Truth-Fullness – A letter from New Brunswick’s future #6

Written by Ajay Parasram on July 12, 2019

Paul’s Cove near Chebucto Head. Formerly Duncan’s Cove, the Cove was renamed to honour the Mik’maw historian Dan Paul in 2028. Photo by Ajay Parasram.

July 12, 2030 (K’jipuktuk [Halifax], Mi’kma’ki)

My Dear Friends,

Gautam Buddha once said, “three things cannot long be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” But if you were a fan of truth in 2019, you could be forgiven for thinking the old sage got the last bit wrong.

It wasn’t just the overt lies of the then-ruling American president Donald Trump, or the silencing of scientists by federal and provincial Conservative governments in Canada years earlier, or even the technocratic deceitfulness of Canada’s bhangra-loving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over things like electoral reform and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. No, lies of that sort are the vocation of politicians and we’re not rid of them in 2030.

What scared us in 2019 was that society seemed unbothered by the armed neo-nazis getting police escorts at Pride parades, the white nationalist scholars supervising doctoral candidates at public universities, and the white-chauvinist goon-gangs like the “Proud Boys” and “Soldiers of Odin” who felt morally compelled to occupy public space with symbols of white supremacy—the Red Ensign and the Rhodesian flag. What’s worse is that it was all happening amidst an accelerating climate emergency that Canadians, with one of the highest per capita carbon footprints on the planet, seemed reluctant to act on.

Although things seemed bleak for those of us interested in evidence, history, and the truth, old Buddha may have known what he was talking, after all.

When the Liberal party imploded in the 2019 election, the genocide-denying leader of the federal Conservative Party forged an alliance with the anti-migrant far-right People’s Party of Canada, which outnumbered the coalition between the Greens and the NDP that first tried to form government. Together, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and PPC leader Maxime Bernier set about building pipelines, hardening the border, and trampling all over the rights of Indigenous peoples and minority groups.

The next year, Donald Trump was handed a second mandate from America’s equally broken electoral system—the white nationalists north and south of the 49th parallel felt secure in the continent’s leadership. They left YouTube to take up an increasingly public stance with their historical fictions.

The first stand-off came in Mi’kma’ki, at the site of the Treaty Truckhouse in Nova Scotia built by grassroots Mi’kmaq people to assert sovereignty and promote meaningful discussion across cultures on questions of development in the Maritime region. Following through on his promise to build a national energy corridor inspired by the violent colonial railway, the Scheer/Bernier government crushed environmental and Indigenous resistance by pre-emptively mobilizing the Canadian Armed Forces to destroy the Treaty Truckhouse in 2021, which they saw as an obstacle to their carbon-centric development.

The white nationalists were jubilant, waving Canadian flags, celebrating in the streets about how they had taken back ‘their’ country, and singing the national anthem like packs of drunken hyenas.

It was too much, even for most of the people who had delivered Scheer and Bernier their mandate.

Indigenous peoples, African-Nova Scotians, settlers, and migrants of all sorts descended upon the site of the Treaty Truckhouse, and held a massive rally that was live-streamed across New Brunswick and all of Turtle Island. Hearing the words of the grassroots grandmothers and with the knowledge that Mother Earth was just a few short years from catastrophic climate disaster, the workers who had been contracted to build Scheer’s pipeline highway had enough, and walked off the job!

After generations of being an internally displaced workforce, the pipeline workers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia led walk-outs that left their bosses dumbfounded across the country. Big business and big unions were unprepared, and the corporate media—which had never covered grassroots politics and movements—had no idea who to blame, aside from their tired script of “foreign interests,” “billionaire socialists,” and “post-modern neo-marxists.”

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, ordinary people began setting up safe conversation rooms in libraries, campuses, pubs, churches, masjids, temples, gurdwaras, and synagogues. The invitation was simple: come, talk the truth, ask questions that need answers, and understand why structural white supremacy, capitalism, and colonialism hurt us all.

What unfolded was a beautiful and organic revolution that arose out of an unbroken five-hundred year history of anti-colonial politics and a deep desire of people who had been rendered powerless by broken political and economic systems to seek refuge in the one thing that never betrayed them: the truth. Not the kind of truth that led to “alternative facts” or defensive deflections or racially fragile denial, but the kind of compassionate truth-seeking that could only come about from a genuine desire to gain knowledge through introspection and attention to diverse histories. To talk truth was to commit to a process of shared learning among equals.

The bosses doubled the wages. Nothing. They tripled them. Nothing. They grew desperate in their attempt to convince working people to put their shovels back in the ground. Some people went, but not enough to get the pipelines back on track.

Settlers who had historically felt fragile in activist spaces began to turn up in earnest to those safe conversation rooms. People asked questions, shared food, and made connections. No one shouted anyone down for being ignorant, because people came to learn and not to fight for the sake of fighting. There were conversations about colonialism and the gender spectrum and why the idea of “self-interest” is a culturally relative value rather than one that is universally true across all cultures. Through these conversations, we learned that we already had the means to address catastrophic climate change, and organized to force the hand of governments through direct actions and mass movements.

It was these spaces for conversation, sharing, and learning that sowed the seeds that would ultimately crack the foundation of the neoliberal university system and transform the notion of ‘higher learning,’ forever.

Meanwhile, the white nationalists were outraged, and they turned their outrage on artists, activists, scholars and all the rest who they accused of lying about the past to trick white people into hating themselves.

But hate had no place in those conversation rooms, which were guided by an acceptance that the past and the future were out of our hands, and it was only in the present that actions count.

Like a raging fire deprived of oxygen, the white nationalists found that their audience was tired of being lied to and that people were motivated to save the world.

We never fully resolved racism, of course. But, the rejuvenation of truth and compassion helped people to understand the solidarity they had not only with one another but also with the Earth itself. This was an essential lesson, which helped us prepare mentally and materially for the waves of climate refugees arriving in the last decade.

It was a place-based solidarity and grounded ethics, which was not new. Societies all around the world have long possessed deep knowledge of place, before the many colonial encounters sought to shovel that knowledge into the steam engine of endless accumulation and development.

In a world struggling to overcome the deep scars of greed, we are all still learning to live truth-fully, with proper respect for the land that sustains us. Despite the challenges we face, there is something beautiful in sharing a world that recognizes the value of truthfulness and views compassion, not competition, as the essence of human nature.

In solidarity,

Ajay Parasram

Ajay Parasram is an Assistant Professor in the Department of International Development Studies and the Department of History at Dalhousie University.

In the optimistic spirit of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Message from the Future, this letter is a speculative and fictional look back from the future to imagine what New Brunswick could be like if we could meet our climate change obligations. It is fiction, but it need not stay fiction. Each letter offers a vision of what New Brunswick could be like in the future if the province is able to fight climate change and to achieve the IPCC climate goals.

Read the other Letters from New Brunswick’s Future here.

This series is sponsored by RAVEN, and edited by Daniel Tubb and Abram Lutes. Daniel is an environmental anthropologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and a co-investigator with RAVEN. Abram Lutes is an environmental action reporter with the RAVEN project Summer Institute and a member of the NB Media Co-op Board of Directors. If you would like to contribute your own letter, read the Call for Letters from New Brunswick’s Future and send a short outline of your idea to Daniel Tubb at dtubb@unb.ca and Abram Lutes at abram.lutes@gmail.com.

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