A prominent First Nations leader says Alberta’s energy minister “needs to be more educated” on Indigenous land rights, after an urgent warning by a United Nations committee provoked the province’s anger.

Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, told National Observer that she felt Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage was misguided when she slammed a UN directive calling on Canada to halt construction on energy projects.

“I think that she doesn’t understand what the proper title-holders are," Wilson said. "I think she needs to be more educated on that.”

Alberta NDP energy critic Irfan Sabir also told National Observer that Savage’s remarks show the UCP government in Alberta refuses to respect Indigenous rights.

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage on May 2, 2019. Photo by Andrew Meade

The UN directive calls on Canada to stop construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, the Site C dam and the Coastal GasLink pipeline until the government can properly carry out its constitutional duty to consult and obtain free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous people.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said it was concerned large projects in Canada could cause “irreparable harm to Indigenous peoples rights, culture, lands, territories and way of life.” It also said it was disturbed by law enforcement’s “harassment and intimidation” and alarmed by the “escalating threat of violence.”

After news broke Tuesday of the December directive from the UN, Savage issued a statement criticizing the international body as “unaccountable” and “unelected” and suggesting it was “beyond rich” that its work would “single out Canada.”

“We wish that the UN would pay as much attention to the majority of First Nation groups that support important projects such as Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink,” Savage wrote.

“First Nations leaders increasingly recognize that responsible natural resource development can serve as a path from poverty to prosperity for their people. Yet this UN body seemingly ignores these voices.”


But the issue of which First Nations leaders are speaking is precisely what is at stake, countered Wilson. “Only the proper title-holders of the land have that decision-making authority,” she noted.

In the case of Coastal GasLink, the proper title-holders are hereditary, Wilson said. While the company has indicated it has signed agreements with all elected First Nations councils, five Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs are demanding the province suspend permits for the pipeline.

The hereditary chiefs have cited Wet'suwet'en trespass laws when they sent an eviction notice recently to the company. Hereditary chief Na'moks even cited the UN directive in comments: "The world is watching; the United Nations is watching. This is not just the Wet'suwet'en," said Na'moks, according to CBC News.

Alberta NDP energy critic Irfan Sabir said in a statement that “we believe the economy, environment, and Indigenous rights can, and must, go hand-in-hand.” The former Alberta NDP government led an anti-racism initiative and formed the Indigenous Climate Leadership Initiative, he noted.

“As a result, we were able to move much needed resource development forward in a responsible manner,” said Sabir. “The current UCP government’s dismissive attitude towards the environment, refusal to respect Indigenous rights, and lack of vision will only lead to further delays and more projects being questioned.”

The UN directive is not the first time that the organization has cast a critical eye on Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people and its pursuit of fossil fuel and energy projects, in the context of discrimination.

Baskut Tuncak, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, speaks to media in Ottawa on June 6, 2019. Photo by Carl Meyer

In June 2019, Baskut Tuncak, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, concluded that Indigenous communities in Canada are “disproportionately impacted” by toxic industrial byproducts to the point that it raised questions of discrimination.

In addition to its warning about resource projects, the new UN directive recommends Canada “establish, in consultation with Indigenous peoples, a legal and institutional framework to ensure adequate consultation” and to incorporate free, prior and informed consent into domestic legislation.

In British Columbia, the province passed legislation in November to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It has not yet been passed federally.

The UN body also urged Canada to “prohibit the use of lethal weapons, notably by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, against Indigenous peoples.” RCMP were “prepared to shoot” land defenders blockading Coastal GasLink construction, the Guardian reported in December, citing internal police documents.

“Canada needs to heed these international bodies, international law, and they keep talking about upholding the rule of law, but Canada isn’t doing that as a country,” Wilson said.

“The rule of law is very clear with regards to discrimination, we should be moving as a country past that. We should be working on a better direction, instead of reinforcing the old fossil fuel and oil industry. We’re wasting a lot of time because of climate change.”

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Divide and conquer. Standard operating procedure for industry and captured govts.
The short-term financial interests of pro-pipeline factions do not trump the inalienable rights of First Nations communities on the frontlines of hazardous projects and future generations to a healthy, safe environment; clean drinking water; and sustainable livelihood.
In 2016 Canada agreed to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP): "We are now a full supporter of the declaration, without qualification. We intend nothing less than to adopt and implement the declaration in accordance with the Canadian Constitution."
UNDRIP stipulates free, prior, and informed consent.
In a constitutional democracy, majority will does not override protected minority rights.
At one time, PM Trudeau understood this: "Governments grant permits, communities grant permission."

Signing a Mutual Benefit Agreement (MBA) does not imply support.

"...some First Nations said that they signed the benefit agreements or letters of support out of concern that, if they failed to do so, they risked getting nothing at all. Kyra Northwest, of the Samson Cree Nation, said 'You can oppose, but with the past government it (a proposed project) would get approved either way, so Samson Cree agreed just to be sure we would get something.'
"And Summer Ebringer, of the Enoch Cree First Nation agreed, 'The fear is that if you don’t sign and it goes ahead anyway, you get nothing.'"
"This is the language of the powerless, of people with no leverage or bargaining power."
April Thomas, Canim Lake Band: "...the pipeline project is 'just another divide and conquer tactic that’s been used on our people over and over again. The Govt of Canada made our people so desperate. We have a housing crisis, a poverty crisis and they’ve made our people so desperate that they feel like they’re obligated to sign these agreements because they think that’s all they’re going to get.'"
• aptnnews.ca/2018/04/26/travelling-the-pipeline-why-the-secwepemc-nation-is-crucial-for-the-trans-mountain-pipeline/
"Two First Nations chiefs who signed letters of support for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion say they don’t truly support the project.
"Chief Robert Joseph of Ditidaht First Nation told the Tracking Trans Mountain team that he felt fighting the pipeline was futile.
"'At the end of the day, we are not really in favour of any pipeline, but we believe it’s going to go through anyway,' Joseph said. 'They will not listen to anybody and that’s the history of consultation with First Nations people … They consult and go ahead and do what they were going to do anyways.'
"… Joseph said he worried that if his nation opposed the project, they would be on their own if oil spills.
"He said the consultation process wasn’t meaningful.
"'Even if it’s the best consultation on the face of the earth, if they do what they were going to do anyhow, what’s the point?'"
• aptnnews.ca/2018/06/11/b-c-chiefs-say-they-dont-support-trans-mountain-pipeline-despite-signing-agreements/
"Yale First Nation Chief Ken Hansen told APTN News that he wouldn’t have signed the agreement if his band had any other financial options.
"'When I signed this deal, I felt a lot of shame.'"
• aptnnews.ca/2018/06/11/b-c-chiefs-say-they-dont-support-trans-mountain-pipeline-despite-signing-agreements/
After a B.C. FN community voted down a pipeline benefit agreement by a large margin, the Band council signed the deal anyway. Democracy in action:
"In 2015, the Nak'azdli (a First Nation two hours NW of Prince George) held a referendum on whether to enter into a benefit agreement with the province of B.C. for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, as well as the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline. Nearly 300 band members took part, with more than 70 per cent voting no."
"Benefits agreement asks First Nation to discourage members from hindering B.C. pipeline project" (CBC, Aug 09, 2019)

Here's the deal between industry and First Nations:
We're going to proceed with the project with or without you. So you may as well take the jobs and co-operate in the destruction of your homeland and way of life. Co-operate and get something — or don't co-operate and get nothing. Makes no difference to us.
"Like many others in Fort Chipewyan, a tiny Alberta hamlet on the banks of Lake Athabasca, Rigney is conflicted because oil money forever changes the live-off-the-land lifestyle — and SHE BLAMES GOVERNMENTS AND THE OIL INDUSTRY FOR BEATING DOWN INDIGENOUS OPPOSITION TO OILSANDS PROJECTS TO THE POINT THAT BUYING IN SEEMS THE ONLY OPTION.
'I could not believe that my community wants to be part of this pipeline. THEY HAVE FORCED US INTO A CORNER WHERE WE HAVE NOWHERE ELSE TO TURN,' Rigney said sadly.
'Just think 100 years from now what this planet will look like. They are destroying the land.'"

Eriel Deranger, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and executive director of Indigenous Climate Action:
"'Even when communities are consulted and raise concerns and rights violations, PROJECTS ARE STILL APPROVED DESPITE ADMISSIONS OF IRREVERSIBLE AND ADVERSE IMPACTS ON THE PEOPLE AND THE LAND,' said Eriel Deranger, a member the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and executive director of Indigenous Climate Action.
'This can destroy the spirit of the people.'"

The AB NDP was hardly any better on this file.
In opposition, the NDP voiced support for a comprehensive healthy study on cancers in Fort Chipewyan. Once in govt, the only sound was crickets.

"[Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation,] said his people continue to die from cancer at alarmingly high rates, a fact he blamed on oilsands developments. 'Whatever food I'm bringing in from the bush, it is getting our people sick.'
"The chief said he had hoped that after four decades of Conservative rule in Alberta, things would be different when the NDP government came to power in May 2015. But under the Rachel Notley government, he said, it's business as usual. 'I feel very, very ashamed to call myself an Albertan. I feel very, very ashamed to call myself a Canadian citizen.'" (January 2017)
["Jane Fonda 'dining out on celebrity' but starved for facts, Alberta premier says"

"'Nothing came about:' Alberta First Nation revives oilsands pipeline lawsuit"
Chief Allan Adam: "The talk around our table is that the NDP government is just another platform of the previous Conservative government with a different logo. Nothing has changed."

Dr John O'Connor: "Pre-election, the NDP/Rachel Notley were vocally supportive of bringing accountability and responsibility to bear on the environmental and health impacts,especially downstream, of the tarsands. After the AB Cancer Board report on Fort Chipewyan, she was notably outspoken on the need to comply with the recommendation for a comprehensive health study of Fort Chip, which was never even started.
"Now—it’s buried and forgotten. Such hypocrisy."

"Oilpatch odours in northwestern Alberta still pungent, years after inquiry"
"[Donna Daum, a retired teacher] points out that members of the current NDP govt — including Premier Rachel Notley — were loud in their support when they were in opposition.
"'(Notley) talked about the precautionary principle, which obviously is no longer in their dictionary. I can't believe how these dictionaries get rewritten the moment there's some responsibility attached to things.'"

Notley's signal achievement was to "push country-wide support for pipelines from 40% to 70%." Something Kenney and Scheer could never dream of doing.
On Premier Notley's cross-country tours, she preached salvation by pipeline to choirs of business elites. In May 2018, Notley hosted a hundred business-people who flew to the AB Legislature from BC.
Notley refused to meet with local communities or their representatives on the frontlines of pipeline development to hear their concerns.

UNDRIP goes out the window when it comes to pipelines and oilsands "development" -- no matter who governs AB.
Ask Notley how she reconciles her push for pipelines with UNDRIP. Without free, prior, and informed consent, UNDRIP is meaningless.

Minister Savage states that the UN is unelected and unaccountable.... just as the NEB (or whatever it's name is) is also unelected and unaccountable. I am very resentful of the fact that MS. Savage and others do not respect the rights of those who do not reside in her province and have grave concerns about the future of THEIR environment due to the proven threats of bitumen filled pipelines and oil tankers in BC. I am guessing that many across this nation of ours are becoming more and more concerned due to the reckless demands made by Alberta's government which has demonstrated a measured disregard for the needs and concerns of other Canadian citizens who do not reside in Alberta.

Excellent point.

Savage seemingly likes the word seemingly.

Interesting that right wing government members seem always to decry any advice or input from independent or judicial expert groups as valueless and unwelcome, because the experts haven't been "elected". "Elected" unfortunately does not imply "wise", "educated", "unbiased", nor even "representative", given our extremely flawed first-past-the-post electoral systems in Canada, and the seeming lack of educational qualifications for elected government members. FPTP gives essentially dictatorial powers to governments often elected to a false majority, despite a majority of citizens not voting for them. Those same governments often now keep quiet about their plans until elected, and then claim that their majority positions give them "widespread endorsement" to do anything they please, regardless of costs or consequences, like cutting taxes for corporations while diminishing public services and jobs.

This is all in addition to the fact that social media, malign foreign interference, corrupt individuals, hacking technologies, and behind the scenes shady maneuvering may even more significantly compromise the results of elections, and deliver, instead of the most competent and responsible persons to power, but rather those most comfortable setting aside ethics and honesty. I understand there are still unresolved questions about the integrity of Mr. Kenney's victory as Conservative party leader.

The three massive BC energy projects carry enormous harms to the Canadian and global population because of climate heating. Even the Site C dam, while being a hydro project, will submerge an enormous amount of vegetation, which will give rise to methane. It looks likely to also disrupt the Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, which is likely worth a mention. It will spoil potentially arable land, at a time when climate heating threatens our agricultural and food security.

We're seeing in Australia the clear, profoundly destructive, and profoundly costly impacts of ignoring the downsides of fossil fuel energy systems and their escalating and potentially irreversible environmental harms. Biased government officials like Ms. Savage and her "seemingly" ethically challenged leader, have zero compunction about selling off the future safety and stability of our children's world, for profits and votes. Unfortunately "elected" in her government's case has nothing to do with "ethical" "informed" or "respectful". While researching land rights, Ms. Savage should also take a quick crash course on climate science. If she hasn't the time, perhaps she could just thumb through some pertinent images from Australia over the past few weeks, and contemplate the costs and human losses from out-of-control nation-wide infernos, and of daytime temperatures in the mid to high 40s.

Our UCP people are determined to keep extracting and shipping hydrocarbons until hell freezes over. The climate consequences and the rights of other people don't matter to them. Please, we need to remove this government as soon as possible!