On a cold, snowy Wednesday in Montreal, Marlene Hale finds herself huddled outside with two dozen activists who are hoping to get a word in with Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna who was in the city to make an announcement.
“What is she doing to protect the environment as a minister?” said Hale when asked what she was going to put to McKenna.
“I would like for her to really, really take a second look at many things, not just oil and gas but the coal that is going into Telkwa region B.C. north.”
Hale wasn’t always politically active.
She’s a chef by trade.
But that all changed earlier this month when the RCMP raided an anti-pipeline camp on the Wet’suwet’en woman’s territory.
“I was just innocently making bannock, and serving it,” said Hale of January 7 – the day 14 people were arrested at the Gidimt’en camp in British Columbia. “and all of a sudden the world just changes on a dime.”
Having spent the last seven years living in Montreal, Hale felt compelled to contribute to the anti-pipeline struggle back home even though she lives thousands of kilometres away.
So she’s taken it upon herself to chase after the upper echelons of the federal government.
Hale has already had success speaking to high level government officials.
Hale was able to ask questions on behalf of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to Justin Trudeau at a recent town hall in Saint-Hyacinthe QC last Friday.
“I was nervous,” said Hale. “I was the second to last question, I didn’t know if I was going to get picked to ask it.”
When her opportunity arrived, Hale pressed Trudeau on what she called a flawed consultation process with her people.
“The Wet’suwet’en have demonstrated in the Supreme Court over and over again that the hereditary chiefs are the decision makers on our land,” Hale asked Trudeau “Yet you tout the agreements with the federal band councils as a victory for this enormous project.”
Trudeau’s response agreed that the consultation process needs to be improved.
“We need to support you in the creation of a process that will bring those voices together in a unified process so that we can seek consent for energy projects,” replied Trudeau “What we’ve seen this past week is the fact that the processes we have right now are not yet the right processes.”
Hale says she appreciates the way Trudeau took the time to respectfully answer her questions, although she thinks that he fails to understand that in the opinion of many Wet’suwet’en, it’s only the consent of the hereditary chiefs that matter.
As for McKenna, Hale didn’t get a chance to speak with the minister personally, but one of the activists she is working with will attempt to read a statement on her behalf.
“Suddenly everybody knows that I’m the only Wet’suwet’en in Quebec, but that’s okay, I’m just here to spread the message, to spread the word, spread my culture and my people and the fight we have ahead of us.”
Hale isn’t sure what the next move will be, but she’s not intending to stop until the pipeline issue on her territory is over. Even if it means putting bannock baking on hold.