First Nations Must Organize Today. The Tar Sands Rush is on the Way
Vancouver, June 17, 2014 - Today Prime Minister Harper decided to stand with Enbridge and move against the wishes of many First Nations and British Columbians. First Nations must now urgently prepare to handle the tremendous pressures that will emerge to transport bitumen in their territories and through the coastal waters of BC.
It is critical that First Nations in BC organize quickly and on a scale never seen before. Leaders, youth, emerging leaders, elders, and all citizens must get to work in our communities and along tribal lines. We must set out our own rules for engaging in relations with industry and the Crown. Government led infringements will continue on the scale of Northern Gateway if we do not define those relationships.
First Nations are quickly running out of time. We must begin today building the institutions we need to effectively govern our territories. We have to exercise our rights as governors of our lands, develop our own territorial laws to protect our lands and sacred places, and give industry and the Crown notice that they best engage early and negotiate accordingly.
We must strengthen our ability to protect our territory and steward our lands by passing our own environmental and land use laws. This is critical. Two years ago, the federal government passed Omnibus Bill C38, clearing the path for resource extraction and transport by eliminating environmental protection programs, closing research labs, and laying off internationally recognized science staff that helped Canadians understand how to protect rivers, lakes and oceans. And now we have 300 scientists calling the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel findings flawed and unscientific.
We must create our own circumstances for a government-to-government relationship with the Crown and demand that it be respected, insisting that they engage us well before the start of any regulatory process for development. The Crown has legal and constitutional obligations to First Nations and we must be vigilant and ensure that they meet those obligations in full.
First Nations citizens have been living under the Indian Act, on reserves, and out of the economy for seven generations. Too many of our communities have been impacted by systemic efforts to exclude us and we are divided and in need of healing. This has allowed government to ignore their obligations and carry on business as usual. We must end this by creating our own governing structures that support the vision of our people, reflect our culture and extend our jurisdiction onto our territories. Doing so will restore the health of our nations.
The Northern Gateway is the first battle in the emerging Tar Sands Rush and resource companies are in a race to get product to market. Like the Gold Rush and Settler Rush, it will again severely impact our lands, our water, our culture, the animals and our children.
The Harper government is determined to turn Canada and our lands into an energy producing superpower. We can fully expect this government to minimize their legal and constitutional obligations, then deflect, ignore and bury any future negative impacts on our people. Their strategy includes another decade of litigation and conflict.
The Tar Sands Rush has come to BC and a great many British Columbians are upset, angry and dismayed at the Prime Minister’s approach. Many British Columbians are counting on First Nations to take the lead and exercise our rights as governors of our lands. Legions of British Columbians are prepared to support our efforts to protect the land and the water we share with them.
Within this chaos of development exists a golden opportunity for us to take our rightful place on our lands, address the divisions among ourselves and create a new understanding with British Columbians and all Canadians.
The Centre for First Nations Governance is a non-profit organization that offers nation rebuilding services to First Nations in Canada, assisting them as they develop effective day-to-day government operations and supporting them as they pursue self-governance and jurisdiction over their lands.