Wild Lectionary: Justice by Annoyance

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Drawing by Elizabeth Mathers: Watch House Keeper Stacey Gallagher with medicine bundle before Judge Affleck

18th Sunday after Pentecost Proper 24(29)
Luke 18:1-8

By Caitlin Reilley Beck

I know another story about praying, persistence, not losing heart and an unjust judge. It is happening here, on Coast Salish territory, and it is still happening.
For many years now, work has been happening on Burnaby Mountain to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline in order to increase the amount of bitumen it can transport from the Tarsands in Alberta to the coast to be shipped out in tankers internationally. But this pipeline was built on stolen land – that is on unceded indigenous territory and without the free, prior, informed consent of all those nations whose lives and territory are affected by its presence. The expansion would be going through this same territory and has also failed, multiple times now, to meet the bar set by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of obtaining from all the indigenous nations their free, prior and informed consent for it to proceed. Free – that is not coerced or pressured in any way, but a decision made knowing there is another option available; prior – a decision made before plans are drawn up and trees are cut down and giant machines have begun work; and informed – given all the relevant information and an honest account of the impacts and intentions of those involved. This is the standard for consent which must be given and in the context of such an unbalanced relationship of power between indigenous and settler governments and peoples, the onus is on settlers to ensure this standard is met.

Instead, the federal government, the Alberta government and oil companies have sought to push the project forward. But they have met fierce resistance – both in repeated, successful court challenges by First Nations and grass roots, direct action led by indigenous people from across Turtle Island and others who have heeded their calls for support. This resistance is deeply rooted in prayer and the connections that exist between all parts of creation – human and more than human.

But this story also has an unjust judge. In March of 2018, BC Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck granted an injunction to Trans Mountain to prevent blockades and other forms of protesting which water protectors had been using in order to slow or stop work on the twinning of the pipeline.

Since then, over 200 people have been arrested for violating this injunction and seeking to stop work on the Trans Mountain Expansion. Many people involved in the resistance to TMX have taken part in repeated demonstrations, direct actions and prayer vigils. There is a constant, persistent presence on Burnaby Mountain in the form of Kwekwecnewtxw or the Watch House. It was built in 2018, by indigenous water protectors, just before the injunction came into effect, and is part of a Coast Salish tradition of Watch Houses. It is a structure from which they watch for enemies on their territory in an effort to protect their communities from danger. The TMX is connected to some of the deadliest threats to indigenous and non-indigenous communities – colonialism, resource extraction and climate change are all at play in this case. Once again, indigenous people are leading the resistance to threats that impact all of us – and for this reason, settlers must follow their lead.

This Watch House and those connected to it are constantly praying – singing songs, conducting ceremonies, providing hospitality, sitting in silence – all these things happen regularly at the Watch House. This is persistence embodied.

Many of the people who have been arrested on Burnaby Mountain resisting the pipeline expansion are my friends and many have gone before Judge Affleck for breaking the injunction he granted. As time goes on, punishments for violating the injunction are becoming increasingly harsh. They include serious fines, hours of community service and jail time.

This experience of persistent prayer and demanding justice has given me new insight into the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge. I used to find her annoying, in fact it sounded to me like she had basically annoyed this judge into giving her what she wanted and it didn’t sound like what I imagined justice to be. Since spending time on Burnaby Mountain, at the Watch House and previously at Camp Cloud, I have learned more about what kind of justice could have motivated the persistent widow in this Gospel reading. It turns out that being persistent and most likely also annoying to some – I imagine including Judge Affleck – is more than warranted at times when Justice demands it; when the answer to our prayers is a sense that we are called to act, to speak up and use our voices and bodies to protect what is vulnerable and valuable in this world.

Caitlin Reilley Beck is a fat, queer, genderqueer settler who lives on stolen Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-waututh land, but is originally from Ottawa in Algonquin territory. Caitlin’s ancestors are from all over Europe, but include French Huguenots, Polish Jews and Irish Catholics. Caitlin is currently the Camp Director for Queerest and Dearest, an intergenerational camp for LGBTQIA2S+ Christian people and their families.

Wild Lectionary, a weekly reflection on land, creation and environmental justice themes in the texts of the revised common lectionary, is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of​ Salal + Cedar​, Coast Salish Territories.

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