Awaiting Justice: Indigenous Resistance in the Tar Sands of Canada

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On April 11, 2015 there were dozens of rallies across Canada demanding true leadership to deal with the climate crisis we face around the world. 

The federal Harper government continues to be a climate laggard refusing to address the need to reduce our carbon emissions and violate Indigenous peoples rights with its zealous pro-tar sands agenda. For the first time in Quebec, Indigenous peoples led the march to show our resolve to protect the sacredness of Mother Earth and demand justice. As I stood before a crowd of 25 000 people from across Canada, I spoke of the contamination, despair and detrimental impacts my family and many other communities face from resource extraction happening in our homelands of Northern Alberta.

Due to being an Indigenous activist who speaks out against environmental destruction I have been labelled by the Canadian government as an "adversary." Both "Aboriginals" and "environmentalists" were labelled as such in 2012 when secret government documents were accessed through the Freedom of Information Act. And now the Harper government is taking this to yet another extreme by attempting to pass an anti-terrorism law called Bill C-51 which includes targeting the "anti-petroleum movement" as "extremists" because they oppose "critical infrastructure" projects like the tar sands and tar sands pipelines. This bill is an attempt to silence people who do not agree with the Harper government and can be used to target and criminalize democratic peaceful protest movements. Over 100 legal experts expressed deep concern calling the bill "a dangerous piece of legislation" and addressed an open letter to all members of parliament to amend Bill C-51 or kill it. It is legislation like this that makes it difficult for people to not be scared into silence and for people like me who believe that we need to transition to clean and just work and engage in peaceful protests that may be seen as criminal in the eyes of the Canadian government. But this history is not new for us as Indigenous peoples here in Canada. It is the continuation of  neo colonialism seen now in the form of resource extraction, environmental and cultural genocide.

The traditional territory of my ancestors and my Nation of the Lubicon Cree covers approximately 10,000 square kilometres of low-lying trees, forests, rivers, plains, and wetlands - what we call muskeg - in northern Alberta. For three decades, our territory has undergone massive oil and gas development without the consent of the people and without recognition of our treaty & Indigenous rights, which are protected under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.

In the 1970s, before this encroachment on the land began, my father's generation and my grandparents' generation survived by hunting, fishing, and trapping throughout the region. Back then, and even into my own generation, people were still living off the land. I remember going out on the trapline, and I remember when the water was still good to drink. But as oil and gas have come through the territory, that's changed.

Currently there are more than 2,600 oil and gas wells in our traditional territories. Over 1,400 square kilometres of leases have been granted for tar sands development in Lubicon territory, and almost 70 per cent of the remaining land has been leased for future development.

Where there once was self-sufficiency, we are seeing increased dependency on social services as families are no longer able to sustain themselves in what was once a healthy environment with clean air, clean water, medicines, berries, and plants from the Boreal. Our way of life is being replaced by industrial landscapes, polluted and drained watersheds, and contaminated air. And it's very much a crisis situation.

Read more at Truth Out.


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