Star Phoenix – Doug Cuthand
A court challenge on behalf of two Treaty 8 First Nations could decide the fate of the Site C dam on the Peace River in British Columbia. For scheduling reasons and for its urgency, the case is being heard in the Federal Court in Montreal.
The federal government this summer granted two permits for the $8.3 billion dam to proceed despite opposition by local First Nations groups, including the Prophet Lake and West Moberly First Nations who launched the court action. The permits were released late on a Friday afternoon, a time that governments usually reserve to announce unpopular decisions or Senate appointments.
The construction of the dams had been approved by the Harper government and additional permits were required for environmental approval. The B.C. government is going to the polls next year, and Premier Christy Clark hopes that construction of the dams will be beyond the point of no return by then.
The past few years have seen a seismic shift in First Nations’ activism, with the environment becoming the single overarching issue in Indian Country on both sides of the medicine line.
Standing Rock and the opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline is the latest chapter in this ongoing movement. Tribes from all across Canada and the United States have gathered to protect the land and water from a dangerous pipeline project. The pipeline will cross the Missouri River upstream from the reservation, and any leakage will contaminate Standing Rock’s water supply.
The genesis of the movement began with Idle No More and opposition to Bill C-45, an omnibus bill that among other things removed federal oversight over a vast swath of lakes and rivers. It was an affront to First Nations’ treaty rights and had far-reaching environmental implications. It was basically a moment of, “We’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”
Opposition to environmental degradation has come mainly from First Nations. Logging at Clayoquot Sound, the Northern Gateway Pipeline project, creating a liquefied natural gas port on the West Coast, and now the Peace River dam have all been opposed and in some cases stopped by First Nations.
The protest at Standing Rock is another example of the First Nations environmental movement. It might be on the other side of the Canada-U. S. border, but it’s all Indian Country to us.
David Suzuki, the well-known environmentalist, has stated, “Aboriginal people are our best bet for protecting the planet.”
For us the fight is real. Energy projects such as pipelines and hydro dams are being developed on our traditional land. In both Canada and the United States we are the people who are tied to the land like no other. An elder defined indigenous people as those whose roots go two miles deep in the land. No other people in the Americas can claim that.
As Suzuki notes, “Aboriginal people are fighting through the value lenses of their culture.”
The movement is very closely linked to culture and our belief in the sanctity of the land and water. When we speak of the environment it comes from the wisdom of the elders, who can tell us how our people lived on the land for generations. When we suffer loss or depression, we head back to the land to contemplate and feel its healing properties.
Meanwhile, the Husky pipeline accident in Saskatchewan has become old news, and only the First Nations continue to closely monitor the water quality. Canadians are a nation of sheep when it comes to resource development. They believe what the corporations and government tell them and go merrily on their way. It the indigenous people who stand up and fight back.
The camp at Standing Rock is a look at the future. The only violence there has come from the construction side of the equation. The people see themselves as protectors, not protesters. They are very proactive in their actions.
I see our people becoming the leaders of the environmental movement. There is no turning back.