Emily Eaton is a professor of geography and environmental studies at the University of Regina. She’s also part of the Treaty Land Sharing Network, which its website describes as a group that “connects farmers and other landholders with First Nations and Métis people needing safe access to land to practice their way of life.”
Eaton is also one of six authors on a recently released book, The End of this World: Climate Justice in So-Called Canada. Eaton along with Angele Alook, David Gray-Donald, Joël Laforest, Crystal Lameman, and Bronwen Tucker, took almost two years to write the book, which is described as “a compelling roadmap to a livable future, where Indigenous sovereignty and climate justice go hand in hand.” Here’s a description from the Corporate Mapping Project:
The authors of the newly released book The End of This World: Climate Justice in So-Called Canada envision a near future where oil and gas stay in the ground; where a caring economy provides social supports for all; where wealth is redistributed from the bloated billionaire class; and where stolen land is rightfully reclaimed under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples.
According to Eaton, the title of the book comes from “the belief that we can bring a just new decolonial world into being,” and “references the experiences of Indigenous peoples who have survived many apocalypses and continue to carry on caring for each other and the earth.”
Eaton will be at a launch of the book on Thursday, July 13 at 6:30pm at Glitter Bean Cafe on Spring Garden Road. The launch is being hosted by the Nova Scotia office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), Corporate Mapping Project, and The Council of Canadians. Local community leaders Robin Tress and Michelle Paul will join Eaton be at the event.
The Halifax Examiner spoke with Eaton in advance of the Thursday’s event. Here’s our interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.
The Halifax Examiner (HE): How did the idea for the book come together?
Emily Eaton (EE): The reasons we wrote the book is because there’s been quite a number of really great books lately about climate justice in Canada, but they’ve been written mostly by white settlers, and have treated Indigenous rights and sovereignty as a bit of a separate topic or an afterthought in a single chapter.
What we wanted to do with this book is put forward a positive vision for the future but that also takes seriously and thinks through what putting Indigenous rights and sovereignty at the centre of that might look like. We had six authors, two of whom are Indigenous, and we really had to write the book collaboratively, so that perspective was central in every chapter.
HE: What did that collaboration look like with six authors?
EE: I think it was the hardest thing I’ve ever written, but we started working on it during the early days of the pandemic and we would meet every Friday for an hour and a half to two hours. We had to spend a lot of time at first getting to know each other. We interviewed each other about our own backgrounds and things we’ve been involved in. We worked out chapter outlines together and different people bottom-lined different chapters, but the writing was very collaborative. After the chapter outlines, we drafted and re-drafted collectively.
HE: The description of the book calls it a “compelling roadmap to a livable future.” Where does that roadmap start or are there several places where it starts?
EE: The short answer is, of course, there are several places. But again, the things we really wanted to do in this book that I think is different from others is to start with Indigenous sovereignty and rights. The two Indigenous authors on our team [Crystal Lameman and Angele Alook] are from Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 on the Prairies in Northern Alberta. So, it starts with looking at the treaties and what was promised to Indigenous nations and what Indigenous nations promised how they would enter into the relationship and how the Crown never wanted to honour those treaties from the beginning. But in a certain way [the treaties] are a framework for living well together.
We returned to that at the end of the book, too, thinking about how even though these treaties were never properly recognized and implemented, they are these aspirational agreements about how to live well together within Indigenous sovereignty and better relationships to creatures and things in the world.
HE: Tell me about some of the short and long-term strategies for social change that are mentioned in the book.
EE: We suggest one of the places that we’ve historically have had power and there’s infrastructure and the possibility to raise funds and promote democratic action is through unions. So, we talk about a renewed labour movement. We also talk about a series of things that’s often been called “land back.” How do we ensure Indigenous jurisdiction is recognized? And that would require Canada pulling back and not understanding its own jurisdiction as supreme.
One of the things we talk about is winnable and transformative fights, so we want to put our energy toward things that are winnable, but that are also transformative. So, does it materially increase the strength and size of Indigenous jurisdiction? Does the action reduce emissions? Does it improve conditions for working-class and marginalized people? Does it leave out groups that are most impacted? Does it undermine or take power away from the fossil fuel industry or corporations that are involved in that extractive industry?
We do talk about some of the areas that are building on some of the social movements. Defunding [the police], for example, [and] the institutions in our society that are really about punishment and carceral regimes. Putting money back into the things that support life. Building a caring economy. Using local goods. Taking infrastructure out of the private market and putting it into more democratic hands where we can have good jobs that are represented by labour unions, that kind of thing.
HE: What did you learn yourself during the couple of years working on the book?
EE: I learned so much. One of the interesting conversations we had numerous times when the group of authors was around were the terms and concepts of land back. One thing I learned a lot about was that, for example, Indigenous nations have never given up their land. They never ceded or surrendered their jurisdiction either. In a certain sense, land back or jurisdiction back is a misnomer, and what Canada really needs to do is to just recognize the land rights and jurisdiction that Indigenous people have. That really means getting out of the way less than the concept of returning [the land]. Land and the responsibility of taking care of the land, Indigenous people never considered it alienated in the first place.
HE: When people read this book, what do you and other other authors hope they get out of it, including what they should do?
EE: We’ve had a long period of environmentalism that has really focused on individual action. I think after 40 years of being told we just need to turn the lights out and take shorter showers, people are cognizant that obviously the world needs to change much more than that. In the book, we talk really about collective solutions. All of the authors have been involved as activists on the ground in movements themselves, and we talk a little bit about our experience in the movements, and how mobilizing collectively can help with the climate anxiety and grief that people are experiencing right now.
HE: Do you think this is a hopeful message in the book?
EE: Absolutely. We wanted to do two things in that regard. We wanted to present a compelling vision that will actually make people’s lives better because often the discourse around climate change action is about how we’ll have less and we can do with less. This book talks about how much more we could have. For example, free public transit and green infrastructure that are collectively consumed. We can have a lighter impact on the world, but also have better, fuller lives together.
Also, the last few chapters are focused on the nitty gritty of strategy and where best to put people’s efforts. I think because of the pandemic in the last few years, people have really felt disconnected from some of the movements, so thinking back to some of the issues we’ve won historically and how we won them and how to mobilize in the future. It does give people a pretty tangible resource.
HE: Now that the book is out and you’re out promoting it, what are your thoughts on the work you all put into it? And what’s the message you want readers to take from it?
EE: We wrote the book primarily in the first part of the pandemic and I think in those days … all senses of normal had broken down. I think that was a really interesting time to think through some of the ways we might reconvene and build a different world. To a certain extent, the last year or two has been kind of depressing in that regard because it seems like too many powerful actors are happy to have things pulled back in and to reproduce what was going on before. That moment when certain things were made to happen, relatively quickly, around the pandemic does show us in a certain sense what could happen if we did mobilize collectively. The book reflects that time period. It’s having good pickup across the country. People are really interested in the ideas presented there and people will find something a little bit unique in a climate justice book that centres Indigenous rights and sovereignty.
The launch of The End of this World: Climate Justice in So-Called Canada takes place at 6:30pm on Thursday, July 13 at Glitter Bean Cafe, 5896 Spring Garden Rd., Halifax. The event is free and no registration is required. Glitter Bean Cafe is wheelchair accessible.