It’s not unusual to see yoga organizations and studios champion for a cause, raising funds with yoga marathons and endless rounds of sun salutations. The preferred causes in the yoga world tend to be related to food, animals, or women in developing countries, especially in connection with established global non-profit organizations.
The large Canadian-founded chain of hot yoga studios, Moksha and Modo Yoga, has taken a different approach for their annual fundraising campaign, “Speak Your Peace.“ This year, the international network of studios (which extends across North America and has started to dip into other continents) is supporting a grassroots campaign raising money for First Nations legal challenges to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project. All contributions to raised through donation-based yoga classes and community events will go to Pull Together, the latest campaign by RAVEN Trust, a non-profit charitable organization that provides financial resources to assist Aboriginal Nations within Canada.
From the beginning of August until the end of September, more than 60 Moksha (as the company is known in Canada) and Modo (as it’s known internationally) hot yoga studios across North America have set a goal to raise $65,000 for Pull Together. Campaign coordinators claim that all funds raised will go towards legal fees for seven First Nations – the Gitga’at, Gixaala, Haida, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’Xais, Nadleh Whut’en, and Nak’azdli – in northwest British Columbia who are courageously taking on Enbridge in court (details are in this legal backgrounder) starting in October. RAVEN works in relationship with the First Nations and is affiliated with the Sierra Club, an established and respected environmental organization.
This campaign follows Moksha’s successful 2014 campaign in British Columbia, when seven studios province-wide raised $40,000 for Pull Together through by-donation classes and individual fundraising. Lena Simmons, director of Moksha Yoga Victoria and passionate anti-pipeline activist, was one of the studio owners involved in that campaign. She presented the outcome of her work at this year’s annual general meeting, and there was so much supprt and interest in the Pull Together work that the studio network agreed to make it the focus of the 2015 Speak Your Peace campaign.
“There were some concerns,” Simmons said. “Studios in Calgary have many students who make their living in the oil industry. They were worried about offending and alientating their clientele. But everyone was able to voice their concerns and listen to each other. We worked through the questions as a community.”
Pulling Together for Change & Justice
Aside from the politics of protesting the oil industry, there were other concerns about the focus of the fundraising. Legal battles and communities in remote northern and western British Columbia may seem abstract to a global constellation of yoga practitioners. But the Moksha/Modo leadership didn’t think so.
“It might be difficult to see how somebody in Los Angeles, or Kentucky, or New York City would care about this. But we know that everything is interconnected,” said Simmons. “The oil that passes through these unceded territories comes from the tar sands in Alberta, and will be shipped down the west coast, to other countries. And we all use oil. This affects us all.”
It especially affects the wild lands the proposed pipelines interrupt and the northern Pacific waters that the ships full of oil will pass through. The legal battles that the First Nations are involved in have been going on for more than a decade (see a succinct history here). No treaties were ever drawn up for the lands that the proposed pipelines will pass through, which are now legally recognized as belonging to the First Nations people who have inhabited that land for centuries. Multinational oil corporation Enbridge, with support from the Canadian government, are going ahead with plans that are against the law, and nations are within their rights to challenge them.
“We don’t feel the federal government has fulfilled its duty to consult us as a nation,” Jess Housty of the Heiltsuk nation said in a media statement. “And we feel that their decision, in cabinet, was based on flawed and biased recommendations from the joint review panel… It’s a huge, scary battle, but I’m confident that we’re going to win, and I become more confident the bigger I realize that community of supporters is.”
When Values & Purpose Align
The Pull Together campaign is a tangible and realistic way that environmentally-concerned non-aboriginals can support the work. “We launched this campaign,” said Galen Armstrong of Sierra Club BC, “along with RAVEN, because we all stand to benefit from the First Nations court cases and it doesn’t seem right that they should have to stand alone.”
Map of BC & the seven First Nations involved in the court cases (via PullTogether.org)
It’s not surprising that Moksha/Modo would put their resources together to support first nations anti-pipeline resistance work – it aligns perfectly with the Moksha vision, seven pillars which encourage practitioners to “live green,” as well as “reach out” and value “community support.”
As Moksha Victoria states on their website, they aim to “stand in solidarity with those whose voices go unheard and help make history that future generations will be proud of.”
Moksha/Modo Yoga is a strong community with a commitment to karma yoga (the yoga of action) that is expressed through activism. But the leadership recognizes that pipeline resistance work is more than an environmental issue.
“The fact is that this is a human rights issue,” said Ted Grand in a statement on the Moksha website. “Pull Together is standing up and doing some kick-ass work to not only ensure that First Nations groups have proper legal representation, but that the culture, outlooks, and traditions of these people are given a voice in a world that is increasingly disposable and consumer-needs driven. This is a voice that we want to help give attention to.”
The Moksha/Modo voice rings loud and true, and their support for the project is good for everyone.
“It has enabled us to reach a large audience and networks that we wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise,” said Armstrong. “Moksha is moving the campaign forward in a huge way, by bringing the conversation into the yoga community, educating people about what is at stake and building solidarity with First Nations in a positive, unified way. Having the support of local business has helped demonstrate not only the strength but also the diversity of opposition to Enbridge in BC and beyond.”
Susan Smitten, Executive Director of RAVEN, agrees.“It is my hope that by working together we are also expanding the grassroots support for First Nations in BC and ultimately across Canada – because in these smaller, individual acts of generosity and compassion we’re growing a new network of people who understand that by pulling together, there’s no distance we can’t travel to achieve the goal of a better future for us all.”
While Moksha/Modo is in line with the financial goal of the campaign, see their work as twofold: to help raise awareness about the pipeline plan’s threats to the environment and inform practitioners about First Nations issues. Simmons affirms that in addition to the fundraising classes, studios are encouraged to connect with First Nations organizations and leaders in their communities. This education piece is essential to Pull Together.
“When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued their report last spring, the call was for all Canadians to educate themselves towards meaningful reconciliation with our past and present,” said Andrea Palfman, RAVEN Communications Coordinator. “Helping First Nations on the frontlines of resource development to assert their rights of self-determination is a growing edge of a new way forward in Canada, and the world: one in which the voices and perspectives of traditional peoples, who have lived for millennia on the land and developed laws and cultural practices in accordance with their stewardship responsibilities, are heard and respected.”
Pull Together started out as grassroots community-based fundraising events organized by British Columbians who were paying attention to First Nations court cases with the Canadian government, and wanted to contribute in some way. Fundraising for the legal expenses is concrete and effective. These events caught the attention of RAVEN Trust and Sierra Club BC, who have developed relationships with First Nations communities and work as allies, demonstrating solidarity as well as charity.
“I mean, we are a charity and we are acting within our niche as the only charity in Canada with a mandate to raise legal defence funds for First Nations that are protecting their land and way of life,” Susan Smitten from RAVEN explained. “That said, we also feel we are partners. To obtain justice in the courts for Canada’s First Nations in their struggle to protect rights and lands, native leaders, advocates and their legal teams almost always face overwhelming odds when going against the established interests of large corporations and the governments that support them.”
RAVEN Trust and Sierra Club hold the responsibility of developing the relationships and administering the funds raised, while partners like Moksha/Modo amplify the message and reach out to people who may not be familiar with First Nations’ struggles for environmental justice. Moksha/Modo is in a place of influencing and informing a large global community that values responsibility and social action.
How to support Moksha/Modo’s campaign for Pull Together: