Tag Archives: First Nations

Site C land defenders face injunction in battle to stop dangerous dam project

Image: A sign reading "Keep the Peace" with the words "Site C Dam" in a circle with a line through it is staked into the ground overlooking a river valley. (Image credit: Wayne Sawchuck/The Green Pages)

Image: A sign reading “Keep the Peace” (with the words “Site C Dam” written in a read circle with a line through it) is attached to a birch tree on an embankment overlooking a river valley. (Image credit: Wayne Sawchuck/The Green Pages)

For the past several weeks, a group of land defenders has been occupying territory in the Peace River Valley on which the government of British Columbia intends to build a massive hydroelectric dam, known as Site C.

Though their presence has been an impediment to work essential to the dam’s construction, the protesters were, up until recently, begrudgingly tolerated by the authorities.

However, on January 20, despite B.C. Hydro’s statements that they were trying to negotiate a peaceful and mutually agreeable resolution to the occupation, the utility went to court to seek an injunction that would require the land defenders to immediately vacate their encampment or else face steep punitive damages.

As these land defenders await the next phase of their struggle to block this dam’s construction, it’s worth looking back on why they’re there and what this fight is about. Continue Reading

ICYMI – B.C. Supreme Court ruling against Northern Gateway a huge win for First Nations and pipeline resisters

Image description: An illustrated pipeline drawn to resemble a snake slithers across a map of Alberta and British Columbia along the route of Northern Gateway, with its tail in an oil-splattered factory and its head on the Pacific Coast. Oil drips off the snake. Written across its body are the words “Enbridge: Dirty Oil Burned the Last Bridge”. Above and below in red are flaming letters reading “NO PIPELINE” (Image credit: vanessasong/UBC)

2016 is shaping up to be a year of major victories for pipeline resisters across (so-called) Canada. And once again, the latest major victory was made possible through the leadership of First Nations directly impacted by untrammelled resource extraction.

In a serious blow to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled last week that the (so-called) province of B.C. abdicated its duty to consult First Nations when it signed an “equivalency agreement” with the federal government in 2010 which gave the National Energy Board (NEB) “equivalent” status and the authority to conduct these consultations on the province’s behalf.

Analysts suggest that British Columbia is unlikely to appeal the ruling, given that the Supreme Court confirmed the existence of powers they most likely do not want to surrender.

And as for the implications for Northern Gateway…well, I’ll let the litigants brag for themselves: Continue Reading

With provincial election looming, did B.C. Liberals announce opposition to TransMountain due to public opposition?

In exciting news out of British Columbia yesterday, the provincial government announced that it will be recommending that the National Energy Board (NEB) deny Kinder Morgan’s proposal to construct the TransMountain pipeline.

The reason for their rejection of the proposal, ostensibly, is that Kinder Morgan didn’t meet their “world-leading” safety standards – an explanation that the always-good-for-a-giggle Financial Post didn’t find entirely convincing:

Of the four major export pipeline projects proposed to open new markets for Canadian oil production, the TMX expansion should have been the easiest to pull off because it twins a pipeline that has been safely transporting oil from Alberta to the B.C. coast for 60 years.

But in its final argument to the NEB, which is in the last days of a two-year review, B.C. threw the book at the project, claiming: “the company has not provided enough information around its proposed spill prevention and response for the province to determine if it would use a world leading spills regime.”

This after a review that, according to TMX proponent Kinder Morgan, was one of the most comprehensive in the board’s history and involved the filing of a 16,000-page application, answering 17,000 questions, participation of more than 400 intervenors and of 1,250 commenters, not to mention more than $300 million in costs.

There’s more snarky disbelief further down in the article, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The thing is, I think the FP is on to something here. Because I can just as easily imagine the B.C. government using those exact same statistics to label the consultation and review process “exhaustive” and throwing their support behind the project.

This is the B.C. “Liberal” Party we’re talking about here, after all – in a province where the Conservative Party failed to capture a single seat in the last election, they are the pro-business right-of-centre option. Mining, forestry, and construction corporations have given them nearly $50 million over the last decade, and their victory in the 2013 provincial election was celebrated by the B.C. Chambers of Commerce as “good news for business owners“.

Which is to say, one can easily imagine a parallel universe in which they spun the research and the data in the other direction and supported TransMountain. So why didn’t they IRL? Continue Reading

History lesson: the Ts’Peten (Gustafsen Lake) standoffs

An open letter from Secwepemc elder Wolverine (also known by his colonial name William Jones Ignace) to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been making the rounds on social media recently. Wolverine was a major figure in the Ts’Peten (Gustafsen Lake) standoff between the RCMP/Canadian Armed Forces and Secwepemc Sundancers and their allies in British Columbia in 1995. In his letter, Wolverine urges the Prime Minister to launch a national inquiry into the standoff.

His letter is powerfully eloquent and well worth reading in full, as are his protege Harsha Walia’s comments on the man and his legacy. I’m quoting him at length but I strongly urge you to read the whole thing:

Today I am writing to you to request that you initiate a federal public inquiry into the events surrounding the month long standoff at Ts’Peten (Gustafsen Lake), British Columbia in 1995, an event which cast a deep shadow on the relationship between the Canadian government and Indigenous nations, which to this day has not been adequately investigated.

In 1995, after a long history of peaceful attempts to have Secwepemc sovereignty respected, Indigenous people from the Secewpemc nation and their supporters took a stand on sacred Sundance lands at Ts’Peten, aka Gustafsen Lake. The incident began after a local white rancher, Lyle James began demanding that the sacred Secwepemc Sundance Camp leave land to which he claimed ownership. Approximately 24 Sundancers set up camp to defend Ts’Peten. I was one of those people.

Beginning in August 1995, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) surrounded the Ts’Peten Defenders. Over the next month police, politicians, and media escalated the situation to make the siege the most expensive and largest domestic military operation in Canada’s history: armoured personnel carriers, .50 calibre machine guns, land mines, and an astonishing 77,000 rounds of ammunition were directed at the land defenders. In the course of the standoff, RCMP shot at unarmed people and at people in negotiated no-shoot zones. RCMP Superintendent Murray Johnston expressed the belief that a resolution to the standoff would “require the killing” of the defenders, including myself. Although this thankfully did not come to be, the unjust and violent actions carried out against the Secwepemc people during the siege remains strong in our memories to this day.

Despite the twenty years that have passed since the Ts’Peten standoff, the core issues that so forcefully clashed against each other remain at the forefront of the hearts and minds of Indigenous people. That is our right to self-determination, autonomy and protection from the dispossession of our lands and territories. According to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, Aboriginal Title to land exists inherently and will continue to exist until it has been ceded by treaty with the Crown. The land on which the Ts’Peten standoff occurred was, and remains to this day, unceded territory. The land at Ts’Peten was never handed over by the Secwepemc Nation to Canadian control through treaty or otherwise, and is therefore land that cannot have been sold to settlers by the Canadian or British Columbian governments. The use of Canadian paramilitary forces against the people of the Secwepemc nation asserting our inherent jurisdiction and title over our own territories therefore is a serious abrogation of the Nation to Nation relationship between the Canadian government and the Secwepemc Nation.

This abrogation has yet to be properly investigated, and remains one of the largest stains on relations between Indigenous nations and the Canadian state. A public federal inquiry is long overdue into the actions of the RCMP, the Canadian government and the provincial government of British Columbia.

Continue Reading

Proliferation of pipeline shutdowns creates challenges for Enbridge – and for protestors

Avid pipeline watchers will no doubt recall the pair of high-profile direct actions against Enbridge’s Line 9 last month.

On December 7, a pumping station near Ste-Justine-de-Newton, Quebec, was occupied and the valve allowed Line 9’s diluted bitumen to pass through was closed. The badass activists conducting the action then locked themselves to the equipment, which resulted in the pipeline’s complete shutdown for an entire day.

Then, on the 21st, a trio of rad land defenders replicated the action in Sarnia, Ontario, in the shadow of the notorious Chemical Valley. Speaking after her arrest and subsequent release, activist Vanessa Gray, a member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, said, “It’s clear that tar sands projects represent an ongoing cultural and environmental genocide. I defend the land and water because it is sacred.”

Aside from helping to keep the vital debate over Line 9 alive in the weeks and months after the pipeline’s reversal became official, these high-profile actions have had one major effect, the implications of which are still being sorted through: they’ve demonstrated clearly to anybody interested that pipelines like Line 9 are incredibly vulnerable and can be shut down relatively easily by anybody with some bolt cutters, some basic research skills, and a willingness to face charges. Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Acknowledging police racism endangers cops, says RCMP officers’ association

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson was criticized for acknowledging that there are racists officers in his police force. (Image credit: RCMP)

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson was criticized for acknowledging that there are racists officers in his police force. (Image credit: RCMP)

CONTENT WARNING: This article contains graphic descriptions of police brutality, violence (including sexual violence), and institutional racism.

Early last month, RCMP Commission Bob Paulson (no, not that Robert Paulson!), speaking to a gathering of First Nations chiefs, made a somewhat surprising admission. Continue Reading

As 2015 comes to a close, these major ongoing issues aren’t going anywhere

This awkward week jammed in between Christmas and New Year’s is when some of the year’s most half-assed journalism gets cranked out, in the form of phoned-in Year in Review pieces, or worse, Top Ten Blanks of 201x listicles.

I don’t have a problem with retrospectives. It’s just that the last week of December is only ever the actual turning point in current events by pure chance or accident. More often than not, major stories are still developing, trends are still unfolding, and it’s too soon to pass judgement on what the legacy of recent events will actually be.

So in my final post of 2015, I’m going to eschew the lazy conventions of the genre by highlighting a few stories which are very much ongoing affairs as the year comes to a close. Continue Reading

Trudeau’s lacklustre approach to pipelines means direct action is (still) our best hope

Image description: A person (presumably Vanessa Gray) is led away from a pipeline shutdown action by two police officers. Caption reads: ‘”The tar sands projects represent an ongoing cultural and environmental genocide. I defend the land and water because it is sacred.” – Vanessa Gray, Anishnaabe’

What Mr. Harper has consistently misunderstood about what happens in the 21st century is you cannot make a choice between what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy. Mr. Harper continues to say oh, we can’t do anything on the environment because we’ll hurt the economy. And not only has he not helped our environment, but he’s actually slowed our economy. He cannot get our exports to market because there is no public trust anymore. People don’t trust this government to actually look out for our long-term interest. We – he hasn’t convinced communities of the rightness of his – his pipelines, of the proposals he supports. He hasn’t been working with First Nations on the kinds of partnerships that are needed if we’re going to continue to develop our natural resources. Canada will always have an element of natural resources in our economy, but the job of the Prime Minister is to get those resources to market. 

– Justin Trudeau, Maclean’s leaders’ debate, August 7 2015

Numerous times throughout this year’s election, Justin Trudeau tried to position himself as the candidate who could do what Stephen Harper, for all his efforts, never could manage to accomplish: get major tar sands pipeline construction projects approved. With a cavalier well-of-course-we’ve-gotta-exploit-the-tar-sands attitude, he insisted, again and again, that the flaw in Harper’s approach wasn’t that his government was pushing fundamentally flawed, dangerous, and ecocidal proposals, but instead was an issue of tone, of building public trust, of performing the proper consultations, of going above and beyond to assuage local safety concerns.

In some cases, that’s meant publicly opposing major proposals, like the Northern Gateway pipeline, which Trudeau’s Liberals oppose on account of its traversal of the Great Bear rainforest. But in other cases, it’s meant picking up right where Harper left off, as with Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion’s spectacularly ill-timed renewal of the Harper government’s advocacy for the Keystone XL pipeline literally one day before U.S. President Barack Obama announced the project couldn’t go forward. And let’s not forget that one of Trudeau’s campaign co-chairs, Dan Gagnier, was simultaneously working as a lobbyist for TransCanada, that the Liberal Party knew about this lobbying work, and that Gagnier was advising the pipeline company on how best to lobby the new government before the election was even over.

And a lot of the time, it’s left the now-PM sounding spectacularly ill-informed to folks who are aware of the latest climate science, as when Trudeau insists that if Canada must improve our environmental reputation if we want to continue pushing tar sands projects. There exists a broad international consensus that a majority of fossil fuel reserves, including upwards of 85% of the tar sands, absolutely need to stay in the ground if the world is to avert the worst effects of runaway climate change. Continue Reading

Trudeau’s reaction to Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report provokes both hope and skepticism

The residential school system which was imposed upon generations of Indigenous people across so-called “Canada” is a permanent stain upon the history of this land.

The full extent of the horrors suffered by the children forced into these brutal institutions was for decades denied, then downplayed, then shrugged off as ancient history.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper did his best to put an end to discussion of the matter by offering a formal governmental apology, an apology that was clearly shown to be hollow when his government refused to cooperate with the survivor-funded Truth and Reconciliation Commission when it embarked on a systemic inquiry of residential schools some six years ago.

The TRC today released the final volume of its report on the residential school system. You may recall that the summary of their report, issued with 94 recommendations, was released with great fanfare back in June, on the eve of a federal election, and, in a pathetic commentary on white fragility, managed to make waves for its use of the term “cultural genocide” to describe the practice of forcibly removing Indigenous children from their parents, punishing them for speaking their languages, teaching them their customs were barbaric and savage, and employing extreme physical and sexual violence against them in an effort to make them conform.

One other moment from that event which sticks out in my memory is when TRC Chair Justice Murray Sinclair called for a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, and the whole room stood and applauded except for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, whom Thomas Mulciar side-eyed the fuck out of.

The change in tone from the Conservatives at the release of the report’s summary to the Liberals at the release of the full report is night and day. Here’s what Prime Minister Trudeau had to say today:

But here’s the thing: at this point, the difference is only one of tone, and that needs to be pointed out, again and again, relentlessly, because saying nice and comforting and agreeable things is what politicians are best at, and what ultimately matters least. Harper was willing to say the nice and comforting and agreeable things when he apologized for the residential school system, and he had no compunctions about thereafter decimating funding for Indigenous people, refusing to consult First Nations on major resource extraction projects which affected them, refusing to meet hunger-striking Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, and enacting policies which made it much more difficult for Indigenous people to vote.

Similarly, the Liberal Party doesn’t exactly have a sparkling history when it comes to Indigenous issues, including under the current Prime Minister’s father and his then-Indian Affairs Minister (and future PM) Jean Chretien. As Cree writer Harold Cardinal put it back in his 1969 book “The Unjust Society”: Continue Reading

Don’t act so smug about Trump, Canada – Islamophobia is a serious problem here too

Image: Zunera Ishaq wearing a colorful patterned niqab. Ishaq’s battle to wear her niqab while she took her oath of citizenship became a central focus in the recent election, just one example of widespread anti-Muslim racism in Canadian politics. (Image credit: CP/Patrick Doyle)

Yesterday, as the first few hundred Syrian refugees since the election began to arrive in Canada, the Toronto Star printed a front-page editorial saying, in English and Arabic, “Welcome to Canada,” telling refugees that they’re “with family now.”

The short piece, which leaned heavily on well-worn and outdated Canadian stereotypes (and a totally gratuitous plug for Tim Hortons), played up the notion that Canadians are, as a group, a welcoming and tolerant people.

There was an almost self-congratulatory tone to the whole thing – an entirely implicit one, of course. But in a week which featured a call from a leading candidate for the American presidency to ban all Muslims from entry into the “land of the free”, the very act of publicly welcoming Syrian refugees takes on a secondary dimension of subtly proclaiming that we are a much more open and accepting nation.

As for Trump himself, his anti-Muslim remarks this week set off a flurry of condemnation from Canadian politicians. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair called for banning Trump and others who “spout hatred” from entering Canada, and Toronto and Vancouver city councillors are working on proposals to remove Trump’s name from high-profile skyscrapers in the two cities. Toronto councillor Josh Matlow went so far as to call Trump a “fascist” on Twitter.

And for many, the contrast between Canada and the United States was crystal clear: Continue Reading

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