Considering her life’s pursuit as a cultivator of edible greens on a community-wide scale, Jeannie Parnell is matching the colour of that enterprise with her decision to run as a Green party candidate in the Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding in this federal election.
“I come from a family of nine, and my mom is a community gardener, we kind of grew up having to tend a garden,” said the Prince Rupert resident.
Her work in the field of community health has taken her through community gardening projects in Vancouver such as helping organize the Vancouver Native Health Intergenerational Garden Project, and as a community health consultant through her non-profit agency Salmon Berry, in Prince Rupert.
Parnell wasn’t planning on running for the Green party in this election and doesn’t like the connotation of the word politician to begin with. It was only through meeting Green party members at various functions in Prince Rupert that she was encouraged to become a candidate, despite not having done an apprenticeship in politics.
“I was coaxed into this; they asked me if I wanted to be the Green party candidate and I said ‘no, I am okay,’ but then they said ‘we really need to hear the voice of people, the indigenous population, and you know a lot about the land and the environment,’” she recalls.
Coaxed or not, Parnell is clear about her candidacy – she is not campaigning to be elected.
She says she supports NDP incumbent Nathan Cullen and wants her own candidacy to become an encouragement to get more Aboriginal people to vote.
“I do support some of his platforms,” she said of Cullen.
As for the chances of unseating Cullen, Parnell said it is never going to happen.
“He has won over the hearts and minds of the whole Bulkley Valley and I am fine with that,” she said. “The reason I came into the race, is to get more indigenous people involved in the whole electoral system, to see me as an aboriginal woman running in the federal election, the younger generation will see a role model.”
Parnell is from the Fraser Lake area and is a member of the Stellaten First Nation.
She has lived in Vancouver and Toronto and has studied art history in England and France. In Vancouver, Parnell said she saw the effects of large companies buying land in lower income areas, thus raising property values and displacing poorer people.
“Industry is not vital. I don’t agree with the big monster of the capitalism hand because I think it promotes greed and it promotes wastefulness, cutting services in order to grow productivity,” she said.
As for how she sees the role of the politician, it is more about listening as opposed to commanding.
“What is a politician, you know? They are bringing the voice of the people out, the grassroots people.” Parnell says the Green party wants to listen to the people before deciding what its policy is with regards to the export of liquefied natural gas drawn from large-scale fracking operations in northeastern B.C., but she said that overall, any major development could only be negative to the northwest.
As for the blockade by the Wet’suwet’en Unist’ot’en near Houston which is preventing pipeline companies from doing work on the First Nation’s asserted traditional territory, Parnell believes in the title rights of the group and that proper consultation never happened.
“I believe we live in a democratic country and people have a right to exercise their own opinion, and if that’s how they want to do it, then I am okay with that. If that’s what gets the gas companies to the table, then that’s what it’s going to take,” she said of the Unist’ot’en.
Parnell also noted other Wet’suwet’en groups support LNG development.