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Alternatives: Environmental and Indigenous Activism in the 1970s

Thu, April 11, 8:30 to 10:00am, Hyatt Regency Columbus, Champaign


Alternatives was founded in 1971 as an environmentalist magazine that aimed to transform scholarly research into community activism. Initially based at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Alternatives grew out of the Peterborough affiliate of the Toronto-based environmentalist organization Pollution Probe and has always served to bridge academic and activist communities. Although taking an international perspective and featuring many contributors from the United States, Alternatives was a Canadian (and to a certain extent a very central Canadian) publication. The magazine thus offers an essential window into Canada’s environmental movement as it has evolved from the 1970s to the present.
This presentation examines the first decade of the magazine (1971-1981) in detail, with specific attention to Indigenous issues and perspectives, to better understand the intersection of Indigenous and mainstream environmentalism in this crucial decade. In Canada, Indigenous political struggles were indivisible from some of the most important environmental issues of the era: from the massive hydroelectric development on James Bay in northern Quebec to the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Project and inquiry; from mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows to toxic contamination from the Saint Lawrence Seaway project, Indigenous communities and their political struggles for autonomy and control were at the centre of each of these issues. So how did the mainstream environmentalist community, which was predominantly non-Indigenous in this period, engage with Indigenous perspectives? How did they represent Indigenous political struggles as part of environmentalist mobilization? Did Indigenous peoples contribute to Alternatives? What did they have to say? This presentation offers necessary insight into scope and limits to engagement between environmental and Indigenous activists in this early period of Canada’s modern environmentalist movement.