First Nations resist fuel and mining developments to protect us all – by Andrea Palframan (First Perspective – January 8, 2014)

Andrea Palframan is a journalist who lives on SaltSpring Island, BC.

Last June, I spent three days in a Vancouver courtroom watching the Hupacasath First Nation argue their case against the federal government. The Hupacasath came robed, just like the judges and the lawyers. They weren’t wigged-out like the Department of Justice benchmen. They wore cedar woven headbands and hummingbird embroidered regalia (and underneath, comfortable blue jeans).

The Hupacasath were challenging Canada over the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (CC-FIPPA) on the basis that the treaty, with its implications on their sovereignty, should have triggered the duty to consult them under Section 35 of the constitution. Under CC-FIPPA, Canada would be locked into a 31-year deal that would allow Chinese corporations unprecedented access to Canadian resources. The agreement allows Chinese companies to sue Canada for passing laws — environmental, labour, health or safety — which impede their profit-making ability.

As in Chapter 11 of NAFTA, such lawsuits would be settled by international tribunals of unelected, usually corporate, lawyers. The Hupacasath are not only safeguarding their own future, they’re standing up to the naked emperors in Ottawa who feel free to toss the keys to Canada over to trans-national corporate interests.

Save the Fraser Declaration

And the Hupacasath not alone. All over Canada, from Elsipogtog to Kitimat, First Nations are resisting ill-conceived fossil fuel and mining development projects on their territories. Perhaps the only positive outcome of Harper’s hard steer to the right is the resulting alliances that are being built among First Nations.

In BC, a group of 20 nations along the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline route, known as the Yinka Dene Alliance, have passed indigenous laws banning tar-sands products from moving through their territory.

The Save the Fraser Declaration has been signed by 130 First Nations, engaging “just about every single band … from the Alberta border to the Arctic, to our U.S. neighbours and out to the west coast,” according to spokesperson Geraldine Thomas-Flurer.

In November 2013, the Yinka Dene launched a Solidarity Accord to the Fraser Declaration, inviting non-indigenous people to sign on to “do whatever it takes” to stand in the way of Enbridge. Unifor, Canada’s most powerful private sector union, signed on, along with municipalities, tourism associations and opposition MLAs.

Gerald Amos former chief counselor and treaty negotiator for the Haisla Nation, in reviewing Arno Kopecky’s new book, The Oil Man and the Sea, explains: “despite the political discord we see in the news, the things that First Nations and non-indigenous Canadians have in common outweigh the forces holding them apart. We all need clean air, clean water and happiness. Those who push for development at all costs only bring the rest of us closer together.”

First Nations, last bastions

The Royal Proclamation of 1763, that was written 250 years ago, established that Aboriginal Peoples were independent nations subject to their own laws. It’s an enlightened document that respects the sovereignty of Canada’s first peoples: Thomas King argues, in his book, The Inconvenient Indian, that Canadian policymakers have been trying to make up for it ever since.

The last historical treaty was signed in 1923. In 1927, it became a criminal offense for First Nations to assemble politically or to hire a lawyer to pursue land claims. That law wasn’t repealed until 1951.

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