Autumn Peltier’s eyes were streaming with tears as she presented a sacred water bundle to Justin Trudeau during the Assembly of First Nations national assembly last week.
Wearing the water dress her mother crafted for the occasion, ‘pipelines’ was one of the few words this courageous young Wikwemikong leader could manage as she came face-to-face with the Prime Minister. She told him she is unhappy with the choices he’s made, in reference to the federal government’s recent approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline replacement.
‘I understand that,’ is how she related the Prime Minister’s response. And while she prays the Prime Minister will indeed protect the water, we are left wondering how.
This summer we joined Indigenous leaders from both sides of the Canada-United States border to answer a call to action from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to support their rights to oppose to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Representatives of Nishnawbe Aski Nation attended the camps, and our flag still flies above the concrete barriers that separated water protectors from those sent to break their resolve with water cannons and rubber bullets.
I felt it was important to stand in solidarity with those who oppose this encroachment in their homelands. This pipeline threatens the health and well-being of the Dakota and Lakota people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe through contamination of their waters, crops and sacred burial grounds. The construction of the pipeline violates U.S. law and Treaties as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Many communities across NAN face similar encroachments. As Indigenous Peoples we have a sacred duty to protect our waters, our lands and our rights. We support the rights and responsibility of all Tribes to protect their territory, and we stand in unity in peace and prayer to oppose a project that could have irreversible impacts to their lands and sacred sites.
Last week I introduced a resolution adopted by the AFN in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, recognizing and affirming the importance of standing with and supporting Indigenous Peoples internationally who are defending their rights.
Through this resolution we are serving notice to the Government of Canada, as well as all provincial and territorial governments, of our support for international Indigenous collaboration against environmental destruction, government-sanctioned poisoning of Indigenous resources, and denial of inherent Indigenous rights to the land that they have inhabited since time immemorial.
Recent pipeline approvals, as well as those pending, have triggered much debate. There are arguments for and against, the merits of which will be debated in the days and weeks and months to come. In the meantime we await decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada on the Crown’s duty to consult that may provide clarity and transparency over how the Government of Canada regulates industrial activity on Indigenous lands.
The Inuit community of Clyde River in Nunavut has argued they weren’t properly consulted when the National Energy Board granted approval for a Norwegian consortium to conduct seismic testing in Baffin Bay. Likewise, the Chippewas of the Thames has argued that the NEB approved Enbridge Inc.’s partial reversal and expansion of the Line 9 pipeline through their territory without proper consultation.
The duty to consult and the Crown's obligation to respect Indigenous rights is at the heart of both of these cases, and these decisions may help further define the rights of Indigenous Peoples in this country.
Officially adopted by Canada on May 10, 2016 (nearly a decade after its adoption by the General Assembly) the UNDRIP sets out that ‘States shall give legal recognition and protection to the lands, territories, and resources, and that recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions, and land tenure systems of the Indigenous Peoples.’ It recognizes Indigenous rights to free, prior and informed consent before approval of ‘any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization, or exploitation of mineral, water, or other resources.’
The UNDRIP stipulates that the voices of Indigenous Peoples must be heard, our stewardship over our traditional territories must be respected, and our right to self-determination must be upheld.
This is what we are calling for, and this is why we stand with Standing Rock.