Earlier this week, incoming Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett announced that the Liberal government intends to (finally) ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Canada was one of only four nations to vote against the declaration at the UN back in 2007.
Speaking to media earlier this week, Bennet was full of enthusiasm for the treaty:
“That means starting out right, such that everything has been considered before a decision is taken so that you can find that win-win of ‘you can develop there but not there,’” Bennett told media this week, when asked how her government would abide by the UN declaration.
Her conciliatory remarks build on a statement by her boss, Justin Trudeau, who said, “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples.”
And as the Star’s Joanna Smith notes, the move has more than symbolic consequences; it could have a serious impact on resource extraction in this country:
The Crown already has a constitutionally protected “duty to consult” with aboriginal peoples on issues that might affect their interests, but the UN declaration goes much further and calls on governments to obtain “free, prior and informed consent,” including when it comes to natural resources development…
How does a federal government implement those principles without risking a loss of control over its agenda? Bennett said achieving mutually beneficial results begins by having a conversation, and having it right away.
“There are many ways of achieving mutual results, but it begins with the conversation and it isn’t writing legislation and then saying, ‘You love it, don’t you?’ We are committed to sitting down early, at the earliest possible moment, on every single thing that will affect indigenous people in Canada,” said Bennett, who believes it is “hugely important” all parliamentarians, government departments, provinces, territories, mayors and municipalities understand this too.
All of which sounds fantastic. But it just so happens that there is an ongoing court case which touches on exactly these issues, and in which the Trudeau government has an opportunity to intervene and demonstrate that they’re not just making nice hopey-changey promises.
I’m referring to the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation’s challenge to Enbridge’s reversal of the Line 9 pipeline. (For details on the disaster waiting to happen that is Line 9, see my posts here and here.)
Anishnabek News brings us up to speed on their court challenge to the National Energy Board’s ruling that the reversal could proceed:
To date, the Federal Crown has provided no consultation on the proposed project despite the Chippewas’ asserting their Aboriginal and Treaty rights would be impacted. The Line 9B pipeline crosses the Thames River which runs through the Chippewas traditional territory and provides a source of drinking water to the First Nation.
Chippewas of the Thames Chief, Leslee White-eye, expressed her concern for her community, “under our own laws and teachings we have a responsibility to protect our traditional lands. It is our understanding that the Treaties we signed with the Crown, prior to confederation allow us to continue to have a say in how our lands are used. This latest decision from the Federal Court of Appeal creates uncertainty as to the Crown’s duty to consult with our people. Any process that effectively removes the Crown from fulfilling its duty to consult cannot be considered reconciliation.”
Now, what was it again that Bennet said about this? “We are committed to sitting down early, at the earliest possible moment, on every single thing that will affect indigenous people in Canada.” I’d say this one qualifies, wouldn’t you?
Chief White-eye sure thinks so. Speaking on November 2nd, just after the Federal Court of Appeals had ruled against the First Nation, she had this to say:
Chief White-eye has indicated that Chippewas of the Thames will be sending a letter to the Prime Minister Designate, Justin Trudeau, to intervene in this matter as soon as his government is appointed on November 4th. The Chief stated, “Justin Trudeau has promised to give priority and effect to the Crown First Nation relationship and treaty rights. He has also promised to promote reconciliation. He can start by instructing the Department of Justice to make sure the Crown has properly consulted with Chippewas of the Thames in this matter and in the meantime stay the NEB decision until such consultation has occurred.”
Just a few days ago, the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation announced that they will be appealing the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. If Prime Minister Trudeau and his new government are truly committed to not only upholding the duty to consult, but expanding it, as per the language of the UNDRIP, into a duty to obtain “free, informed, and prior consent” for projects which will impact First Nations, then this would be a fantastic place to start.
Trudeau should order the NEB to put the reversal of Line 9 on hold until this case has been concluded, and should immediately begin the long-overdue process of proper consultation with the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. His government’s approach to this issue will be an early indication of whether they are truly committed to real change on this file, or if they’re satisfied with lofty rhetoric and empty promises.