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Fw: Big Oil vs. Native Community: Canada's First Nations Challenges Shell's Plan to Mine Tar Sands

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  • Romi Elnagar
    A treaty signed in 1899 enshrined First Nations right to practice traditional life, and is now being used for a legal challenge to Shell Oil’s mining of tar
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 5, 2012
      A treaty signed in 1899 enshrined First Nations' right to practice
      traditional life, and is now being used for a legal challenge to Shell
      Oil’s mining of tar sands.
      October 30, 2012  |  
       
      Photo Credit: rook76 / Shutterstock.com


      Fort
      Chipewyan is a small indigenous community on the edge of vast Lake
      Athabasca in Alberta’s remote north, accessible only by plane in summer
      and by snow road in winter. The town is directly downstream from the
      Alberta tar sands—Canada’s wildly lucrative, hotly debated, and
      environmentally catastrophic energy project.
      Residents say that
      tar sands mining is not only dangerous but illegal because it violates
      the rights laid out in Treaty 8, an agreement signed in 1899 by Queen
      Victoria and various First Nations. Their legal challenge to the tar
      sands project could have a powerful impact on the legal role of treaties with First Nations people.
      It should come as no surprise that
      Fort Chip’s relationship to the tar sands industry is a contentious one. Being first in line downstream means that residents are the first to
      feel the effects of pollution: poisoned water, air, and animals. Thedeformed fish with bulbous tumors that residents pull from Lake Athabasca are legendary,
      as are the stories of Fort Chip’s abnormally frequent cases of rare
      forms of cancer.
      The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), many of whose members live in Fort Chip, responded on October 1 with a
      landmark constitutional challenge to Shell Canada’s expansion of its Jackpine tar sands mine. The challenge states that the expansion would be a further assault on
      their rights as First Nations people, which are federally protected
      under Treaty 8.
      The Jackpine expansion, which will be reviewed at
      the end of the month, would destroy over fifty square miles of land and
      begin mining portions of the Muskeg River in Canada’s most important
      watershed. AFCN members point out that both the federal government and
      Shell have ignored their legal duty to consult with them. This time,
      they’re going to fight back.
      “As long as the sun shines”
      As indigenous people, the relationship with the land sustains the
      Chipewyan: the plants and medicines they gather, the moose and fish that form the basis of the traditional diet, the water from the lake, and
      the deep spiritual connection with this particular place. Land is the
      basis for culture and identity; when the land is destroyed, so are the
      people.
       
      When the threats to health and traditional ways of life associated with tar sands mining are lamented, what’s often
      missing is the recognition that the mining is also in violation of Treaty 8. The Treaty, which covers an area twice the size of California within
      northern Alberta and neighboring provinces, guarantees basic rights such as health care and education, as well as the right to pursue
      traditional ways of living, including trapping, hunting, and harvesting. If the government does decide to reduce the amount of land used for
      these activities, it has a duty to consult with and accommodate the
      affected First Nations. According to the treaty itself, this agreement
      will remain valid “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the
      rivers flow.”  So, forever—in theory.
      Treaty 8—along with the ten
      other treaties that were signed a hundred years ago and supposedly
      guarantee the continuation of native ways of life—isn’t supposed to have an expiration date. But the treaty’s language begs the question: what
      happens when the sun no longer shines because it’s obscured by smog?
      When the grass has been turned into an open pit mine, and when the
      rivers no longer flow because that water is siphoned off for bitumen
      processing? If the original signatories had known that this remote
      outpost would be turned into a smoke-belching Mordor, it would probably have raised some eyebrows. On both sides.
      Wide repercussions for native land rights
      Chelsea Flook of the Sierra Club, which works closely with AFCN, is hopeful
      about the case. No constitutional challenge based on Treaty 8 rights has ever been fully argued before a judge, she says. It’s a test case that, if successful, could set a precedent for stricter enforcement of treaty rights and change the way industrial development is regulated. More
      importantly, though, it would embolden indigenous groups all over the
      Canada to fight abuses by both industry and government.
       
      For those of us in the United States, the gains and losses of a tiny native community, closer to the Arctic circle than most of us will ever get,
      may seem remote. But what’s at stake here isn’t just a few hundred
      people’s ability to hunt moose and conduct ceremonies in a particular
      spot. Both the U.S. and Canada share a history of colonizing what is
      essentially stolen land; our societies were built on a common system of
      disenfranchisement.
      Honoring the treaties means honoring the most
      basic of agreements: the protection of a way of life—and, by extension,
      life itself. In the years since that day in 1899 when Treaty 8 was
      signed, every attempt to erase or assimilate indigenous people has been
      made, regardless of any commitment on paper. Native language and culture have been criminalized, children have been relocated to residential
      schools, and genocide has been a government policy. Industrial
      destruction of land is one final assault.
      It’s a brutal and
      violent history, one that’s not taught in school. Coming to terms with
      our own past—as Canadians, as Americans, as colonizers—is unpleasant. It means seeing ourselves, here and now, in an unflattering light.
      Honoring agreements such as Treaty 8 means acknowledging all the ways
      these documents have been violated.
      With this constitutional
      challenge, AFCN is forcing the Canadian government to look in the
      mirror. It’s a small step with huge implications, and a starting point
      for redressing more than a century of broken promises. 
      ________________________________

      Kristin Moe wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and
      practical actions. Kristin is a writer and climate justice activist from the U.S., spending three months in Alberta writing about the social and cultural impacts of the tar sands.
      Interested?
      * A Walk to Heal the Tar Sands
      Take
      an 8-mile trek with indigenous groups through one of the world's
      largest ecological dead zones, and you might find something lifegiving.
      * Will Tar Sands Drain the Rockies Dry?
      From
      snow to glacier, from river to delta, and back again. Now, that
      centuries-old cycle has been interrupted by the tremendous volume of
      water required to extract oil from the Alberta tar sands.
      * In Photos: The True Cost of the Tar Sands
      Conservation photographer Garth Lenz’s exhibition seeks to show the impact of tar sands oil extraction.
      Kristin Moe is a writer and climate justice activist from the U.S., spending three
      months in Alberta writing about the social and cultural impacts of the
      tar sands.

      http://www.alternet.org/world/big-oil-vs-native-community-canadas-first-nations-challenges-shells-plan-mine-tar-sands?paging=off
      Big Oil vs. Native Community: Canada's First Nations Challenges Shell's Plan to Mine Tar Sands

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