COLUMN: Ed Olfert — Jan. 23, 2014

Ed Olfert
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I’ve been intrigued and amused by the indignation and self righteousness surrounding the recent “Honour The Treaties” tour by rocker Neil Young.

Several years ago, I read Young’s book, “Waging Heavy Peace.” I suspect that its ramblings were not disconnected from his years of heavy dope usage, and it felt like Young was holding his life out to the world and asking the introspective question, “Is this enough? Has my life been important enough?” Much of the book was then given to convincing us that it was, indeed, an important existence. It felt a little sad.

These days, when I see Young in interviews promoting his latest “Honour The Treaties” tour, cheeky, sarcastic, overblown, I glimpse again the rebel that I’ve always sensed, the rebel that I’ve always admired. The music is icing on the cake.

I grew up in a family culture (as I think I’ve pointed out here before) that “over spoke” a fair bit. We called it “BS’ing, which is quite different from lying. You “BS” to make a strong point, to grab people’s attention, to top up a good yarn, to give a message of where you’re at emotionally, to hold up one argument, or to tear down another, to build yourself up, to pull someone else down. These were/are all legitimate reasons for employing BS. We all “over speak” in most, if not all, of these ways.

Enter Neil Young into the oilsands conversation. Except that we haven’t had that much of a conversation, have we? We’ve mostly followed the lead of our industry driven political leaders, have seen the money and jobs and opportunities and hoped that would be enough, while we winced at the environmental cost. Isn’t it about our turn? The potential on the Saskatchewan portion of the oilsands is alluded to, and that brings opportunities right to our front door.

Meanwhile, a niggling reminder nudges me on occasion, that it seems to be OK, even encouraged, to wax outrage at, say, destruction of South American rain forests, but here, serious environmental critiques of our own projects are indignantly shouted down.

I’ll acknowledge Neil Young’s admittedly sometimes outrageous comments on oilsand realities. After all, proponents of that activity have made equally outrageous statements on the other side. And in both opinions, the outrageous, under closer examination, sometimes contain startling glimpses of truth, and the opposite as well.

The aspect that I certainly haven’t given serious enough consideration is the “Honouring The Treaties” theme. I acknowledge that I and all of you are treaty people. That ties us to ways of seeing and ways of being to which we’ve given far too little consideration. The treaties are about me as much as they are about First Nations folks, how we will live together, how we will share this space together in good and respectful ways. And, if, as the delegation from the Athabasca Chipewyan are claiming, the treaties have been ignored, land encroached, lifestyles forcibly changed, cancer rates spiraling, what response does that call for from me?

I don’t know any of those answers. But Neil Young, with his verbiage and bombast and celebrity power, offers us an opportunity to think through those matters again, something I haven’t done enough. Let’s not shut down that opportunity with a wall of shouting and self-righteousness.

A Sunday morning conversation with friends centered on “holding creative tension.” Author Richard Rohr suggests that Christians understand poorly how to be in the paradox of living in both law and freedom. I’ll suggest that paradox has applications to our thinking about many (all?) major issues, including oilsands development.

When there are two strongly voiced and opposing opinions, we assume that integrity calls us to choose one side or the other, and then we muster all of our passion to poopoo the other view. Unfortunately, listening, thinking, and life sustaining decisions are the casualties.

All important issues are more complex than that. Can we live with paradox?

If we are, as this column has long suggested, created in the image of a perfect Being, how will we recognize that Being speaking to us, often in a cacophony of opposing voices, inviting us closer to that perfection, a perfection shared by all? Can we hold that in “creative tension?”


Organizations: First Nations

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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