Photo: flickr/ IamNotUnique

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Reconciliation with First Nations and strong action on climate change are two of the Liberal government’s most substantive policy promises. So far the Liberals have committed to act on all the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and signed onto the Paris climate agreement

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has been quiet on how these two promises intersect with the controversial subject of pipelines.  

Dru Oja Jay argues that to honour Indigenous treaties, including respecting free, informed and prior consent, and in order to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to safe levels, the Liberals would need to stop pipelines, including the recently flowing Line 9, and bigger projects like Northern Gateway, Energy East, and Keystone XL.

Jay’s logic then goes that protesters who manually shut down Enbridge’s Line 9 twice in December and Line 7 once in January were really just enforcing the Liberal’s own policies.

Does this unlikely position hold up? 

Reconciliation: Honour the treaties. Really.

The TRC has brought focus back to the long-standing treaty obligations Canada has with Indigenous people for the use their lands and what those treaties mean for industrial projects.

If Trudeau wants to live up to his call to implement all 94 recommendations, the argument goes that pipeline projects across Canada would have to be stopped because of violations of treaties and of nation-to-nation relationships.

“Contrary to colonial texts and practices of denial and appropriation, the historic treaties did not cede, release, surrender, yield, or extinguish Indigenous title, rights, or jurisdiction,” Lynn Gehl, Algonquin scholar of indigenous history, tells rabble. “Canada, the provinces, and corporations must gain Indigenous consent [for projects].”

Gehl has studied the founding treaties of Canada extensively. One foundational agreement, made in 1764, involved the exchange of three wampum belts, known together as the Treaty of Niagara bundle. It is through these beaded belts that an understanding of the relationship between the Indigenous nations and the settlers (British at that time) was agreed upon. 

A core piece, then as now, was “the philosophy and practice of non-interference mediated by peace, friendship, and respect,” in Gehl’s words.

The TRC recommendation #45 states Canada “reaffirm the nation-to-nation relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown” a concept Trudeau re-iterated to First Nations leaders on December 8, 2015:

“It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations peoples: one that is based on the understanding that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations are a sacred obligation that we carry forward. This obligation is based on respect, co-operation, and partnership; it is guided by the spirit and intent of the original treaty relationship; and it respects inherent rights, treaties and jurisdictions, and the decisions of our courts.”

“In this context, our government will work collaboratively to further reconciliation, including the implementation of all of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action,” a spokesperson from the Ministry of Indigenous and North Affairs tells rabble.

“We are also working across government departments, provinces and territories, municipalities and with all Canadians to fully understand and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Mentioned eight times in the TRC Calls to Action is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with clearly states that Indigenous groups must give free, prior and informed consent for use of their lands.

Such consent, and the nation-to-nation relationship are central to the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation legal case claiming they were not consulted and did not give their consent to changes with Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline on their land. Their case is heading to the Supreme Court of Canada. Their calls for treaty obligations to be honoured are echoed by the Chiefs of Ontario.

Similarly, Energy East does not have the consent of nations along its route, like Kanesatake and Kahnawake, and Northern Gateway is opposed by a long list of First Nations.

“Keep in mind,” says Gehl, “that progress for Indigenous people means taking the steps to ensure clean land, water, and air for all people. It is Canadians better option to stand behind Indigenous people and our knowledge philosophy and practices.”

End of the fossil fuel era

Canada is one of the highest per-capita emitters of GHGs and a producer of one of the higher-carbon sources of oil: tar sands bitumen.

But in Paris the Liberals committed to Canada doing it’s part to keep global temperature from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius, and definitely not more than 2 degrees. 

“That has a very specific meaning,” Adam Scott at Environmental Defence tells rabble. “We have to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The Liberals have not changed the target from that of the Conservatives [30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030]. And we need more than just commitments, we need real actions.”

“We’re still waiting to see what the Liberals climate plan will be,” says Andrea Harden-Donahue, Energy and Climate Campaigner with the Council of Canadians.

Trudeau said he will meet with the Premiers to work on a climate plan within 90 days of the Paris conference, which means mid-March. Today, Bloomberg Business reported the Trudeau government will begin preparing “transition plans” for exisiting pipelines and strengthen environmental review laws.

“If [the Liberal commitment] is more than hot air, it means this government must not approve new tar sands pipelines like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion and TransCanada’s Energy East,” adds Harden-Donahue.

“The Energy East pipeline alone could lead to a 40 per cent increase in tar sands production, which we will be locked into for 40 years. Ambitious targets require ambitious actions. This means freezing tar sands expansion and planning for a transition towards a fossil-free economy by 2050.”

Yesterday, Montreal mayor Denis Coderre announced his opposition to Energy East based on “environmental and economic concerns.”

It appears some groups believe the thesis holds: shutting down pipelines is in line with stated Liberal policy positions on climate. 

”We need to be walking away from new fossil fuel projects” says Scott of Environmental Defence.


David Gray-Donald is a freelance journalist and community organizer in Toronto and Montreal.

Photo: flickr/ IamNotUnique