The Chippewas of the Thames and the Clyde River Inuit: Colonial Narratives which need Retelling

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Source: Paul Stephany, 2016

Water is Life!

 Water is Sacred!

For the majority of First Nations communities, current resource conflicts with the government and petroleum industries are first and foremost about rights to access important resources, protection of sacred spaces, and access to safe drinking water. Secondary to these concerns is the failure to adequately consult with First Nations on extraction industry projects in their immediate territories.

Consultation is important – not as an end in of itself, but as a means to ensure that Indigenous Rights are respected and upheld… now, and in the future!  Consultation is only important in context of these innate rights – but it has become the only legal option for many groups to ensure these rights.

On November 30, 2016, I had the privilege of traveling to Ottawa with a large group of social and environmental activists.  This day marked the beginning of critical court cases for both the Chippewas of the Thames and the Clyde River Inuit.  Both legal cases involve petroleum extraction activities which are potentially harmful to the land and water; as well as a question of inadequate consultation with First Nations involving treaty rights and protection of sacred spaces.

In the case of the Chippewas of the Thames, a claim is being made that the Crown (along with its partners and representatives – Enbridge and the National Energy Board (NEB)) has failed in its responsibility to properly consult with the Chippewa regarding the construction of Line 9.  This pipeline will carry diluted bitumen from Alberta – beginning in Sarnia and connecting to Montreal and transportation ports on the East Coast.  The pipeline will run through waterways and ecologically sensitive spaces that could negatively impact many First Nations and non-native communities.  For more on this issue, check out https://noline9.wordpress.com/line-9-primer/

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Figure 1: Map of Southern Ontario, with Chippewas of the Thames marked in the center.  Source: http://www.sourcewaterprotection.on.ca/

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Figure 2: Chippewa of the Thames community members at the November 30th Rally. Source Paul Stephany 2016

The Clyde River Inuit are also fighting against the NEB, which has approved seismic testing in their northern territories in order to locate new offshore oil and gas opportunities for extraction.  This community has also raised concerns that the NEB has failed to adequately consult with them before permitting these explorations to take place.  As a result, they are indicating that significant impacts to sea life and food resources are already taking place.  Check out this site for more information: http://bit.ly/2gDq3uw.

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Figure 3: Location of Clyde River, in Nunavut.

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Figure 4: Banner representing Clyde River during the Rally. Source: Paul Stephany 2016

We began our day with a sunrise ceremony, held by Algonquin elders, on Victoria Island. This island, named Akkikodjiwan by the Algonquin, is a sacred space where First Nations came from all points of North America to trade and gather.  It is an important gathering place, surrounded on all sides by waterways which connect the oceans in all directions.  Historically, a significant waterfall created whirlpools and swift rapids around the island. The falls was originally 200 ft wide with a drop of 49 ft.

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Figure 5: Chaudiere Falls in 1838, before the Provincial dam constructed. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org

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Figure 6: Chaudire Falls, taken in 2006 during Spring freshet.

Since that time, the Province constructed a dam and causeway above the island which diminishes the falls to a trickle in Fall and Winter months – as the water is diverted to power stations.  This area is considered unceded land by the Algonquin (supported by a treaty letter, reinstating the Royal Proclamation, written by Queen Victoria in 1835 (See Figure 7)), and they continue to petition the government to decommission the dam and return use of the area to them.  Considering that much of the industry built up around the dam has since closed its doors, this seems to be an appropriate request! In the long run, Victoria Island remains an appropriate symbol to misuse and miss-appropriation of First Nations’ territories by an adversely colonial Canadian government!

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Figure 7: Letter written by Queen Victoria in 1835, outlining the rights of First Nations in Canada, and the duties and responsibilities of Canadian colonial authorities to the First Nations.

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Figure 8: A view from Victoria Island, looking toward Ottawa’s Parliamentary buildings. Source: Paul Stephany 2016

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Figure 9: Ruins of the historic carbide mill constructed on Victoria Island in 1904. Source: Paul Stephany, 2016

During the rest of the day, three separate Rallies were held in the front of the Supreme Court building.  People chanting, “Water is Life! Water is Sacred!” could be heard throughout the day.

In between times, live-streaming video of the proceedings were made available to public participants.  Due to the nature of the case, questions of treaty rights and Aboriginal sovereignty and whether pipeline projects are sustainable, safe and beneficial were not addressed.

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Image Source: Paul Stephany, 2016

As I said in the beginning, consultation (or lack of) is the legal option the Chippewa of the Thames and the Clyde River Inuit have been forced to address; instead of the overarching concern that the NEB is not taking their concerns for safe drinking water and access to important spaces seriously.  This conflict has been reduced to whether or not the Crown has adequately engaged in due consultation with involved First Nations’ communities as required by Canadian law.

During the hearings, it became clear that there had been no actual consultation process on the part of the Crown.  The reason for this was that the Crown had chosen to offload their responsibility to consult onto the NEB – even though First Nations delegates or the NEB had been properly informed of this decision.  Even worse, the decision to offload responsibility for Crown consultation was made AFTER the NEB submitted their report!

Several times during the hearing, Supreme Court justices asked, “Who is the Crown?”  It became apparent by the end of the day that there was no clear answer, and that each invested stakeholder had a different answer.  Without this answer, it is clear that ‘Crown Duty to Consult’ with Aboriginal communities cannot really take place…

It was further found that the NEB provided the Clyde River Inuit a 3000 page document as an answer for meeting consultation requirements shortly before the final decision was made to allow seismic blasting.  This document was written in complex English and filled with legal jargon.  Considering that the majority of the community does not speak this language, it clearly suggests that the consultation process (as provided by the NEB) was inadequate.

Legal Representatives of the petroleum companies felt that the wording of one specific policy statement was enough to fulfill consultation requirements.  Construction permits filed under the NEB Policy 58 do not necessarily mean that public hearings are required to issue permits.  According to the oil industries involved, this policy means that the final decisions of the NEB were legal and require no further consultations.  Clearly, this argument stands in clear conflict of the government’s assertion that the NEB was a representative of the Crown, and therefore fulfilled the Crown’s duty to consult with Aboriginal communities.

It remains to be seen what the Supreme Court decision on this matter is.  Their final decisions will have critical impacts on the future of Aboriginal Rights in Canada!

The heart of the petroleum extraction conflict lies in the contamination of water resources and loss of important land and cultural spaces for both First Nations and low-income Resource Communities where oil and gas projects take place.  These are issues that are not being addressed in the consultation process.

For more on how the existing duty to consult is failing these communities, see my previous blog post on this: https://spatialintegrity.co/2016/05/24/consultation-duty-rights-and-privilege/

While the questions of who is responsible for consultation, and how consultation needs to take place are important ones for most First Nations communities, there is a critical and foundational question which is not being addressed.

This question is: “can current pipeline technology and the extractive petroleum industry ever be ecologically sustainable and not harmful to all of the stakeholders involved?”

 This is the ultimate question that must be answered, regardless of Aboriginal Rights and Title, duty to consult, or even who is ultimately responsible for the consultation process!

A quick internet search will yield hundreds of cases where oil spills; extraction processes, petroleum transport, accidents, and human error have caused grievous and long-term harm to the environment and the people living in those spaces.  Governmental decisions to permit and increase pipeline projects – despite increased protest and conflict – enable the extraction industry to increase their own profits at the expense of people who hold little voice in these decisions.

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Image Source: https://counterinformation.wordpress.com

It is apparent that the petroleum industry is neither sustainable nor safe for thousands of people who live with the consequences of industry mishaps and misuse of common resources.

The answer to the above question is one that many involved in the extraction industry may not want to hear.  At this time, pipeline transport technology, liquid natural gas (LNG) extraction, and seismic testing are not only unsustainable environmentally, but have proven to cause harm to many communities across North America.

Who has the duty to consult, what an adequate consultation process looks like, where it takes place, when consultation takes place, and even how it takes place, are questions which diminish the real needs of the people and serve to avoid uncomfortable changes in lifestyle which benefit everyone involved.

As long as we work to avoid the real question in this conflict, we all fail to begin work on the real answers necessary to bring everyone health, prosperity, and a sustainable future!

First Nations communities are not the only groups who need these answers – we ALL need access to clean water, food, and resources that will continue to benefit our children long into the future.  Poverty, food insecurity, poor health and disease, and the marginalization of certain groups of people in resource decision making are issues which affect us all.

We cannot adequately address these problems as long as we take the ‘easy’ way out and allow the extraction industry to continue in projects which benefit only a few and harm so many!

Ask the right questions, and the best answers will follow!

 Water is Life!

Water is Sacred!

Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the invisible, Visible!

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Image Source: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/

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