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January 23, 2012

A Lawyer, the Beaver Lake Cree and the Tar Sands

I spent the weekend pretty much glued to my computer finishing a story I was working on for Canadian Lawyer Magazine. 

The first time I met this lawyer in person, I was at the Fall Fair last September with my camera in hand. I just happened to run into him and his wife. I had been doing some Tweeting and Facebook updates for the Harbour House Hotel which they just happen to own. 

When I spotted Jack Woodward and his wife Glenda at the Fall Fair, introduced myself, and asked if I could take his photo (for the hotel's FaceBook page) his reaction has to be one of the best reactions I've ever received from someone I had never met before.  He said in a really excited voice, Are you Gayle Mavor? He's about 6'6 inches tall and he proceeded to give me this huge bear hug. "I love you," he said referring not to me of course but to my then Twitter feeds on behalf of the hotel. He obviously liked the humour in them at that time.

His wife was standing right there and his greeting just seemed so spontaneous and open and child-like. Definitely not what you'd expect from a lawyer. I honestly can't recall a warmer greeting from someone I'd never met and really didn't know. I knew he was a lawyer in Victoria. He had something to do with Aboriginal Law. I knew he owned the hotel. That's it. 

After that meeting, sometimes I'd see him the hotel restaurant. Once I saw him out back in the beautiful organic garden that he and his wife were committed to developing. I saw him in his beekeeping suit, like a big Sasquatch all in crinkly white, delicately moving the bee boxes around  at the very back of the Harbour House organic garden which I would spend quite a bit of time wandering through taking photos for Facebook.

Then, just this past December he received a Queen's Counsel award which is mainly an honourary designation but only 7% of lawyers will ever receive that designation. Lightbulb went on. I thought, Hey, I could make some cash off of that lawyer. Now that's a switch!  I could pitch a story to Canadian Lawyer Magazine.  So I did on January 2. On January 3, I heard back from the editor. Yes. My timing was lucky. She was needing a profile for February. 

So, I began to research Jack's background and much to my surprise, it turns out, he's not just another lawyer,he's one of the founding fathers of aboriginal law in Canada. He started practicing aboriginal law in the late 1970s after graduating from the inaugural law class at the University of Victoria when aboriginal law was considered a fringe practice. He was involved in entrenching aboriginal rights into the Canaadian constitution. He had a hand in the Meares Island 1985 Injunction against logging that still stands. He's represented hundreds of cases using Constitutionally-entrench Treaty rights as arguments against environment and habitat destruction.  He's now using those rights to try and fight against Tar Sands expansion on behalf of a small Cree nation in Alberta called The Beaver Lake Cree Nation.  

And, as I learned more about him and what he's done and how he's using historical treaty rights that the Government of Canada and Alberta are disrespecting by their allowance of total exploitation of lands where the Cree traded thousands of kilometres of land and in return they were to receive $5.00 per head every year (an easy promise to keep, which has been kept) and more importantly the continued opportunity to meaningfully hunt and fish on their land via Treaty 6 which, because of the degradation of the land as a result of the Tar Sands, is no longer possible.
So, I'm writing this blog post, not about Jack Woodward really, but about the fact that if you're like me, before I interviewed him, I'd hear the word Tar Sands and it meant so little. It would be like images of sand dunes would appear in my head. It was Alberta's problem. Bad Albertans! That's how ignorant I was. But, then, I read what I read and I watched this video. And now, I'm totally shocked at my ignorance and I have been consumed by this issue and wondering what we are going to do as Canadians.

So, when you make the time, you must watch these two videos. One is Jack lecturing in a very clear, interesting and understandable manner about the aboriginal rights related to the Tar Sands and the other is a video called The Tipping Point that is 91 minutes long. 
They are both excellent and you must watch them. It's your duty as a Canadian to be informed about how we're destroying the planet, adding to climate change in a way that is completely irresponsible. Okay. Got that? Education. Right here. 

Please pass these videos on when you can.

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