Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said something in reaction to the Trudeau government’s new pipeline review policy in late January that has rattled around in my head ever since. “What needs to be demonstrated,” Phillip said, in registering his disappointment with the policy, “is the federal government’s willingness to take no for an answer from First Nations…who are exercising their sovereign decision-making power.”
In many ways, this is the crux of the pipeline debate – at the intersection between Indigenous rights and energy policy, where we need to decide whether our stated principles or our obligations to corporate shareholders should take precedence. It’s vital to be mindful of the fact that the struggle against pipelines, as pivotal and momentous as it is for the climate justice movement, is also the latest front in a centuries-old Aboriginal struggle for the right to say “no” to settlers who want to exploit and despoil their land.
And let’s be clear – by and large, First Nations are saying “no” to pipelines, and they’re saying it firmly and unequivocally. Right across the country, Indigenous folks, both from the grassroots and from the leadership, are speaking out in the strongest possible terms against major proposed projects like Energy East, Northern Gateway, and Trans Mountain.
As these proposals reach their culmination, it’s becoming critical that the Canadian government affirms the right of First Nations to, as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples puts it, “free, prior, and informed consent” – or, in Phillip’s formulation, their right to say no and have that be the final word on the subject. Continue Reading