APTN National News
Alberta AFN Regional Chief Craig Mackinaw said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent comments regarding a First Nations veto on pipelines is sending “mixed signals.”
At an Edmonton press conference Wednesday Trudeau appeared to skirt a question to confirm a campaign promise he made that First Nations will have veto rights over energy projects on their territories.
Instead, Trudeau said a renewed relationship with First Nations centered on respecting treaty rights, creating partnerships and engaging in meaningful consultation.
“It kind of makes you wonder. I guess there will have to be more discussion with them (government) on the pipeline issue or there will be lawsuits coming down the road,” said Mackinaw. “I don’t know if the government wants to go down that road because a lot of the inherent chiefs from other regions are dead set against having these pipelines going through their territories. So I’m not sure they’ll agree on a process.”
Trudeau’s remarks on Wednesday weren’t as clear and confident as those he made during a televised town hall interview with APTN while campaigning to be Canada’s next prime minister.
Trudeau said that “no” would “absolutely” mean “no” if the Liberals were elected.
“We cannot have a government that decides where the pipelines (are going to) go without having proper approval and support from the communities that are (going to) be affected,” said Trudeau during that interview.
But not everyone thinks Trudeau has swayed from his commitments, including Cara Currie-Hall who led the Rock the Indigenous Vote movement and was recently appointed to the International Oversight committee on Treaty Enforcement and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) committee.
“I don’t think he’s broke any promises, yet,” said Currie-Hall while referring to Article 32 of UNDRIP that specifically highlights resource extraction and Indigenous rights.
“I would say that the prime minister is really saying that he’s implementing the UN declaration article number 32. A pipeline cannot be put in the ground unless he has the consent of the Indigenous people, which he does not have. Nobody has it.”
She said Trudeau may have an opportunity to make progress by placing Indigenous people on the National Energy Board so that they can become engaged and informed.
“We’re saying UNDRIP without conditions. (Governments) are required under the declaration to obtain our free, prior and informed consent. You cannot even talk about a pipeline until you bring it to the table,” said Currie-Hall.
Trudeau visited Edmonton and Calgary holding meetings this week with Premier Rachel Notley and oil industry executives. The province and industry are upping pressure on the federal government to help fast track transport of oil sands bitumen to tidewater in hopes of kick starting a lagging economy hit hard by a drop in global oil prices.
But projects like the Transmountain Pipeline are facing strong opposition from Indigenous groups in British Columbia.
On Thursday, 130 First Nations led by the Yinka Dene Alliance signed on to the Save the Fraser declaration in British Columbia in direct opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline or similar tar sands projects to cross their territories.
The pipelines are a no go said Stewart Phillip, grand chief of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, who just a year and a half ago was arrested on Burnaby Mountain after protesting the Kinder Morgan Mountain project.
Phillip said the risks they represent to the environment are too great and that Trudeau should look at rebalancing his priorities.
“His own government ministers have said recently that you cannot engage the economy in one conventional economy to ensure that the environment and everything that that represents is properly protected,” said Phillip.
“The two go hand-in-hand. They cannot be separated in the fashion that the previous (Stephen) Harper government pitted the economy against the environment. The Trudeau government cannot afford to make the same mistake. He needs to understand that there needs to be a very real, tangible balance in ensuring that environmental protections are securely in place along with the notions of growing the economy. You cannot separate the two.”
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) said in a statement to APTN they don’t believe talking about a pipeline “veto” is helpful.
“It’s clear that First Nations have rights, treaties and title that are recognized in Canadian law as well as international standards like the right to free, prior and informed consent. These must be respected. All parties in development must be clear on their roles and responsibilities,” the statement said.
The AFN is meeting in Vancouver next week for the First Nations Energy Forum to create dialogues with all levels of government, industry and First Nations.