First Nations and the Environment – March 2011- Some Notes

Posted on March 22, 2011

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I don’t speak for all Aboriginal people, of course[1], but I think that one of the reasons you see First Nations commissioning so many lawyers to their side, insisting on constitutional rights of consultation when rights and lives are affected, insisting on binding legal protections, etc., is because Aboriginal people are not otherwise heard.  They have no choice but get tough and technical and legally snarky.

Or otherwise inconvenient.

Other sectors of the Canadian public can get things done and things blocked through the force of public opinion.  But Aboriginal opinion has been ethnicized in the Canadian mindset.  Aboriginal opinion is always just Aboriginal opinion—even when we’re talking about human lives and a shared planet—and it is never permitted to rise to the level of public opinion. That kind of public opinion which, say, prevents people and the planet from being stomped on.

So if they are building another dam to flood the town, for Aboriginal communities its either picket signs, roadblocks or lawyers, alas.

As some have always done, Aboriginal communities continue to be strongly involved in environmental issues in British Columbia and nationwide.  Here is a very small sample of recent news.

The Inuit & the Lower Churchill. Nalcor, the Quebec crown energy corporation, wants to begin a hydroelectric megaproject on the lower Churchill River.  The NunatuKavut Community Council, a group which represents about 6,500 people descended from the Inuit of southern Labrador, says that under the law the Quebec government corporation has to consult with and pay proper compensation to them first.  Justice Richard LeBlanc of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador who is hearing the case said to Nalcor, “This is a serious matter.”

See

Aboriginal objections to Labrador project are serious: judge – Winnipeg Free Press

Court begins hearing arguments into aboriginal objection to Lower Churchill – The Tyee

Treaty 8: Fracking behind closed doors. In the northeast part of British Columbia, the Treaty 8 area, the West Moberly First Nation recently discovered that a letter of intent signed between them and the B.C. government was in fact being systematically violated by a cozy backroom deal between government bureaucrats and some fracking fossil fuel companies in Alberta.

You’ve heard of fracking, where you pump fresh water into the ground to shatter the shale and let the natural gas out.  It takes a lot of water.  It’s an environmentally dubious process–and the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland.

And the negotiations to sell the fresh water has been up to now carried on behind closed doors outside of the hearing of the public or the First Nations whose territories may be endangered by the fracking.  Only the government and the fossil fuel companies were invited.

See

Our Water Secretly Sucked Away by Shale Gas Industry – The Tyee

Letter of Intent, November 2004, between First Nations and BC Government about oil and gas development

Treaty 8 and the Site C Dam.  When the gigantic W.A.C. Bennett Dam was constructed in the mid-1960s, many of the Aboriginal people living in the area were displaced from their territories and from their traditional lifestyles, many ending up dead and destroyed in the skid roads of Prince George or Vancouver, with ruined communities left behind them.  Now the provincial government wants to continue the story with the Site C dam, something that it has been itching to do for some time.  (See Hugh Brody, Maps and Dreams, 1981, which is all in relation to the Site C project.)

Certain Treaty 8 First Nations have issued a statement and petition concerning Site C which I reproduced earlier here.

The Tsilhqot’in, the Open Pit and the New Premier. Then there is the reaction of the Tsilhqot’in National Government about the reactivation of a enviro-nightmare, a gigantic open pit gold and copper mine in unceded Tsilhqot’in territory—they scoff at it.  And then there is the attitude of new (unelected) British Columbia Premier Christy Clark—she’s for it.  Despite the fact that it already failed to be approved under federal environmental laws.

See

Prosperity revision attracts reaction – Williams Lake Tribune

Christy Clark presses Harper over rejected mine proposal – globe & mail


[1] If you’d like me to do so, however, just drop me a note.  Father Theo will for a reasonable fee take over all your opinion-forming functions and tell you what you think from here on in.