A wall of First Nations opposition to the proposed Energy East oil pipeline is emerging in northwestern Ontario, where Treaty 3 Anishinaabe chiefs unanimously endorsed a declaration on crude shipments through their territory.
“We are joined to Declare to our Nation, as the political leadership we are determined to ensure that no oil or bitumen shall be transported through Anishinaabe Aki without our full, prior and informed consent,” the eleven-point declaration signed on February 26th in Couchiching First Nation reads.
Much like the Save the Fraser Declaration, which galvanized First Nations opposition against the Northern Gateway pipeline in British Columbia, this document demonstrates Treaty 3 chiefs are also concerned about the risks of piping oil and oilsands (also called tar sands) bitumen through their traditional territory and drinking water supply.
“Water is sacred. Water is life,” Chief Fawn Wapioke of Iskatewizaagegan (Shoal Lake #39 First Nation), a signatory of the declaration, said.
Treaty 3 First Nation comprises twenty-five Anishinaabe (Ojibwe in English) First Nations. Some Treaty chiefs were not able to attend the two-day special assembly last week, but there appears to have been no disagreement amongst the chiefs present on endorsing the declaration.
“It’s good to have a united position in our territory. There was no opposition. Everyone is on the same page,” Wapioke told DeSmog Canada.
This is the not the first time Treaty 3 has raised their concerns publicly about the proposed 4,600-kilometer TransCanada pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick either.
Treaty 3 Grand Chief Warren White made it clear last February at a Ontario Energy Board meeting he had no intention of being remembered as the “grand chief who consented to a pipeline that’s going to destroy 30 per cent of the fresh water in Ontario, in Treaty 3 territory.”
With the declaration, Treaty 3 First Nation is emerging as the epicenter of First Nations’ opposition to the 1.1 million barrels-a-day pipeline project.
“This is a very critical issue to us and our future,” Chief Wapioke said.
No Pipeline Without Treaty 3 Consent
Treaty 3 also asserts in the declaration their “consent” must obtained for the Energy East project to go forward, a reference to the relatively new international standard of “free, prior and informed consent” found in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).
“First Nations are not just another stakeholder. Chief Stan Beardy, head of the Chiefs of Ontario, an organization representing 133 First Nations, said. “Under Section 35 [of the constitution] we are the only group with our own legally, constitutionally recognized aboriginal and treaty rights.”
“We want to give our consent, we are not saying no [to development]. But we want to be able to make an informed decision in terms of how we expect to be accommodated under international law,” Beardy told DeSmog Canada.
Although, Canada signed the UN declaration, no Canadian court has upheld the right to “free, prior and informed consent.” Recent court rulings in Canada have established the federal government has the legal duty to consult with First Nations, Inuit and Metis on projects that may negatively impact their constitutional protected rights.
Consultations with First Nations Have Been "Inadequate" to Date
Beardy describes the current consultations with First Nations through the regulatory process on the Energy East proposal as “totally inadequate.” Real consultations needs to be face-to-face and not “online consultation” according to Beardy.
The Chiefs of Ontario asked the National Energy Board, federal pipeline regulator, to halt the process temporarily in order for adequate consultations with First Nations to take place. There is no indication the board plans on fulfilling the request.
Grand Chief White of Treaty 3 has also accused TransCanada trying to “pull a fast one” on Treaty 3 chiefs by failing to engage in meaningful consultations with Treaty 3 chiefs.
At 1.1 million barrels of bitumen and oil a day, TransCanada’s Energy East project would be the largest oil pipeline in Canada. The Calgary-based pipeline company proposes to retrofit 3,000 kilometers of an existing natural gas pipeline and build another 1,600 kilometres of pipeline for the project.
The existing, TransCanada operated natural gas pipeline goes through Treaty 3 territory.
“We are concerned about the potential impacts to water of this project. It could devastate our watershed,” Chief Wapioke of Iskatewizaagegan told DeSmog Canada.
Image Credit: TransCanada