A grandma on the right side of history

It was supposed to be a quiet day in the garden, but a friend insisted that I get myself to an event at Jericho Beach called Toast the Coast, hosted by Greenpeace.  “It’s an event not to missed,” she said. “You need to be there.”  

So that’s what I did.

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I arrived with a stream of people converging onto the space, while a musical group played on the stage.  Many, I am sure, were attracted by the fact that Jane Fonda was a guest speaker. Apparently after reading Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, and hearing about pipelines and tankers here, Fonda phoned Greenpeace to see how she could help and was invited to the celebration.  

After a short while Fonda came on stage holding hands with Tyger, an 11 year-old activist who is rasing money to attend the UN climate meeting in Paris in November. With her arm around Tyger, she said, “I wanted her to come up with me because I needed a grandchild fix.” Looking trim as ever in her Greenpeace t-shirt, ‘Toast the Coast Before the Coast is Toast,’ and a straw cowboy hat, the 77-year-old grandmother launched into her talk with great passion acknowledging that she was on un-ceded Coast Salish Territory. 

Fonda said, “The West Coast has been a near-mythical place since the onset of the environmental movement. So I was very surprised to hear about the threats of tankers and pipelines. I’m here today because I believe at this moment – that we are standing at an existential crossroads: the issue has become extremely simple: it’s people versus oil. Life versus oil…” 

She said that everywhere she goes she sees the same thing -- people at the crossroads: companies like Shell seeking to plunder the world’s largest untapped oil reserve simply for profit, unchecked, and in fact with our governments’ blessings. She called this an abuse of power and abuse of our basic human rights, and put before us the idea of a world in which the future is honoured, and where it is understood that keeping oil reserves in the ground is critical to a liveable climate for our planet.

After her speech Fonda retired to a tent where many First Nations people were presented to her.  I checked with Jessica Wilson, who co-emceed with Ben West whether I could have a few words with Fonda for The Undercurrent. Jessica, who is the head of the Greenpeace Arctic Campaign, told me that she had recently moved to Bowen Island. She was also on the Greenpeace ship ‘My Esperanza,’ which recently carried indigenous people up the coast to Haida Gwaii, connecting with communities along the way.

I was ushered into the tent where I met Fonda and we exchanged a few words. I asked if I could take a picture and she graciously took off her dark glasses when requested and stood up to hold the Stop Shell sign. Later I saw her posing with many people, including some of the Raging Grannies. She also joined the audience to watch the many acts and speakers including 14-year-old indigenous peace activist singer/songwriter Ta’kaiya Blaney, who has been impressing people since she was nine.  

Impressed by the age range of speakers I recall the indigenous prophecy I heard some years ago: ‘When the grandmothers speak, the world will be changed.” I also think of the final sentence of Fonda’s speech. “I stand here with you today and against Shell, against Enbridge and Kinder Morgan, because 30 years from now, I want my grandchildren to look back and say, ‘Grandma was on the right side of history.’”  Jane Fonda has played many roles in her life as an actress, but the real life one as activist/grandmother is the most important now.

The grand finale of the event was when a nine-foot illuminated salmon designed by Roy Henry Vickers, was led down the beach by Fonda and Melina Laboucan-Massimo, from the Lubicon Cree Nation with Chief Ian Campbell, Hereditary Chief of the Squamish nation, offering a farewell ceremony of drumming and singing as it was cast off into the ocean, tied with our messages of hope for the future.

© Copyright Bowen Island Undercurrent

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