First Nations preparing to protect traditional lands and waters against another capitalist corporation


First Nations prepare for fight against Energy East pipeline

First Nations activists are turning their attention to TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Energy East project, vowing to mount the same kind of public opposition that threatens the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States and Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway in British Columbia.

Some 70 First Nations leaders met in Winnipeg recently to plan a strategy they hope will block TransCanada's ambitious plan to ship more than 1 million barrels a day of crude from Western Canada to refiners and export terminals in the East, despite widespread political support for the $12-billion project.


  • OIL AND GAS -Controversy surrounds Energy East pipeline

TransCanada has been holding consultations with communities across the country, including some 155 First Nations, to inform them of the Energy East project and seek their support. The company has hired Phil Fontaine, former chief of the Assembly of First Nations, to represent it in meetings. But one leading activist says the company has a tough sell.

"In this era of the Harper Conservative government, there is dramatic pressure that has been placed on the shoulders of First Nations peoples, with our constitutionally protected rights, to defend Canada's air, water and earth from the agenda of Big Oil and other extractive industries like the mining sector and the forestry sector," Clayton Thomas-Muller, a Manitoba Cree who helped organize the Winnipeg session, said in an interview.

"And so it will be First Nations' interventions and the assertion of aboriginal and treaty rights that is going to stop the plan to build this 4,000-kilometre pipeline."

Mr. Thomas-Muller works with the Polaris Institute, a left-leaning think tank in Ottawa, and is a spokesman for the Idle No More movement, which has built alliances with environmental groups across the country to oppose resource developments, particularly oil sands pipelines. A loose coalition of groups is launching a campaign on Tuesday to build opposition to the Energy East line.

TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling said last week he expects Energy East to face a relatively easy ride through the regulatory process, compared with Keystone XL, which is stalled by the Obama administration in the United States. TransCanada expects to submit an application to Canada's National Energy Board by the end of the summer.

"We don't see any reason we wouldn't get our regulatory approvals," Mr. Girling told The Globe and Mail's editorial board. "We don't think [the review process] can be hijacked by environmental activists."

Mr. Thomas-Muller criticized Mr. Fontaine - whom he described as a "living hero" - for representing TransCanada; he said the former national leader has let his business affiliations impair his judgment.

Mr. Fontaine said he fully supports the right of First Nations communities to reject resource projects on their traditional territories, but said the decisions must be based on facts.

"The right to say 'No' also includes the right to say 'Yes,'" Mr. Fontaine said. "These very important decisions should be left to the communities."

Enbridge also faces fierce opposition from aboriginal communities to its Northern Gateway project, which would transport 525,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen to Kitimat, B.C., to be loaded onto supertankers for export to Asia. The federal government is expected to approve Northern Gateway next month, but First Nations leaders have vowed to challenge any approval in court, and have warned of direct action if legal routes were to fail.

Environmental groups are also gearing up to battle TransCanada on Energy East. Several groups have asked the Superior Court of Quebec to issue an injunction stopping TransCanada from doing construction-related drilling around Caouna, a town on the St. Lawrence River where the company plans to build an export terminal. The environmentalists say TransCanada's project threatens beluga whales that calve in the area.




Government failing in constitutional duty to consult First Nations when development affects their land, says UN report

May 12, 2014 by Renee Lewis

Canada's government should not proceed with mega-pipeline projects unless it gets the consent of First Nations peoples whose land could be affected by such development, a United Nations report released Monday said.

James Anaya, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said in the report that Canadian Prime Minister Stephan Harper's government has failed in its duty to consult and accommodate indigenous peoples before developing natural resource programs - including the controversial Alberta tar sands project.

This "leads to an atmosphere of contentiousness and mistrust," Anaya said.

The special rapporteur listed two tar sands pipeline projects - Enbridge's Northern Gateway from Alberta to the British Columbia coast and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain - at the top of a list of development projects from which aboriginal leaders said they had been largely excluded.

The special rapporteur said that during his fact-finding mission last year he "repeatedly heard from aboriginal leaders that they are not opposed to development in their lands generally and go to great lengths to participate in such consultation processes as are available, but that these are generally inadequate ... and usually take place at a stage when project proposals have already been developed."

This "creates an unnecessarily adversarial framework of opposing interests, rather than facilitating the common creation of mutually beneficial development," Anaya said.

Thumbnail image for UN says Canada in crisis over treatment of aboriginals

UN says Canada in crisis over treatment of aboriginals

Special rapporteur on indigenous issues says 1.4 million people suffer from 'well-being gap'

The Athabasca tar sands project in Alberta province was listed as a development that indigenous peoples said they feel poses great risks to their communities, and about which they feel their concerns have not been heard or addressed.

The Athabasca First Nation told Anaya that the tar sands project is contaminating waters used by the downstream band. A December 2013 report said scientists found a more than 7,300-square-mile ring of land and water contaminated by mercury surrounding the project.

While indigenous peoples have much to potentially gain from resource development in their territories, they also face the highest risks to their health, economy and cultural identity in the case of environmental degradation, the report said.

It said that Canada's 1982 constitution was one of world's first to enshrine indigenous peoples' rights, as it contained provisions to protect aboriginal title and treaty rights, as well as culturally important activities.

Numerous Supreme Court cases have affirmed First Nations rights to fishing, hunting and accessing their lands for cultural and economic purposes. Any development projects that could affect their ability to use the land for those reasons would require meaningful dialogue.

But many indigenous leaders told Anaya they felt they were not being adequately consulted about projects that could impact their ability to live off the land.

This has resulted in a "strained" relationship between the federal government and indigenous peoples, the rapporteur said.

Some Canadian indigenous people have also attempted to assert their treaty rights through a nationwide protest movement called Idle No More.

"It is difficult to reconcile Canada's well-developed legal framework and general prosperity with the human rights problems faced by indigenous peoples in Canada that have reached crisis proportions in many respects," Anaya said in the report.