U.S. and Canadian aboriginal groups sign treaty to oppose oilsands development

Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press

Canadian First Nations and U.S. tribal communities are stepping up their fight against Canada’s oilsands industry, vowing to stop the development and distribution of the province’s crude across the continent.

Indigenous leaders from nearly 100 aboriginal communities in Eastern and Western Canada and a few in the United States, including Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North and South Dakota, signed a treaty Thursday in Montreal and Vancouver.

They plan to join together to prohibit and challenge the use of their lands for the expanded production of Canada’s oilsands, including distribution of crude via pipelines, trains or tankers.

“We are going to stick together and we’re going to protect each other right across the country,” Grand Chief Serge Simon of the Kanesatake Mohawks in Quebec said Thursday.

The groups say they are targeting various proposed pipeline projects, including TransCanada’s Energy East, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion.

“TransCanada won’t have an easy life in the coming year,” Simon told a news conference, adding that his fight in Quebec against Energy East will now be taken up by others while he will join efforts to block the Trans Mountain expansion in Canada and B.C.

While the goal is to remain peaceful, he said all options are on the table.

“They should know that we never hesitated to taking our fight to the streets,” added Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.

“We have a few hundred years of experience in making sure that our voice is heard.”

The chiefs plan to meet soon to confirm their strategy and international legal action is also a possibility. The indigenous leaders say they may also work with non-aboriginal groups.

The ultimate goal is to push governments to transition to alternative energy, they say.

“We’re not proposing to destroy Canada,” said Simon. “We’re trying to help it, we’re trying to help the country and we’re trying to help this planet.”

Government and oil industry representatives said they hope a broader dialogue arises from the alliance between U.S. and Canadian aboriginal leaders.

“If they are looking for that conversation and willing to engage with the energy sector, maybe that’s a way of opening some doors and talking about these issues and getting information flowing both directions that can enable Canada to succeed with its energy sector more fulsomely than if we don’t,” said Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

The Canada government didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment but Ottawa said it is committed to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.

“One of the fundamental responsibilities of our government is to get our natural resources to market in safe and reliable ways — but doing that in the 21st century requires a level of public confidence that is rooted in science, independent processes and engagement with local and indigenous communities,” said a spokeswoman for Natural Resources Canada.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association said that while there is a critical need for pipelines in Canada, it encourages discussion about energy with aboriginal leaders.

The treaty came the same day that Oil Change International released a report saying Canada should stop any new oil and gas development if it wants to reach its climate change targets.

The report by the climate change advocacy group said that global oil and gas projects already operating or those under construction would likely take the world beyond the 1.5-degree Celsius increase Canada committed to at the Paris climate conference in December.

Canada’s NDP government is already moving to implement a wide range of measures to reduce emissions from the oil and gas industry, including a total cap on carbon emissions from the oilsands and aggressive methane emission reductions.

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