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Pipelines and poetics of place

Viewpoints: A new project breathes life into our relationship with nature in the era of heavy resource extraction.

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By Hendrik Beune


Most of us who speak up for social justice and stand up to protect the environment are getting a little tired of having to fight the same battles over and over. But there is a better way than protesting or signing petitions to change policy.

A new process brings stakeholders’ opposing viewpoints into play and resolves conflicts by showing genuine interest in the other person and creating a deeper understanding of the conflict. A project named “Pipelines and poetics of place” is being launched right here in Vancouver and has an important connection to the Downtown Eastside. It’s a series of workshops about our ecosystems and resource projects, ending in a documentary for all to see.

Confrontation is replaced by respectful evaluation from stakeholders representing different value systems. Not just the fiscal value of goods produced are evaluated, but also the value of intangible assets, such as a beautiful view, an undamaged stream, a tributary in the local watershed, providing clean drinking water, or fishing. Most people agree there is value in this.

Big projects, such as pipelines, can severely affect the environment; oil spills can have long-lasting destructive effects. When big oil or gas companies are determined to push a pipeline through, it's hard to stop them. The standoff at Standing Rock over the North Dakota Access Pipeline, for instance, drew support and admiration from far and wide. The protesters had a case, to protect a sacred cultural site that should not be tampered with. Many people supported the cause, but ultimately the engineers got their way: one recent headline read that oil will flow very soon.

Improving community connection
I attach a lot of importance to efforts by Indigenous groups to re-establish their rights to self-govern and return to the cultures that gave them pride and stability. Many of these people lived happy and healthy lifestyles before colonization, in harmony with nature. Seafood in particular was easily gathered and more plentiful than today.

Time was spent on community service, making tools, and art, or collaborating on great projects by working together.

The predominant global culture of today exploits people and extracts resources from under their feet, leaving a path of destruction behind it. Our planet and the survival of our species are threatened! How can we change this?

We can work toward improving our community, living an ethical lifestyle, and defend what we believe in. Sign petitions, lead by example, and say, “Thank you!” Small actions from many people combined can change the world and create justice for all. We just need to take it one step at a time. That’s what we're doing right now, despite all of the odds.

Can we take this one step further then? Yes, your life may become a bit easier from now on, and more fun too!

The project organizers believe that the 'powers that be' can be convinced to assign real value to intangibles such as functioning ecosystems, well-managed resources, preserved cultures and so on. We know that they do have value—indeed some have argued that intangibles have a greater sum-value than the cash value of harvested resources.

It’s easy to comprehend that a well-managed fishery would be worth more than the cash value of current stock.

Functioning ecosystems are essential for life and therefore invaluable. Realtors know the value of a view. More obscure intangibles such as sacred sites are simply indispensable. If reasonable people get together to entrench intangible values in law, we’ll have a much easier time talking about assessing their value.

Workshops seek a new way
“Poetics of place” describes the variety of reactions that occur in anticipation of a large-scale threat, such as the arrival on our coast of a new fuel-export pipeline. “Poetics” insist that all responses have meaning and should be part of process hearings.

This exciting project consists of a series of workshops to explore different themes. Workshops are scheduled for the last three days of April and they are, unfortunately, by invitation only.

Participants were selected to represent the widest variety of interests at stake and to demonstrate the different modes of expression in use. Storytelling is a traditional way to pass culture onto the next generation and ceremonial dances re-enact significant milestones. Modern stories are told in print or made visible through a documentary. Some may compose a song, others drum or dance. A play could be staged, from drama to parody.

Response from First Nations often bears out their environmental knowledge in which spirits and mythical beings also live.

During the workshops, we interact with each other in unfamiliar ways, thus we get to know and respect one another as we move together, which is “poetry of place”.

On the evening of the third day, Sunday April 30, the public is invited to attend between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m., at the SFU Woodward’s (131 West Hastings) Skyroom, on the 10th floor. Enter between London Drugs and Subway: someone will be there to welcome you between 6 and 6:30 pm.

The special objective is “to encourage input from some of the least advantaged residents [of the Downtown Eastside] whose knowledge and formidable networking capacity may sometimes be undervalued,” according to the project’s proposal. The program “will re-enact a review session enhanced with elements of Aboriginal ceremony and theatre to create an atmosphere of safety, welcoming, and inclusivity. A panel fluent in intangible, as well as measurable, values will then address issues that participants feel were excluded or under-represented.”

A group of 10 core leaders will meet again the following day to evaluate achievements and begin planning a continuation to achieve all goals and objectives in future years.

A documentary film will showcase all of the workshops—segments will be shown and filmed at SFU Woodward’s. You can be held out of shot if you wish. The completed documentary will be screened at a second public “Knowledge sharing event,” followed by a panel discussion at the Carnegie Theatre in August.


Hendrik Beune is a Vancouver-based Megaphone vendor. He can be found selling at special events such as social justice rallies and presentations, and at the BC Farmers Markets in season on Saturdays, Sundays, Wednesdays. Winter markets: Saturday 10-2 at Nat Bailey Stadium; Sunday 10-2 at Hastings Park (PNE) Summer markets: Saturday: 9-2 at Trout Lake; Sunday 10-2 at Kitsilano or Grandview market (alternating weekends); Wednesday 2-6 at Main St. Market at Thornton Park.

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