Canada: Overview Of Current Indigenous Conflicts In Canada

Last Updated: June 6 2014
Article by Bernd Christmas

It has certainly been an interesting few months in the world of Indigenous politics in Canada.

We saw the resignation of Shawn Atleo, the Assembly of First Nation's National Chief, the continued resurgence of the "Idle No More" movement (as evidenced by a move within the Assembly of First Nations to restore its Confederacy of Nations) and the re-election of Clem Chartier to the Presidency of the Metis Nation Council by what some would call a slim margin.

This political intrigue serves as a backdrop for bigger and potentially costlier scenarios involving Indigenous Peoples, business and government. This article highlights some of the conflicts that readers should be aware of as they continue to play themselves out over the course of the next several months and into 2015.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia Coast

There is significant opposition from BC First Nations communities to Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway Pipelines project. Several First Nations communities support and have signed a "Save the Fraser" declaration, an Indigenous law banning tar sands pipelines from crossing BC which states:

"We have come together to defend these lands and waters from a grave threat: the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines project. This project which would link the Tar Sands to Asia through our territories and the headwaters of this great river, and the federal process to approve it, violate our laws, traditions, values and our inherent rights as Indigenous Peoples under international law."

The declaration goes on to say:

"We will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pielines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon."

The list of First Nations groups that oppose the Northern Gateway Pipeline is extensive and includes: Adams Lake, Alexis Creek First Nation, Bonaparte, Boston Bar First Nation, Bridge River Indian Band, Burns Lake Band, Chawathil First Nation, Cold Water Band, Cook's Ferry Bank, Esk'etemc, Kwantlen First Nation, Lake Babine Nation, Lhoosk'uz Dene Nation, Lhtako, Lil'wat Nation, Musqueam Band, N'Quatqua Band, Nadleh Whut'en First Nation, Nak'azdli Band, Nicomen Band, Nooaitch Indian Band, Saik'uz, Shackan Indian Band, Skatsin, Skeetchestn Indian Band, Soowahlie, Splatsin, St'at'imc, Stswecem'c/Xgat'tem, Sumas, Takla Lake First Nation, T'exelc (Williams Lake Band), T'it'q'et, Tl'esqox, Tsq'escen First Nation, Tzeachten, Ulkatcho Band, Upper Nicola, Wet'suwet'en, Xat'sull (Soda Creek), Xaxli'p, Xeni Gwet'in First Nations and Yakweakwioose.

Kinder Morgan's Proposed Expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline

Kinder Morgan plans to expand its Trans Mountain Pipeline capacity in order to transport up to 890,000 barrels of oil per day - almost triple the current daily capacity. The Tsleil-Waututh Nation opposes the pipeline due to its threat to the community's territory and over environmental concerns. A legal challenge has been launched with the Federal Court of Appeal based on the federal government's failure to consult.

Authorization of Forestry Operations in Mitchikanibikok Inik (Algonquins of Barriere Lake)

In 1991 a tri-lateral agreement was signed between the provincial, federal and Barriere Lake governments for management of the renewable resources in the territory of the Barriere Lake First Nations community. Tensions have risen between Barriere Lake and the governments of Quebec and Canada in relation to the approval of cutting to Eacom, Louisiana and Resolute without going through the consultation protocol established under the tri-lateral agreement.

Open Pit Mines in British Columbia

There are also conflicts over open pit mines in BC. These include the New Prosperity open pit gold and copper mine which was twice rejected by an environmental assessment panel and is opposed by the Tsilhqot'in Nation and the Fortune Minerals open-pit coal mine permit, which issued over 16,000 hectares of unceded traditional territory of the Tahltan Nation.

Issues Affecting Treaty 8 Nations

Site C Hydroelectric Dam on Peace River

Treaty 8 First Nations are: Blueberry River First Nations, Doig River First Nation, Fort Nelson First Nation, Halfway River First Nation, McLeod Lake Indian Band, Prophet River First Nation

Saulteau First Nations and West Moberly First Nations. Together, they are concerned about the Site C Hydroelectric Dam on Peace River. The Treaty 8 Tribal Association website states:

"Site C is a hydroelectric generating system proposed by BC Hydro that, if approved, will be built on the Peace River in north eastern BC. The Peace River, which lies in the heart of our Treaty 8 Territory, already hosts two large-scale hydroelectric structures: The WAC Bennett and the Peace Canyon dams. These two dams, which began generating electricity in 1968 and 1980, respectively, destroyed vast amounts of wetland and critical wildlife habitat and interfered with the lives of First Nations peoples. The Site C project ... could impact up to 337 archaeological sites that have been recorded in its identified study area, and would impact Treaty 8 First Nations' constitutionally protected treaty rights."

Liquefied Natural Gas Development Projects

Other projects affecting Treaty 8 First Nations are on the subject of liquefied natural gas ("LNG"). There are several companies that have development projects planned for extracting and transporting liquid natural gas across northern British Columbia. The Treaty 8 Tribal Association website states:

"Although LNG is unprecedented in BC, Treaty 8 is not opposed to development - in fact, new opportunities for development can bring success to communities as long as it is done in environmentally and culturally sustainable ways." The members of Treaty 8 seek to "participate in a meaningful way, whether that's ownership of business opportunities such as joint ventures, being stewards of the land, or being part of the solution to environmental concerns."

Companies involved in LNG projects in this area include: Discovery LNG (Quicksilver Resources), LNG Canada (Shell Canada Limited, PetroChina Company Limited, Korea Gas Corporation and Mitsubishi Corporation), Kitimat LNG (Apache Canada Limited and Chevron Canada Limited), Douglas Channel Energy (joint venture between Douglas Channel Partnership Cooperative and the Haisla Nation), Kisault Energy Project (Kisault Energy Ltd.), Prince Rupert LNG (British Gas Group), Pacific NorthWest LNG (Progress Energy Canada Limited, PETRONAS, Japan Petroleum Exploration Company Limited), Woodside (Woodside Energy Limited), Aurora LNG (Nexen Energy, INPEX Corporation and JGC Corporation), Canada Stewart Energy Project (Canada Stewart Energy Group Ltd), Woodfibre LNG Project (Pacific Energy Corporation), Triton LNG (AltaGas Limited, Idemitsu Canada Corporation), WCC LNG Ltd. (Imperial Oil Resources Limited, ExxonMobil Canada Ltd.).

Athabascan Oilsands Project

The Athabascan Oilsands project, which is accused of contaminating waters used by the

downstream Athabasca First Nation, continues to be a contentious issue. Both Archbishop Desmond Tutu and singer Neil Young have, and continue to be, in the forefront on behalf of the First Nation.

Bitumen Oil Spills in Alberta

The clean-up, remediation and compensation process for six bitumen oil spills resulting

from steam injection extraction in Cold Lake First Nation traditional territory continues, this process includes the draining of a lake on the First Nation territory.

Dam-building in Northern Manitoba

Members of the Pimicikamak Okimawin First Nation group oppose additional dam-building in Northern Manitoba. According to news reports, Pimicikamak Okimawin wants to "end dam-building and other invasive hydro development" until there is an "independent comprehensive Regional Cumulative Effects Assessment of the entire hydro project and what it has impacted." Concerns have been expressed that the terms of the Northern Flood Agreement were not abided by and that dams should not be built without understanding all possible effects.

HudBay's Lalor Mine Project

Conflict between the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation and HudBay arose regarding HudBay's Lalor project which is in pre-development as a gold, zinc and copper mine. Mathias Colomb Cree Nation engaged in rallies demonstrating against the mine on January 28 and March 5, 2013. Representatives of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation state that HudBay and the Manitoba government should have obtained consent before going ahead with the project and that Mathias Colomb maintains rights to the land and resources. HudBay was granted a court injunction to prevent the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation from engaging in additional protests, citing safety risks associated with blocking entrance to the mine.

Seismic Testing in New Brunswick

Conflict over exploratory wells (seismic testing) being drilled in Chipman and Richibucto by SWN Resources. The Mi'kmaq Nation and Elsipogtog community oppose fracking due to environmental concerns, the threat to groundwater supplies and treaty rights.

Ontario's "Ring of Fire"

The Ontario government and nine Matawa First Nations communities have signed an agreement in relation to the development of the Ring of Fire (a 4,000 square kilometre area in Northern Ontario's James Bay lowlands that is thought to be home to massive mineral deposits valued at an estimated $60 billion). Cliffs Natural Resources has since pulled out of their plans to ship chromite, citing issues with infrastructure and rumored conflicts with the First Nations groups.

The Pacific Trails Pipeline

There appears to be disagreement among members of the Wet'suwet'en nation regarding support for the Pacific Trails Pipeline. Although some members of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation are partners in the project, the project is opposed by some members of the Unist'ot'en First Nation and the Likhts'amisyu First Nation. The Office of the Wet'suwet'en has expressed concern that proposed construction threatens land rights and raises environmental concerns about water quality and fish habitat.

Conflict between the Gitga'at First Nation and Chevron and Apache also arose through Kitimat LNG regarding the Pacific Trails Pipeline at the beginning of 2014 when the Gitga'at First Nation expressed concerns that the decision to award an engineering contract to a joint venture from the US and Japan was undertaken without consultation.

Teck Resources' Highland Valley Copper Mine

In May 2014, five interior First Nations governed by the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council signed an agreement with the BC government focusing on collaboration with respect to developments and mining and forestry decisions in the Nlaka'pamux territory and specifically the Highland Valley Copper Mine owned by Teck Resources Inc. There has historically been conflict between the Nlaka'pamux First Nation and Teck Resources and the BC government, which seems to be easing. However, Teck Resources did not initiate the agreement and is currently underating its own negotiations with the Nlaka'pamux Council.

Statements of Claim Regarding Flooding in Manitoba

The provincial government of Manitoba and the Federal government are facing law suits from several First Nation communities. Statements of Claim for these law suits allege that "the province operated flood control structures - the Portage Diversion, the Fairford Structure and the Shellmouth Dam - to save populated areas in southern Manitoba from major flooding. The use of those structures artificially flooded First Nations in the Interlake region." Six First Nations communities are still affected by the 2011 flooding in the south of Winnipeg and Interlake region including: Ebb and Flow First Nation, Dauphin River First Nation, Peguis First Nation, Lake St. Martin First Nation, Pinaymootang First Nation and Little Saskatchewan First Nation.

Jumbo Glacier Resort to be Built at Qat'muk (Home of the Grizzly Bear Spirit)

The Jumbo Glacier resort proposed by Glacier Resorts is slated to be built in an area known at Qat'muk (home of the Grizzly Bear Spirit) which holds special significance to the Ktunaxa Nation community. The Ktunaxa Nation launched a section 2(a) Charter challenge to the development, but the action was dismissed by the BC Supreme Court on April 3, 2014. Glacier Resorts appears to be communicating with the Shuswap Band in connection with the development.

Rio-Tinto Development Initiatives

The Innu Nation of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam has issued statements opposing the Rio Tinto-Iron Ore of Canada's development initiatives within their traditional territory. The Innu First Nation has filed legal proceedings.


In some of the above cases, the disputes will work themselves out naturally through agreements or authorizations being withdrawn. In many ways, most of these situations are regrettable. Often, Courts must intercede to settle these types of conflicts as First Nations become frustrated when they believe that legal rulings and tests for proper consultation and accommodation are not adhered to while companies feel like they're in the middle as the result of inaction from federal and provincial governments. In the meantime, the lives of Indigenous Peoples on the front lines of these situations are impacted and shareholders begin to question their investments. Dealing with these conflicts swiftly and fairly should be paramount.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Bernd Christmas
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