the irony of the situation was palpable. Their bluff was called in that instance; they knew that oil and gas extraction is potentially harmful and they didn’t want to expose themselves or their families to such hazards. However, despite such awareness, documented cases of habitat destruction, increased cancer rates, and irreversible contamination of drinking water in rural, remote, and Indigenous territories subject to intensive oil and gas development continue to fall on deaf ears in the corporate offices of Calgary and other urban centres (Brody, 1998; Nikiforuk, 2008).

Upon returning to this, my birthplace, I couldn’t help but reflect on such contradictions and, my own participation in this hypocritical society. As an environmentally minded Indigenous academic at a government funded public research institution, I have to face the fact that, most likely, a large portion of my salary comes directly from taxes derived from the oil and gas ← 34 | 35 → industry. However, thanks to academic freedom and critical minds within the university and the city, I do feel supported in my work, albeit amidst undeniable tension on both cultural and ecological levels. Such tensions and contradictions also extend to my experiences with and approaches to the Land in the city and the surrounding area wherein I strive to recreate and teach locally as much as possible (Lowan-Trudeau, 2015a). As described later in this chapter, my perspective on such dynamics was further informed by a personal experience with pollution-related health issues. This experience deeply affected me on all levels: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually (Cavanagh, 2005).

Understanding the Canadian Context

Canada is a culturally diverse country comprised of Indigenous peoples and settler populations from Europe and, increasingly, other parts of the world (Malenfant, Lebel, & Martel, 2010). While an overwhelming majority of the population lives within a few hundred kilometers of our southern border with the United States (Gibbins, 2005), Canada is also one of the largest countries in the world. This leaves significant tracts of rural and ‘remote’ areas with relatively low population density. Stereotypes abound, both supported and disrupted by contemporary statistics and lived experiences, regarding the predominantly multicultural character of our urban areas, Euro-Canadian settler dominance in rural locales, and Indigenous majorities in remote, northern areas.

These divisions and stereotypes have been increasingly revealed and challenged through widespread response to legislation proposed and imposed by our federal government related to Indigenous and environmental rights and regulations. The proliferation of oil and gas pipeline projects across the country such as the two cases examined later in this chapter, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway (Gunton & Broadbent, 2013) and Trans Canada’s Keystone XL (Trans Canada, 2015), which also crosses our southern border into the United States, have also provoked vigorous opposition, activism, and, I would suggest, unexpected pedagogical opportunities in a range of K-12, community-based, and post-secondary learning environments.

In this chapter I suggest that such cases are illustrative not only of the existential gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and urban, rural, and remote areas in Canada, but also of the increasing alliances between ← 35 | 36 → these cultural and geographical groups. As Kassam, Avery, and Ruelle (2017) demonstrate, consideration of such dynamics through a case-based approach is a powerful pedagogical strategy for science and environmental education. However, as noted elsewhere, educators interested in engaging their students in socio-critical ecological discussion often face considerable resistance from their peers, administrators, parents, and vested community members (Jickling, 2003). These historical and contemporary trends have created and revealed rich challenges along with great opportunities for the consideration of cognitive diversity amongst Canadian educators and students engaging with such wicked problems that defy singular solutions.


Due to the vast size and geographic divisions of our nation, natural resource extraction and processing often occurs in rural and remote areas, out of sight and mind of the urban dwellers that benefit most from such activities. This trend was historically entrenched in Canada from the onset of colonization wherein the fur trade, another iconic feature of the Canadian narrative, sent voyageurs deep into the ‘wilderness’ to trade with Indigenous peoples for animal pelts in exchange for Western goods, often, but not exclusively, returning to urban or rural areas for the winter (Foster, 2007).

Notably, those hivernants who did stay in the Northwest during the winter often partnered with Indigenous women through varying levels of formality and consent to become the forebears of early Métis communities in central and western Canada (Brown, 1983). While some relationships were most certainly consensual and equitable, the fur trade also introduced a high level of mistreatment and exploitation of Indigenous women by European men (Raffan, 2008).

As such, it should come as no surprise that contemporary extraction of natural resources in North America and around the world is often accompanied by a rise in social, cultural, and health concerns in Indigenous communities nearby (Weber, Geigle, & Barkdull, 2014). For example, as documented increasingly not only in Canada (Awasis, 2014), but also in the United States (Laduke, 2014) and globally (Carrington, McIntosh, & Scott, 2010), oil and gas and other resource-based frontier towns are often rife with culturally related sexual violence towards and exploitation of Indigenous women. However, until the rise of Indigenous and allied activism related to such issues, many urbanites in Canada and elsewhere have remained blissfully unaware of such injustices. ← 36 | 37 →


While wilderness looms large in the Canadian narrative as a relatively untouched basin of natural resources ripe for pillaging with sparse, largely Indigenous populations, our urban areas are conversely seen as an increasingly wealthy multicultural mix of European settlers and those arrived more recently from other parts of the globe. Indeed the statistics support such impressions (see for example, Malenfant et al., 2010), however, an all too often missing piece of this narrative is that of the Indigenous peoples, past and present, who have and continue to occupy and shape these urban spaces (Donald, 2004).

Indeed, not only have urban contexts become sites of Indigenous and allied resistance as evidenced by the grassroots movement Idle No More in 2012–2013 (Kino-nda-niimi Collective, 2014), they have also become the base for the resurgence and re-imagination of Indigenous youth cultures in Canada and the United States (Gorlewski & Porfilio, 2012).

While some in science and environmental education advocate that youth must escape the city to truly experience the natural world, I disagree. While I most certainly personally and professionally value experiences outside of urban areas, I also recognize the financial and logistical limitations of such excursions, especially for youth and educators in socio-economically marginalized areas. I also note the rise of ecological justice and education initiatives in urban areas (Agyeman, Cole, Haluza-Delay, & O’Riley, 2009).


Often linking remote and urban zones in Canada, are the commonly forgotten, or perhaps ignored, rural areas. Again, stereotypes abound positioning rural areas as moderately inhabited, predominantly White, socially and politically conservative contexts. However, whether due to the historical or contemporary presence of Indigenous peoples and immigrants from other parts of the world, or the dramatic increase in corporate farming that has prompted a drastic population exodus, in a manner somewhat similar to the United States (Theobald & Herley, 2009), the faces and dynamics of rural Canada are changing.

In the Canadian narrative, farming and agriculture is the domain of White settlers, not Indigenous peoples who are perceived to be largely nomadic hunters and gatherers. However, this simply was and is not the case. For example the peoples of the Iroquois Confederacy had well-established seasonal cultivating practices for the Three Sisters (squash, corn, beans) (Kimmerer, 2013). ← 37 | 38 →

My own people, the Métis, also established permanent and semi-permanent farms in rural areas across Canada. As Étienne Rivard (2008) notes, Métis farms often exhibited a mix of both Indigenous and European values and structures representative of our mixed heritage. I am also reminded of my ancestors, both Métis and European, who cultivated multigenerational connections to rural areas in the western provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Family stories are often shared related not only to the land-based knowledge and practices of my Métis ancestors, but also regarding the deep love, understanding of, and respect for the Earth of my Swiss and Norwegian forebears.

Indeed, many rural communities across Canada today continue to be a composite of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, co-existing in various levels of co-operation and tension. It is also well established that these areas are often under valued and marginalized both in Canada and the United States, resulting in a range of social, cultural, and economic problems (Theobald & Herley, 2009). However, as Kassam et al. (2017) note, such areas are also great sources of local knowledge that contribute to the cognitive diversity of our contemporary societies. As such, they astutely suggest that:

Teachers and policy makers, rather than ignoring the contribution that the rural context provides, can instead maximize the benefit of location to enhance the richness of their curriculum at critical junctures in the education process. (p. 116)

Indeed, it is also important to note that other geographical regions, whether urban or remote, can also learn from rural peoples and vice-versa. Ensuring and promoting regular communication and consideration of locally grounded knowledge and ideas is therefore crucial for contemporary educators and policy makers interested in disrupting standardized curricula which favour uniform rather than locally-relevant learning.

As Kassam et al. (2017) demonstrate, one tool to highlight and link the contexts and knowledges found in disparate, but connected geographical regions is the consideration of locally relevant wicked problems such as those presented below.

The Smell of Money

From the summer of 2012 until the spring of 2013, I lived with my family in Prince George, a resource-based city in northern British Columbia, for the duration of the academic year. During this time, I had a wonderful experience ← 38 | 39 → as a faculty member at a small post-secondary institution with a strong focus on Indigenous and environmental studies. Unfortunately, a higher than normal sensitivity to Prince George’s air pollution that results from a combination of geography and a high concentration of resource-based industry resulted in me developing respiratory difficulties to the point that we decided to relocate at the end of the year.

Strategically located in central northern British Columbia, Prince George is well known across Canada as a hub of resource development and processing. Prominent industries include pulp, paper, and lumber processing, oil and gas refinement, and a brewery (BC Air Quality, 2009). Unfortunately, a majority of the associated processing plants are located near the centre of the city at the meeting of two river valleys, the Fraser and the Nechako, and surrounded on all sides by rising foothills that eventually transition into mountain ranges. All of this combines to create a ‘bowl’ effect that, when combined with regular cloud inversions, facilitates a perfect storm to trap air pollution in the city and surrounding area at levels exceeding provincial health standards (BC Air Quality, 2009; BC Lung Association, 2012). While some local residents refer to this as the ‘smell of money’, understandably recognizing their intimate dependence on these industries, such levels of air pollution do result in higher than normal rates of respiratory illness and associated mortality (Elliot & Copes, 2007, 2011).

The confluence of the Fraser and Nechako rivers also provided the inspiration for the name of the region’s Indigenous inhabitants, the Lheidli T’enneh, literally, ‘people of the two rivers’ (Krehbiel, 2004). The Lheidli T’enneh, a salmon people, were displaced from their original village strategically located at the confluence of the Fraser and the Nechako by early colonists, and resettled on less than ideal reserve lands on the northern and western fringes of the city. Like most Indigenous groups in British Columbia, no treaties were ever signed and as such, under international law, this land remains contested, unceded territory (Krehbiel, 2004). While the Lheidli T’enneh are a small group of approximately 300 members (Krehbiel, 2004), Prince George and the surrounding region has an Aboriginal population of approximately 20%, much higher than the average of 4–5% in other parts of the province (Northern Health, 2012). This strong Indigenous presence has a profound influence on the cultural landscape of the Prince George region. As such, I was fortunate during my relatively short stay there to connect with and learn from many Elders, youth, and other community members through educational and community events. ← 39 | 40 →

A Breath of Fresh Air

In the past, I took for granted my ability and privilege to head out, at almost any time, onto the Land for personal, recreational, familial, community, or educational purposes, sometimes combining several or all of these motivations at once. Having faced environmental issues that not only affected my physical health, but also impinged on my spiritual and emotional wellbeing as well as my ability to function as a Land-based educator, I no longer take such privileges for granted.

During our time in Prince George, in an ironic and hypocritical twist of fate considering my advocacy for locally-focused living and praxis (Lowan-Trudeau, 2015a) as often as logistically possible, my family and I would escape the city for the day, weekend, or week to gain a temporary reprieve. Sometimes this meant driving half an hour outside of town to spend the day at a nearby lake or cross-country ski area. At other times we would go further afield, venturing deeper into the mountains that surround the city in all directions. Such adventures exposed and emphasized for me the profound beauty of the more rural and remote areas of central and northern British Columbia.

However, at times, I also had the privilege to spend time on the Land with Elders and youth close to the city. As part of community outreach efforts, our institution routinely hosted land-based events in forested areas on campus along the western fringe of the city. I learned so much about the local landscape and culture during these short events and was constantly reminded of the centrality of Elders and other knowledge holders in the preservation and continuance of our cultures (Lowan2, 2009; Simpson, 2002).

Another dynamic that I noticed while living in Prince George and other northern and remote regions is that, while there are certainly less recreational ‘weekend warriors’ in these communities, more people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike regularly spend time on the Land engaging in what I would associate with more Indigenous activities such as hunting, fishing, and berry picking. As such, people in these communities often have a much keener understanding of and connection to the surrounding landscape when compared with urbanites, even those who might consider themselves environmentalists (Berry, 2009; Lowan, 2011).

These experiences further highlighted for me the division that exists here in Canada and in other nations around the world between those who profit ← 40 | 41 → the most at little personal, community, and environmental cost from resource development and those who often toil the hardest in abject social and environmental conditions, but gain the least. Calgary is not the only large Canadian city guilty of such imbalances; it would be unfair not to mention Vancouver as a centre of finance for forestry, mining, and oil and gas or Toronto’s profits from mining and forestry in northern Ontario. The list could go on nationally and internationally in contemporary and historical terms. For example, London, England is often recognized as a contemporary financial centre of oil and gas development, among other things, but most Canadians will also note its centrality in the early founding of our nation as the headquarters of fur-trade ventures such as the Hudson’s Bay Company (Raffan, 2008).

While retreat, escape, and weekend warrior-ship became a regular routine, at times I couldn’t resist becoming involved in local events and issues, actively speaking out in the hope of preserving the beautiful landscape of northern BC and promoting a cleaner future for the citizens of Prince George and the surrounding region.

Pipe Dreams

Shrouded in smog and forest fire smoke, Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens side by side, we marched slowly through central Prince George beating drums and waving flags, united in opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. This project, financed by Enbridge, a Calgary based firm, would transport heavy bitumen-laden oil over a thousand kilometres from Alberta’s oil sands across the Rocky and Coast Mountain ranges, a thousand salmon-bearing waterways, and extensive tracts of unceded Indigenous territory, to a terminal at Kitimat, a small coastal village, where it would be transferred to oil tankers bound for the winding and treacherous waters of Douglas Channel, Hecate Strait, and the Inside Passage before finally entering the Pacific Ocean proper (Boulton, 2013; Gunton & Broadbent, 2013; Harding, 2013).

I had only been in Prince George for a few weeks, but was strongly compelled to lend my voice to this cause. Having witnessed and experienced the beauty and fragility of northern British Columbia, the socio-ecological stress already present in Prince George and other resource based communities along the proposed pipeline route, and the statistical certainty of an eventual spill (Gunton & Broadbent, 2013), I did not hesitate to express my opposition to this project. ← 41 | 42 →

Gateway to Understanding

The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline garnered extensive media attention and fierce opposition in Canada. The pipeline would have carried heavy bitumen-laden oil from Alberta’s tar sands over one thousand kilometers across rural farming areas of Alberta, the Rocky Mountains and several other ranges, through rural and remote unceded Indigenous territories in northern British Columbia to a terminus on the Pacific coast at Kitimat (Harding, 2013). A joint panel convened by the Conservative federal government at the time approved Northern Gateway subject to 209 conditions after an extensive, but highly controversial, consultation process led by the National Energy Board (Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, 2014).

After its conditional approval, Northern Gateway largely faded from public scrutiny, however widespread opposition and lawsuits from Indigenous communities as well as support from environmental groups and Canadians from a variety of sociocultural and economic backgrounds persisted. Indeed, one of Enbridge’s lead negotiators eventually resigned amidst speculation that the project would never be brought to fruition (Prystupa, 2014). As anticipated, it was eventually halted by the National Energy Board under the guidance of the newly elected federal Liberals due to concerns regarding the potential for catastrophic environmental damage in the event of a spill (National Energy Board, 2017).

As described above, my first direct experience with Northern Gateway occurred in the summer of 2012 when I arrived in Prince George. Several of my colleagues and students had just participated in the National Energy Board’s hearings and were actively involved in letter writing, organizing protests, and other forms of advocacy and activism. The fall of 2012 also marked the beginning of Idle No More, a grassroots Indigenous movement across Canada that arose, amongst other ongoing issues, in response to federal Bills C-38 and 45 that contained drastic modifications to environmental regulations which infringed upon Indigenous and environmental rights (Kino-nda-niimi Collective, 2014).

As such, I was extensively involved that year in protests, teach-ins, and other advocacy related to Northern Gateway and Indigenous environmental issues across Canada. As Bud Hall, Darlene Clover, Jim Crowther, and Eurig Scandrett (2013) anticipate, I experienced extensive learning in this social movement setting and realized the potential benefits of such experiences for ← 42 | 43 → students. Motivated by these events, I sought out further insight and information through traditional academic formats and soon realized the pedagogical potential of involvement in such initiatives. As such, this quickly became the primary focus of my research program (Lowan-Trudeau, 2015b).

These experiences also inspired me to take a case-based approach to my teaching in the area of Indigenous environmental issues by integrating examination of current events into my courses. I continue to embrace such an approach in my pedagogical praxis, connecting students to contemporary events through experiential learning, guest speakers, and case-based examination of contemporary wicked problems such as pipeline expansion in North America.

Other educators at a variety of levels have embraced an experiential, case-based approach grounded in inquiry learning to critically consider pipeline expansion in North America. For example, seventh grade students at Calgary’s Connect Charter School completed an extensive integrated project on the Northern Gateway pipeline wherein they built physical and digital models of the pipeline, were tasked with evaluating the social, cultural, economic, and ecological risks and benefits for each geographical region traversed by the pipeline, heard from a range of stakeholders and presented their findings in a variety of public fora (Neil, 2014).

As demonstrated by this inspiring educational initiative, the case of the Northern Gateway pipeline provides an opportunity to consider urban, rural, and remote relationships as well as inter-Indigenous and Indigenous/non-Indigenous dynamics. I found it especially heartening to see a project of this kind happening in Calgary because, as described previously, many urbanites in Canada benefit greatly from natural resource development in northern, rural and remote locales, often populated primarily by Indigenous peoples. However, these same urbanites are commonly unaware at best, or woefully indifferent at worst, of the social, cultural, and ecological impacts of such developments (Lowan-Trudeau, 2015b).

From my perspective, this situation is representative of the tensions and disconnects discussed above; a southern resource firm wielding financial and political influence in the interest of its shareholders, northern residents and ecosystems be damned. I don’t mean to say that all southern city dwellers are rich, heartless, non-Indigenous people, nor do I wish to cast the image of all rural, remote, and Indigenous peoples in Canada or elsewhere as helpless pawns living close to the Land while struggling in deplorable social and environmental conditions, scratching a living from the local territory. Such a ← 43 | 44 → perspective would only play into the ‘danger of a single story’ (Adichie, 2009) and perpetuate untrue and incomplete stereotypes.

In fact, there are increasing examples of multilaterally beneficial natural resource and renewable energy projects across Canada in northern and Indigenous territories. For example, community managed forest, land management (Christensen, Krogman, & Parlee, 2010), and renewable energy (Ozog, 2012) initiatives developed through the collaboration of industry, government, academia, and Indigenous communities as described in Chapter Seven.

Keystone XL

The Keystone XL pipeline is another intriguing case to consider as it inherently includes inter-Indigenous alliances, Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations, and the interaction of rural and urban communities on both sides of the Canada-US border.

Trans Canada’s Keystone XL pipeline is essentially a short-cut for the existing Keystone pipeline that would provide faster, higher gauge delivery of tar sands oil from Hardisty, in central Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska that would then be sent on to a refinery in Cushing, Oklahoma, crossing several provincial and state boundaries and, of course, a national border along the way (Trans Canada, 2015).

Of particular concern, the proposed path of Keystone XL crosses the Ogalalla Aquifer (Trans Canada, 2015) as well as the traditional territory of several Indigenous communities and wide swathes of rural farmland on both sides of the border. As such, in a manner similar to Northern Gateway, widespread opposition to Keystone XL dominated media for some time and resulted in numerous instances of activism and ongoing advocacy in both Canada and the United States. It has also become a contentious political issue, especially at the federal level, in both nations. While Canadian party leaders were compelled to pledge or denounce their support for Keystone XL during election campaigns, President Obama exercised his veto power amidst great controversy to strike down a senate vote, which was only successful after several attempts, to approve the pipeline (Davenport, 2015). However, soon after taking office, President Trump reversed Obama’s veto with his own approval for Keystone XL (Labott & Diamond, 2017). As with other resource development projects in rural and remote regions, important decisions that directly impact Indigenous and rural peoples were made by political leaders in urban areas. ← 44 | 45 →

Prior to Obama’s veto, an interesting instance of activism occurred that brought together unlikely allies to march on Washington in order to have their voices heard. The Cowboys and Indians movement received widespread media coverage as an inspiring coalition of Indigenous and rural peoples from both Canada and the US occupied the Washington Mall (Reject and Protect, 2014) to voice their staunch opposition to the Keystone XL expansion. Such an alliance troubles stereotypical divides between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in rural areas and highlights a shared connection to and concern for the Land. It also provides intriguing pedagogical opportunities for educators interested in raising critical issues related to culture, politics, the environment, and geographical diversity.

Reflecting on the contrast of my experiences over the past several years, both positive and negative, and time spent in other urban, rural, and remote areas in Canada and elsewhere raised these issues in a distinctly visceral way for me. It also led me to further ponder the personal impact on educators and researchers of engaging with critical social and environmental issues through teaching and inquiry. I explore such considerations further in the following chapter in relation to my own experiences with dramatic shifts in political leadership both within my home province of Alberta and more generally across Canada and, in Part Two of this book through conversations with other educators and activists.


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1 Lightly edited and reformatted excerpts from the following publications are gratefully reproduced in this chapter with permission from the Copyright Clearance Centre’s Rightslink service:

Lowan-Trudeau, G. (2015). Pipe dreams: A tale of two cities. In M. Robertson, R. Lawrence, & G. Heath (Eds.), Experiencing the outdoors: Enhancing strategies for wellbeing (pp. 37–48). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. [Springer Nature]

Lowan-Trudeau, G. (2017). Gateway to understanding: Indigenous ecological activism and education in urban, rural, and remote contexts. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 12(1), 119–128. [Springer Nature]

2 I published under the last name ‘Lowan’ prior to 2012.