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Back in the spring of 2012, while walking in the deep woods of northern Ontario, Sonny Gagnon stumbled across a collection of surveying equipment among the towering spruce trees. Gagnon is chief of the Aroland aboriginal tribe, a band of 450 people living in a village of ramshackle houses surrounded by swampy muskeg. He tracks everything that goes on in his community. And the surveying tools weren’t supposed to be there.
“I was ticked off,” he says, after learning that the equipment belonged to a subcontractor of Cleveland-based mining company Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. (CLF)
It turned out Cliffs had plans to mine for chromite to the north of the Aroland reserve and to build a road through the territory to transport truckloads of the mineral to a railhead, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its March issue.
“They weren’t consulting us on what they were doing on the land,” Gagnon says. “I told them to leave and that we didn’t want them back.”
Gagnon and his native band then set up a roadblock to monitor traffic. Cliffs suspended plans for the mine in November, citing in a statement the “risks” associated with its ability to transport the ore for processing.
Cliffs officials didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.
Aboriginal Canadians from Quebec to British Columbia are asserting their rights. Energized by a 2004 Supreme Court decision that requires governments to “consult and accommodate” aboriginal groups before miners and oil and gas drillers encroach on their lands, the natives have blocked half a dozen major projects since the court ruling.
The natives’ activism complicates Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s grand plan to boost the Canadian economy with C$650 billion worth of natural resource projects over the next decade in a quest to make the nation an “energy superpower.” Among the government’s priorities are mining projects in the so-called Ring of Fire region of northern Ontario, stepped-up oil extraction from Alberta’s tar sands and natural gas exploration in British Columbia.
Native Canadians are demanding a say in how these projects proceed, and the 2004 court decision forces the government to give them one.
“These are huge issues, which have enormous implications for the economy of the country,” says Bob Rae, a former Ontario premier who, until April 2013, led Canada’s federal Liberal Party. “They’re right at the center of Canada’s economic life.”
The natives have a powerful political ally in Rae, who has agreed to negotiate with mining companies and the provincial and federal governments on behalf of the nine chiefs of the Matawa First Nations, including Gagnon. The council holds sway over northern Ontario lands where major mineral discoveries were made as recently as 2008. Mining companies, including Cliffs and Toronto-based Noront Resources Ltd. (NOT), estimate the region contains C$50 billion worth of copper, zinc and chromite.
The aboriginals’ latest show of power came in New Brunswick in October and November, when demonstrators gathered in opposition to Houston-based Southwestern Energy Co. (SWN)’s plans to drill for natural gas on native lands. The protesters clashed violently with police, at one point throwing Molotov cocktails that incinerated six police vehicles.
The company says the disruption in its operations cost it $60,000 a day. It got a court injunction that stopped the protests and proceeded with exploratory drilling in December.
‘Begin by Listening’
Confrontations such as the one in New Brunswick are proof that the Canadian federal government has mishandled its mandate to consult with the First Nations over such projects, says Paul Martin, an aboriginal rights advocate who led Canada as prime minister from December 2003 to February 2006.
“If you want to have a relationship, begin by listening,” Martin says. “And the federal government seems incapable of doing so.”
Prime Minister Harper has pledged to “reset the relationship” between government and Canada’s indigenous people. “Certainly, in the past, lack of trust on both sides has held us back,” he said in 2012.
Canada is facing more challenges to resource-extraction projects from aboriginals than any other nation in the world, according to an October report by Fredericksburg, Virginia–based First Peoples Worldwide, which provides grants and services to native tribes. The activists are divided into two groups. The so-called traditionalists want to shut out development and preserve native lands for hunting and fishing. “Progressives” want to share in the enormous wealth being produced by the country’s resource companies.
Idle No More
Often both points of view are represented in the same native band, creating conflict. Both can be found in a national movement called Idle No More, which has staged protests around the world — including in Stockholm and London — demanding jobs, education and economic development for Canada’s indigenous communities.
Idle No More made headlines in January 2013, when it staged protests that blocked train traffic between Montreal and Toronto.
Canada is home to 1.4 million natives, who make up 4.3 percent of the population, compared with the U.S.’s 2 percent, according to the most-current census data. More than half of Canada’s First Nations peoples, as they are known, live and work in cities; the rest are scattered across six time zones on more than 600 reserves.
Unemployment is as high as 90 percent in native communities such as Aroland, and the median per capita income was C$14,000 in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available. The per capita income of all Canadians today is C$40,650, according to Statistics Canada.
Canadian resource companies say they’re eager to accommodate the First Nations — so long as they don’t make unreasonable demands. In August, Calgary-based Athabasca Oil (ATH) Corp. won approval from Alberta’s energy regulator to start up an oil sands project in northeastern Alberta over the protests of the Fort McKay First Nation, whose traditional hunting grounds are adjacent to the proposed site.
The Fort McKay group wants a 20-kilometer (12-mile) buffer around the bitumen drilling operation. Athabasca rejected the idea, but on Dec. 17, Sveinung Svarte, its chief executive officer, said, “It is our view that a mutually acceptable solution is achievable.”
Athabasca’s shares sank 38 percent in 2013 amid uncertainty about the project, which could produce 250,000 barrels of oil a day at full capacity.
On the Pacific coast, Calgary-based pipeline builder Enbridge Inc. (ENB) has reached an angry impasse with the natives. The company wants to lay a 1,178-kilometer line called Northern Gateway to connect Alberta’s oil sands with the Pacific port of Kitimat, where the oil would be loaded onto tankers and shipped to petroleum-thirsty Asian markets. The pipeline would traverse British Columbia’s mountains and salmon streams.
The pipeline is opposed by native groups along much of its proposed route because they say oil spills and leaks would destroy their hunting and fishing grounds. The Yinka Dene Alliance, a group of six tribes whose lands span the pipeline’s proposed route to the sea, have banned any Northern Gateway contractors from setting foot on their lands.
The Coastal First Nations, an alliance of nine aboriginal groups on the British Columbia seashore, is equally determined to block Enbridge’s pipeline, and joined dozens of First Nations that voiced their opposition to the pipeline during 2012 regulatory hearings by Canada’s National Energy Board.
The board gave the project a green light in a December ruling, placing 209 conditions on the pipeline, many of them designed to protect the environment — and, by implication, native lands. Enbridge says it will spend an extra C$500 million to boost the thickness of its pipes, will install dual leak detection systems and will post permanent staff at remote pumping stations to minimize the risk of a spill.
“I’ve been in a number of locations in B.C. trying to talk to people about the project, but, more importantly, listening to what they are saying,” Enbridge CEO Al Monaco says. “I don’t say a heck of a lot. I basically listen to what the concerns are.”
The natives aren’t persuaded. Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, stands aboard a 20-meter (70-foot) boat plying the waters near Prince Rupert and points across the Hecate Strait at a string of buoys marking the spots where the seabed was seeded with juvenile scallops in 2012.
The fragile shellfish beds are part of an effort to rebuild a traditional aboriginal economy based on aquaculture.
“The real foundation of who we are is shellfish,” Sterritt says, as a pod of whales surfaces within view of the boat. He adds that he doesn’t want to take a chance that an oil spill will destroy the pristine bay.
“We are still hopeful that they will see the merit of stopping this project,” says Arnold Clifton, chief councilor of the Gitga’at First Nation. “The recommendation is by no means the final say. All options are on the table.”
Prime Minister Harper, who also faces opposition to the pipeline from non-native British Columbians, has until June to decide the project’s fate.
Their recent victories in holding up projects have emboldened the aboriginals.
‘We Own It All’
“We have the authority to enter into any agreement that we want to,” says Gary Allen, chief of the Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation, which is negotiating logging rights on its land in northern Ontario with Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products (RFP) Inc. and other companies. “Whether with the mining sector, whether it’s in forestry, whether it’s water — we own it all,” he says.
In reality, what the natives own or control is a matter of dispute — and has been since Canada was founded. Although the 2004 Supreme Court decision forced the government to negotiate with First Nations when a company encroaches on land they occupy, the court did not give aboriginals veto power over government-backed resource projects.
Canada has signed 11 major treaties with natives since 1867, when the country gained independence from Great Britain. The treaties guarantee that the natives can practice their traditional way of life without giving them ownership of any land, says Thomas Isaac, a partner and head of aboriginal law at Toronto-based law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. The Supreme Court decision clarified Ottawa’s responsibilities, Isaac says.
“Government is the centerpiece of the wheel,” he says. “The courts are going back and relying on ancient principles around fairness and equity. This is about government treating its subjects fairly.”
In the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario, the federal government is serving as an intermediary to make sure the new mines include training and jobs for the aboriginals and do no permanent harm to the environment.
“We want to do this right. It has to be inclusive,” says Greg Rickford, the federal minister responsible for the development. “First Nations communities can and will bring important understanding to the environmental assessment processes.”
Former Prime Minister Martin says “Canada’s indigenous peoples are not anti-development. What they want is for it to be done in a sustainable way. That means doing it in full consultation with the people who live near these projects.”
Native claims are mostly addressed in the courts and other government forums. Since 2011, aboriginals have filed 165 complaints against the federal government with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, claiming they receive insufficient funding for education and child welfare. In disputes over resource projects, the mining and drilling companies are caught in the middle.
“The expectations placed on companies in this area over the past 10 years have evolved incredibly quickly,” says Robert Walker, vice president at Vancouver-based NEI Investments, which oversees C$5.5 billion in assets. “First Nations’ power is growing.”
Aroland’s Sonny Gagnon intends to take full advantage of that fact. Conditions in Aroland are typical of rural native communities. Houses stand unfinished or in a state of decay. Clutches of mothers stroll up and down the dirt roads pushing baby carriages. The only business is a corner store selling gasoline and canned food. The biggest of the few employers is the tribal government, which provides paychecks to about 30 people. Most of the rest live on government welfare of about C$400 a month.
‘A Day at a Time’
“Every day is a challenge,” says Robinson Meshake, in charge of social work on the reserve. “We take each day one at a time.”
Gagnon says alleviating his community’s deep poverty is his only goal. Even as he blocks construction of Cliffs’ proposed road through his settlement, he says he has no objection to the mining project.
“I’m pro-development,” he says.
Cliffs would use the road to transport ore from a mine 340 kilometers to the north to a railhead in Aroland. As many as 100 ore-laden trucks a day would pass through the community.
“I want those jobs for my people,” Gagnon says. “I want them to be making $400 a day.”
With the stakes in the tens of billions of dollars for Harper’s government and the resource companies he supports, Gagnon and other native Canadians have never been in a better position to right some of the historic wrongs they believe their people have suffered.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jeremy van Loon in Calgary at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Serrill at email@example.com
A year ago today flash mob round dances took place across the country, and thousands of people danced and marched from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill, in Ottawa.
“It was an impressively massive show of cultural and solidarity” said CBC’s Waubgeshig Rice, “and although I was covering it for CBC, I found it impossible not to be moved.”
While some have wondered whether Idle No More is still a growing movement, the flashmob Round Dances taking place across the country this weekend are in indication that there is still a lot of momentum.
So far this weekend flash mob round dances have taken place in Winnipeg, Toronto, Sudbury, Saskatoon, and Lethbridge. There are plans in place for Fredricton, Surrey, and Montreal. And there is a ‘treaty information check stop in Delaronde, SK.
Flash mob round dances in 9 cities this weekend
While some have wondered whether Idle No More is still a vibrant movement, the flash mob round dances taking place across the country this weekend are an indication that there is still a lot of momentum.
A year ago today Idle No More flash mobs took place across the country.
Here are some snapshots of round dances happening across the country this weekend.
This one is a re-share of Aaron Pierre’s Instagram photo at Winnipeg’s Friday flash mob:
To change it up, Idle No More in Treaty 6 Territory held an treaty information check-stop by Delaronde Lake in memory of those who lost their lives defending the land.
About a dozen people from an Idle No More group based on the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve are marching today against shale gas exploration.
They blocked the Seaway International Bridge, also known as the Three Nations Bridge, connecting Cornwall, Ont. and Massena, NY for about an hour early on Saturday afternoon.
The group gathered to raise public awareness about the dangers of fracking, the process used to extract gas from the earth by injecting fluid into shale rocks to release the natural gas inside.
The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne posted a note to its Facebook page on Nov. 6 saying its members had met with the group of protesters prior to the march and they confirmed bridge traffic wouldn’t be disrupted.
The council said in the note that the group vowed instead to undertake an educational campaign and pass out leaflets during the demonstration. However, the protest veered onto the bridge, forcing local police to close it.
According to Cornwall police, the bridge has since re-opened and traffic is flowing freely.
No arrests have been reported so far. Akwesasne police were unavailable to comment.
Akwesasne straddles the border between Quebec, Ontario and New York.
“Canada is a developed country and it is having an implosion of the sort that we’ve only seen in the developing countries,” said Rebecca Adamson, president and co-founder of First Peoples’ Worldwide, the group that conducted the study.
“We’ve always seen this erupt when a government refuses to be clear in upholding indigenous land tenure.”
The Indigenous Rights Risk Report studied 52 U.S. resource companies and 370 projects around the world, including 16 companies and 76 projects active in Canada. The aim of the survey is to assess how likely it is that conflict with indigenous communities could result in costly shutdowns.
Canada is home to six of the 21 projects deemed to be at highest risk of collapse according to the group’s analysis — more than any other country. Countries such as Argentina, Indonesia and Ghana are its peers on the list.
The Canadian government is “operating like a third-world country,” Adamson said, adding that its approach to indigenous rights more closely mimics the Philippines and Brazil than the U.S and Australia.
Signs are pointing to an increasing number of protests and possible violence in the country, she added.
First Nations have been on a legal winning streak in Canada, with nearly 200 court victories recognizing their right to be consulted — and in some cases accommodated.
But companies operating in Canada have no clear regulatory guidelines for how to deal with aboriginal communities, creating an uncertain business climate.
“Canada is caught in a moment of schizophrenia because the Canadian court systems are upholding these cases the way that would be expected from all of the developed countries that uphold the rule of law,” Adamson said.
The Harper government’s stance on First Nations and resource development has been called into question in recent years, particularly in the wake of controversial changes to native rights in Bill C-45, the Idle No More protests and after violence erupted at a protest against fracking in New Brunswick this month.
Story continues below gallery
Elsipogtog First Nation Protest Fracking Projects
Canada’s risk level was graded three out of five — medium risk — higher than other industrialized countries like the U.S., New Zealand and Australia, which had a risk level of two.
Canada’s risk level started at a two when the study began two years ago, but after a series of flare-ups the group moved its risk factor higher citing an inconsistent enforcement of indigenous rights.
The group said Canadian projects scored so poorly partly because of the government’s failure to uphold its obligations to First Nations, which is in turn inflicting financial and reputational damage on companies trying to do business in the country.
“The Canadian government may be pro-business but its policies towards First Nations will have very anti-business results,” Adamson said.
“You can already see this in the fact it has the highest number of risky sites. Eventually the companies pull out.”
Houston-based Southwestern Energy’s project in New Brunswick made headlines earlier this month when violence broke out between police and First Nations protesters. That project was ranked highest of the Canadian projects with a risk rating of 4.2 out of 5, the same score as a project in Nigeria.
The company has said the blockades have cost it as much as $60,000 per day. It’s a consequence the report said shows why it makes good business sense to respect indigenous rights and work with their communities and a perfect example of what happens when governments ignore aboriginal sovereignty.
The report concluded that Southwestern “executives were ill-prepared and uninformed for how First Nations in Canada can impact their operations, thus leaving investors and shareholders at risk.”
Cliffs Natural Resources oft-delayed chromite project in Ontario’s Ring of Fire region also ranked highly on the list, with a score of 4.1 out of 5.
The surrounding First Nations in northern Ontario have many concerns about the impact of a giant mining development on their land and traditional way of life. They say an environmental review of the project was too weak.
Cliffs has cited frustration with hold-ups from government and First Nations fordelaying and potentially cancelling the project, saying if it is forced to walk away, it will send a bad signal about Canada’s mining climate.
Some ever-controversial oilsands projects rounded out the riskiest Canadian projects.Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline, the Apache/Chevron/EOG Pacific Trails Pipeline, as well as Murphy Oil’s Alberta Bakken project and its Peace River Oil Sands project were assigned a risk rating of four.
Canada’s oil industry looks to governments to settle issues on land claims, treaty rights, traditional territories, consultation processes and royalty/revenue-sharing positions, said Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers spokeswoman Geraldine Anderson, adding CAPP wouldn’t comment specifically on the report.
The clash between resource extraction and indigenous rights is expected to become more pronounced in the coming years as indigenous people increasingly see their rights enshrined at national and international levels and exercise them more effectively.
At the same time, a shrinking number of available resource discoveries means companies are pushing into more remote regions and Indigenous lands.
The study found that most of the 52 companies studied were ill-prepared to engage and work with indigenous people — a whopping 90 per cent of them had no clear indigenous policy at all.
The report says the moral imperative alone has not been effective in forcing companies and governments to respect indigenous rights. The group aims to show companies that there are good financial reasons to accommodate aboriginal communities, namely avoiding protests, bad press and legal battles.
- UN: Canada faces crisis over indigenous issues (boston.com)
- Aboriginal Consultations Bypassed (indigenouscanada.wordpress.com)
- United Nations envoy arrives in Canada to document Aboriginal concerns (mining.com)
- First Nations aren’t swayed by vague promises (theglobeandmail.com)
HALIFAX – Justice Minister Peter MacKay is calling for an end to any confrontations and the resumption of talks to resolve a dispute over shale gas exploration in eastern New Brunswick.
MacKay was briefed early Friday on the incidents a day earlier near Rexton where the RCMP arrested at least 40 people during protests that saw police vehicles set on fire and the Mounties allege they were the target of Molotov cocktails.
“There’s obviously a need to respect the law and to avoid violence and return to discussions,” he said at a roundtable discussion on justice issues in Halifax.
“That is what we’re all encouraging and hoping for, but when violence erupts you can expect the police are there to keep the peace and to protect citizens.”
The Mounties say the arrests were made after Molotov cocktails were thrown at officers and police vehicles were torched when officers began enforcing an injunction to end a weeks-long demonstration.
Const. Jullie Rogers-Marsh said at least five RCMP vehicles were destroyed after they were set ablaze and at least one shot was fired by someone other than a police officer at the site of a protest.
Protesters were arrested for firearms offences, threats, intimidation, mischief and violating the court-ordered injunction.
Rogers-Marsh said police decided to enforce the injunction because threats had been made against private security guards at the site on Wednesday night. She wouldn’t reveal what tactics police were using to contain the crowd and refused to comment on reports that officers had fired rubber bullets.
Robert Levi, a councillor with the Elsipogtog First Nation, said police pepper-sprayed dozens of people after he arrived at a protest site in the Rexton area with the chief and council on Thursday morning.
The RCMP blocked Route 134 on Sept. 29 after a protest there began spilling onto the road. Protesters subsequently cut down trees that were placed across another part of the road, blocking the entrance to the compound.
In other parts of the country, demonstrations were held to support the protests in Rexton, with more scheduled for Friday.
The mayor of the village of Perth-Andover in western New Brunswick said about three dozen protesters from the Tobique First Nation blocked traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway for several hours Thursday before ending their protest at 8 p.m.
Peter Ritchie said truck traffic was backed up for several kilometres on both sides of the highway.
In Winnipeg, about 50 protesters disrupted traffic at Portage and Main in support of the Rexton protesters. The demonstration was relatively peaceful, but protesters did burn a Canadian flag before making their way to the RCMP building on Portage Avenue.
In southern Ontario, provincial police said 30 to 40 protesters shut down Highway 6 on Thursday between the communities of Hagersville and Caledonia. A local news agency, Turtle Island News, said the protest by Six Nations members was also staged in solidarity with the protests in eastern New Brunswick.
Levi said he expects a meeting Friday between New Brunswick Premier David Alward and Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock in Fredericton.
Levi and Sock were among the dozens of people arrested Thursday. The protesters, who include members of Elsipogtog, want SWN Resources to stop seismic testing and leave the province.
Alward has also said he wants a peaceful resolution, adding that he still believes a shale gas industry can be developed in the province both safely and in a sustainable way.
In a statement issued Thursday, New Brunswick’s Green party leader said Alward has missed an opportunity to reset his government’s relationship with First Nations in New Brunswick.
“The people of Elsipogtog and local residents of Kent County were simply trying to protect their right to safe water and the well-being of their communities through peaceful civil disobedience,” David Coon said. “Their cause is just and deserves respect. The decision to respond with force will deepen the conflict.”
SWN Resources issued a statement Friday saying it is in the early stages of exploration in New Brunswick.
“Our employees are dedicated to the safety of people and the environment, as well as ensuring we are in full compliance with all regulations,” it said.
- N.B. shale gas clash leads to protests across Canada (globalnews.ca)
- Most RCMP withdraw after shale gas clash in Rexton – New Brunswick – CBC News (olduvaiblog.wordpress.com)
- Five police cruisers torched, 40 protesters arrested as native anti-fracking rally turns violent (news.nationalpost.com)
- RCMP pepper spray, arrest N.B. anti-shale gas protesters, police cars set on fire (globalnews.ca)
- Reaction to violent protest in New Brunswick (metronews.ca)
- Sacred Fires Lighting for Elsipogtog First Nation (netnewsledger.com)
Idle No More prepares for day of action – Canada – CBC News. (FULL ARTICLE)
The Idle No More movement has plans for over 63 protests and actions across Canada today, with solidarity events expected in over 12 countries.
The day should indicate whether the movement still has the energy and intensity it displayed last winter.
Idle No More began a year ago with an email exchange between four women in Saskatchewan, growing very quickly into one of the biggest protest movements Canada has seen in years. Idle No More uses social media as a key organizing tool, as it has for today’s events.
Oct. 7 was chosen because that’s the date 250 years ago that King George III signed the Royal Proclamation, which, in its concluding paragraphs, sets out policy for the Crown’s relationship with the “nations or tribes of Indians” and the lands “reserved to them.”…
- Royal Proclamation, the ‘Indian Magna Carta’, turns 250 (cbc.ca)
- Idle No More Event Listing for October 7, 2013 (intercontinentalcry.org)
- We are less than 24 hours from Idle No More’s Global Day of Action! (climate-connections.org)
- First Nations, Métis and Inuit: Global Day of Action (dailykos.com)