Updated: Agreement reached between RCMP and Wet’suwet’en First Nation protesters after arrests in B.C.

witsewen protestDespite the high praise for British Columbia’s new Clean B.C. strategy released  on December 5,  B.C. has a problem – supporting the $40 billion LNG Canada facility makes it almost impossible for the province to reach its GHG reduction targets. (Marc Lee his most recent critique in “BC’s shiny new climate plan: A look under the hood”.)  And on January 7, the headlines began screaming about another problem related to LNG Canada, as the RCMP began to enforce an injunction granted by B.C.’s Supreme Court, arresting fourteen members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

The Wet’suwet’en  built a fortified barrier on a remote forest service road near Houston, B.C., about 300 kilometres west of Prince George, to prevent construction workers from TC Energy (formerly TransCanada Corp.) and their pipeline subsidiary Coastal GasLink. The company maintains that they have signed agreements with all First Nations along the pipeline route, but those agreements have been made with elected chiefs and councils of the five Wet’suwet’en bands. The hereditary chiefs maintain that the agreements do not apply to traditional lands.  The Vancouver Sun provides good local coverage atFourteen people arrested after RCMP break down anti-pipeline checkpoint“;   The Tyee explains the background and issues in “Nine Things You Need to Know about the Unist’ot’en Blockade” ; The Energy Mix  writes “Negotiations Seek ‘Peaceful Solution’ At Unist’ot’en After RCMP Arrest 14 Blocking Coastal Gaslink Pipeline” (Jan. 9) .

First Nations viewpoint appears in a series of posts at APTN News, including: “An act of war’: Gidimt’en clan prepares for police raid on Wet’suwet’en Territory” (Jan. 5);  “Researchers say RCMP action against Wet’suwet’en would place corporate interests over Indigenous rights” (Jan. 6) ; and “RCMP set up ‘exclusion zones’ for public and media as raid on B.C. camps start (Jan. 7) . According to those reports, “The Gidmit’en Clan, whose members are at the second check point, have called any RCMP raid an “act of war.”

haisla-nation logoNot all First Nations oppose the LNG Canada project.  In a summary of a Canada 2020 conference in Ottawa on December 13 , First Nations speakers  included Larry Villeneueve, Aboriginal Liaison with Local 92 of LiUNA, (involved in four training sites in western Canada for a skilled Indigenous workforce); Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, now Co-Chair of Indigenous Affairs Committee at LiUNA; and Crystal Smith, Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation.  In An open letter to opponents and critics of LNG development   on the Haisla Nation website, Crystal Smith writes: “We urge you to think strongly about how your opposition to LNG developments is causing harm to our people and our wellbeing. Opposition does nothing towards empowering our Nation, but rather dismisses our Rights and Title and works towards separating our people from real benefits.” As this issue has heated up, on January 8 she posted “Investing in ourselves is not selling out” .

Rallies in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en resistance have been coordinated through a Facebook campaign, International Solidarity with Wet’suwet’en , and reports indicate turnout across Canada, including Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Halifax, Montreal, New Brunswick, Whitehorse, and Calgary.  The APTNews  (Jan. 9) includes photos and video;  Regional CBC outlets have also covered the story:  “Protesters across Canada support Wet’suwet’en anti-pipeline camps  (Jan. 8);  “Protesters, counter protesters gather in downtown Calgary after B.C. pipeline arrests” ; “Protests in Regina, Saskatoon show solidarity with B.C. First Nation fighting pipelines”  (Jan. 8).  The National Observer reports that the Prime Minister was forced by protesters to change the time and venue of his address to First Nations leaders in Ottawa on January 8th. Prime Minister Trudeau is visiting Kamloops on January 9 but has declined to visit the protest camp.

UPDATES: On January 9, the National Observer reported on a press conference with B.C. Premier Horgan, at which he asserted that “his government believed it had met its obligations to consult with Indigenous nations in approving TransCanada’s Coastal Gaslink project by receiving the “free, prior, and informed” consent that is referenced in United Nations declarations on indigenous rights.”  He sees sees “no quick fix” to the issue and did not set out any path forward.

An “uneasy peace” was reached between the RCMP and the Wet’suwet’en protesters on January 9, allowing workers access to the  Coastal GasLink pipeline construction site in order to avoid a second RCMP raid on the protest camp. According to  “‘Peaceful Resolution’ to Unist’ot’en Blockade Allows Access, Not Construction, Chiefs Say” in The Energy Mix (Jan. 11)  and a related CBC report, “it’s a temporary solution to de-escalate things while everyone figures out their next moves.”

What comes next? Construction of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline is certainly not settled, not only because of the issue of  Wet’suwet’en permission to build on heriditary lands  (that issue explained here ).  There is also dispute over whether or not the pipeline falls under provincial or federal jurisdiction – an issue to be addressed by the National Energy Board in April. Read Andrew Nikoforuk in “Is Coastal GasLink an Illegal Pipeline?” in The Tyee (Jan. 11) or  “Coastal GasLink pipeline permitted through illegal process, lawsuit contends” in The Narwhal .

An analysis in The Energy Mix, “Pipeline Investment ‘Goes Palliative’ in Wake of Unist’ot’en Blockade”  (Jan. 13) compiles responses to the blockade from several media outlets, and sketches out two themes. The first, Canada has provided yet another example of how unattractive and uncertain it is to energy investors; the second: First Nations concerns are represented by  both hereditary and elected leaders. “As long as they [the government]  are willing to resort to force instead of diplomacy, we haven’t even begun to engage in meaningful reconciliation.”

 

First Nations crafting an Indigenous Climate Action Plan

At a January 2016 meeting of First Nations representatives, led by women from tar sands-impacted communities , a series of future educational, networking, and planning meetings was proposed, as a way of achieving an Indigenous Climate Change Action Plan . Sure to be on the agenda at the March 2 climate change discussions with the Prime Minister in Vancouver: the Site C hydropower dam on the Peace River, vehemently opposed by First Nations and environmental groups. The February 11,2016  Open Letter to the Prime Minister concludes: “The people of Treaty 8 have said no to Site C. Any government that is truly committed to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, to respecting human rights, and to promoting truly clean energy must listen.” The B.C. Supreme Court will rule on February 22 on an application by B.C. Hydro for an injunction against protesters at the construction site.

Unions continue to support Indigenous rights. Most recently, as reported at Rabble.ca (Feb. 9), the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) pledged to support the Save the Fraser Declaration, which states that ” we will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon.”

CUPE’S STRATEGIC PLAN INCLUDES NEW INITIATIVES TO “PROTECT THE PLANET”

CUPE LOGOThe Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) held their national convention in Vancouver from November 2 – 6, 2015 . Delegates heard Naomi Klein, attended a rally in support of the LEAP Manifesto , and supported a Strategic Planning Document  which includes new initiatives under the heading “Protect the Planet”.   Previous resolutions had included commitments to lobby the government, collaborate with environmental and civil society allies, and develop policies, action plans, and tools for member education. Amongst the new commitments in the 2015 document: “We will offer concrete support to First Nations and others taking action on the front lines to prevent further environmental degradation resulting from oil and gas extraction….Attend COP21 as part of the union delegation…. Educate CUPE pension trustees about the risks of climate change to pension investments… Help locals undertake workplace initiatives that reduce pollution and the use of toxins, and that tackle global warming.”

On November 17, CUPE issued a press release concerning their participation and goals for COP21 in Paris.

On the Eve of the NEB Decision Re Northern Gateway Pipeline: Eyford Report Addresses First Nations and Energy Development

On December 5th, Prime Minister Harper’s Special Representative, Douglas Eyford, presented his report about how to engage with First Nations communities and governments in British Columbia and Alberta on future energy infrastructure development. The recommendations of Forging Partnerships, Building Relationships, are summarized in the Executive summary as:

“Building Trust: identifies the efforts needed to establish constructive dialogue about energy development, to demonstrate commitment to environmental sustainability, and to enhance understanding of and participation in pipeline and marine safety.

Fostering Inclusion: proposes focused efforts to realize Aboriginal employment and business opportunities, to establish collaborations among Aboriginal communities that allow for better outcomes, and to facilitate the financial participation of Aboriginal communities in energy projects.

Advancing Reconciliation: recommends targeted efforts to build effective relationships including refinements to Canada’s current approach to consultation and engagement, to explore mutually beneficial initiatives that support reconciliation, and to encourage Aboriginal communities to resolve shared territory issues.

Taking Action: recommends the establishment of a Crown-First Nations tripartite energy working group to create an open and sustained dialogue and action on energy projects.”

The official response to the Eyford report from Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn Atleo states: “First Nations are not anti-development but if any project is going to proceed it must be responsible, sustainable, we must be involved, our rights must be respected and there must be meaningful engagement consistent with the principles of free, prior and informed consent as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” The official response of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs is more strongly worded. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip states: “It is clear that Mr. Eyford listened to our communities as many, if not all, of his recommendations reflect the public positions and statements of many First Nations standing against Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline and Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of their Trans Mountain pipeline. Unfortunately, many of his recommendations will be ignored. The Harper Government has time and time again demonstrated their jobs agenda trumps, ignores and arrogantly dismissed our constitutionally-enshrined, judicially-recognized inherent Title, Rights and Treaty Rights.”

Almost 1,000 delegates met in Gatineau, Quebec for the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly, from December 10-12, coinciding with the first anniversary of the Idle No More protests. Their press release states that they discussed and made progress on a policy towards a First Nations Energy Policy, although their first priority was the recent government proposals regarding aboriginal education. An article in the Globe and Mail Report on Business on December 14th is an on-the-ground profile of “a community in conflict”, the Fort McKay First Nation in Alberta, as it tries to balance the economic benefits of oil sands development with the resulting environmental damage.

LINKS 

Forging Partnerships Building Relationships: Aboriginal Canadians and Energy Development. A Report to the Prime Minister. (The Eyford Report ) is at:  http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/www/pdf/publications/ForgPart-Online-e.pdf

“First Nations Leaders Cool to Blueprint for Garnering their Support on Energy Projects” in Globe and Mail (December 5, updated Dec. 6) at:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/first-nations-support-for-energy-projects-hinges-on-ottawa-changing-its-ways-pm-told/article15784461/

Assembly of First Nations Chief Welcomes Eyford Report and calls for Action…is at: http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/news-media/latest-news/assembly-of-first-nations-national-chief-welcomes-eyford-report-and-ca

UBCIC Responds to Forging Partnerships Building Relationships is at:  http://www.ubcic.bc.ca/News_Releases/UBCICNews12061301.html#axzz2nNjdoHsH

Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly Concludes press release is at:  http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/news-media/latest-news/assembly-of-first-nations-special-chiefs-assembly-concludes-reaffirmed

“A Line in the Oil Sands: the Dispute the entire Oil Industry is Watching” in the Globe and Mail (Dec. 14th) at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/the-fort-mckay-first-nation-a-line-in-the-oil-sands/article15968340/