What is Dogwood Initiative? Answering that question is one of the challenges we face. We don’t “sound-bite” well.

When I was a volunteer I joined some lengthy discussions about how to get our message across succinctly. We eventually got it down to one paragraph.

It starts like this: “Dogwood Initiative helps British Columbians exercise local control to create healthy and prosperous communities.” Not bad, but how clear a picture can we get from a few words?

Our actions stand on the firm belief that communities by right may govern themselves and that democracy is dependent on an active and engaged citizenry. The trend seems to be for the locus of power and decision-making to move further from the communities in which most people live. Power is displaced: it circulates in a privileged realm, outside of real places where real people live and work.

In an era of ever-increasing globalization much of the power to make decisions rests with financial markets. How can local citizens engage the transnational, national and provincial decision-makers that decide the future of their communities?

That is the question Dogwood Initiative has set out to answer. Although 94% of BC is public land, logging, mining, and oil and gas interests control over 80% of it through long-term licences. Environmental deregulation, corporate consolidation, and tax policies that create incentives to replace people with machines have further eroded communities’ ability to decide their future.

Nevertheless, there are mechanisms that can put power back in the hands of local communities. Finding and using these mechanisms to create a sustainable future is what Dogwood is all about.

In Northern BC, we are working with First Nations that are intent on stopping seven oil and gas projects and associated tankers proposed for BC’s north coast. The legal clout of First Nations with land claims in the area and strong public opposition to lifting the 34-year-old moratorium on tankers in the Inside Passage are creating delays and financial risk for the likes of Enbridge’s Gateway pipeline. Dogwood is working to notify Enbridge’s investors of these risks. By doing so we can leverage the power of the financial markets to enable northern communities and First Nations to define their own future.

In the Bulkley Valley and other areas facing proposed coalbed methane developments, we are countering the government’s fast-tracking of coalbed methane by helping local citizens learn about the potential impact of coalbed methane extraction on their environment and lives. We are holding the Government’s farcical consultation process to account and making sure the voice of the local community is heard.

Province-wide, our efforts to understand why the present government pursues policies that prioritize short-term corporate gain over long-term community benefit has led us to produce a database of contributions to political parties and seek campaign finance reform. These efforts-as well as our work on community forests, the relationships we are building with the ethical investment community and the alliances we have helped create among First Nations. -are all geared at levelling the playing field and restoring power to local people.

These issues have motivated communities to organize and stand up for their rights. As they do so they are also entering into a larger debate about community control, climate change and national energy policies.

The story of Dogwood Initiative is the story of individuals and communities effecting positive change, not only locally but also in the global context. Tomorrow can be a better day. But it’s up to us to make it happen.