First Nations Sign Trans-Continental Treaty to Fight Tar Sands Oil
A sample of pipeline projects affecting Indigenous communities across North America. Graphic courtesy of the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion (source; click to enlarge)
by Gaius Publius
I consider this momentous. The indigenous peoples of northern North America (called "First Nations" for the obvious reason) — ocean to ocean, in the U.S. and in Canada — have banded together to sign a treaty to oppose the transport of absolutely filthy (literally; there's arsenic in that stuff) tar sands oil from Alberta to any port or refinery.
The reason this is momentous lies beyond the issue of just protecting the environment, which it does, or the climate, which it most certainly also does. A treaty of this magnitude itself is momentous.
Indigenous people are called First Nations because they are, in fact, nations, sovereign peoples, with legal national standing in both countries. Yes, they've been mightily and continuously abused, partly because of their history, partly because of their decimated numbers and living conditions. But it's been more than a century since they've been united in any sense.
This, for example, is the Great Sioux Nation at the time of their first contact with whites in the 1700s:
A history of the Iroquois Confederacy can be found here. Historically though, none of these confederacies, leagues or nations has spanned the continent. Until now. This treaty, trans-continental, cross-border, is the first. And again, it is a treaty between nations.
As I said, monumental in its implications. Via Elizabeth McSheffrey, writing at the Canadian National Observer (my occasional emphasis):
First Nations across North America sign treaty alliance against the oilsandsAbout the treaty:
The thunderous pounding of Indigenous drums echoed in the air on Thursday as more than 50 Indigenous nations across North America rallied together to sign a historic, pan-continental treaty alliance against oilsands expansion in their traditional territory.
The collaboration, formalized at simultaneous ceremonies in Quebec and B.C., aims to block all proposed pipeline, tanker, and rail projects affecting First Nations land and water, including TransCanada's Energy East pipeline, Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion, Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline, and Enbridge Northern Gateway.
The document, called the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, commits its signatories to assist one another when called upon in the battle against oilsands expansion, and to work in partnership to move society towards more sustainable lifestyles. By aligning themselves with other Indigenous nations across Canada and the northern U.S., participants hope to ensure that dangerous projects are not able to "escape" by using alternative routes.Of course:
“We have the right and the responsibility to stop these major threats to our lands, our waters and our peoples,” said Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon. “For example, from Quebec, we will work with our First Nation allies in B.C. to make sure that the Kinder Morgan pipeline does not pass, and we know they’ll help us do the same against Energy East.”
It comes not only from a legal and cultural responsibility to protect their land, water, air, and climate from harm, said Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, but a desire to safeguard a future for all peoples, Indigenous and non-Indigenous as well.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers however, Canada's largest oil and gas lobby group, said the Treaty Alliance will not change the way its members do business with Indigenous communities.But you expected that. The holders of (destructive) great wealth aren't going to surrender until they're forced to.
The Text of the Treaty
The treaty itself reads as follows:
"Therefore, our Nations hereby join together under the present treaty to officially prohibit and to agree to collectively challenge and resist the use of our respective territories and coasts in connection with the expansion of the production of the Alberta Tar Sands, including for the transport of such expanded production, whether by pipeline, rail or tanker."As sovereign nations, we enter this treaty pursuant to our inherent legal authority to protect our territories from threats to our lands, waters, air and climate..." Iraq invaded Kuwait in part because of Kuwaiti slant-drilling from the Kuwaiti side of the border into Iraqi oil fields. That is, actions on one side of a border that have destructive effects on another side are cause for retaliation, as the Cuban Missile Crisis makes clear.
"As sovereign Indigenous Nations, we enter this treaty pursuant to our inherent legal authority and responsibility to protect our respective territories from threats to our lands, waters, air and climate, but we do so knowing full well that it is in the best interest of all peoples, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to put a stop to the threat of Tar Sands expansion.
We wish to work in collaboration with all peoples and all governments in building a more equitable and sustainable future, one that will produce healthier and more prosperous communities across Turtle Island and beyond, as well as preserve and protect our peoples’ way of life."
If an oil pipeline that does not enter First Nations territory, nevertheless endangers water that flows into First Nations territory via nasty (and nearly inevitable) oil spills and pipeline leaks, that's cause for them to be concerned — as nations.
Bottom line — I'm absolutely certain they're serious, which means much added force to the fight, and we should should thank them for that. This escalates the war between the people who suffer in an oil-soaked world and the men and women who extract great wealth from it. It also brings interesting legal implications to the fight, since First Nations are indeed nations, adding even more weight to court cases in which they're likely to be involved.
A day to celebrate, as I see it.