Canada: Update On Indigenous Conflicts Across Canada

Last Updated: March 13 2015
Article by Bernd Christmas and Jessica Lipton

Since our last overview of Indigenous conflicts in Canada there have been many new and interesting developments. Some conflicts have worked themselves out, while others have escalated and produced new issues.

The following is a summary of conflicts currently affecting First Nations as well as a description of some grass roots indigenous groups advocating for First Nations across Canada.

Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline

There has been strong opposition by many First Nations to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, which has been delayed in its approval. According to the National Energy Board's report, in order to continue with the proposed development, Enbridge must meet 209 conditions including consultation with all affected First Nations.

There are now over 100 First Nations that have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration, which is an agreement that bans oil pipelines and tankers on Aboriginal territories. There are at least nine legal actions relating to Enbridge's pipeline being pursued by First Nations in a joint federal suit.

On January 13, 2015, the Gitga'at First Nation filed a petition with the British Columbia Superior Court to challenge the constitutionality of the government's decision-making power over the project.

Kinder Morgan's Proposed Expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline

The proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline by Kinder Morgan will triple the capacity of the already existing Trans Mountain pipeline, which runs from the Alberta's oil sands to British Columbia. After the expansion, the Trans Mountain Pipeline will have the capacity to transport 890,000 barrels of oil per day. The project has opposition from many First Nations, notably the Tsleil-Waututh Nation who have launched a challenge in federal court. There has not been any development in the legal action, but on October 23, 2014, the National Energy Board granted Kinder Morgan access to a number of sites, including Burnaby Mountain, contrary to municipal bylaws. The National Energy Board has never issued such an order in violation of a municipal bylaw. The residents of Burnaby, British Columbia have staged many protests since the decision, strongly opposing Kinder Morgan's proposed route.

Site C Hydroelectric Dam on Pierce River

The proposed Site C Hydroelectric Dam on Pierce River ("Site C Dam") is a generating system originally proposed by BC Hydro in the 1970s. The Site C Dam would be built on the Peace River, which is the historic land of the Treaty 8 Nations.  The Treaty 8 Nations include Blueberry River First Nations, Dog 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.  In December 2014, the British Columbia government announced its plan to finally go ahead with the Site C Dam. The Treaty 8 Nations have launched an application for judicial review in both Federal and Provincial courts. 

Liquefied Natural Gas Development Projects

There are many companies hoping to initiate Liquefied Natural Gas ("LNG") projects to extract and transport LNG across northern British Columbia. The British Columbia government, as well as many interested LNG companies, have already begun to consult with affected First Nations, including the Lax Kw'alaams, Metlakatla, Kitselas, Kitsumkalum, Gitxaala and the Treaty 8 Nations. LNG companies have begun to enter into revenue sharing agreements with First Nations.  To date, eight First Nations have entered into such agreements.

Athabasca Oil Sands

Many instances of pollution and contamination of waters have been attributed to the Athabasca Oil Sands. The Athabasca First Nations has opposed the project since it began. In July 2014, a report funded by the National First Nations Environmental Contaminants Program, Health Canada, and the Athabasca First Nation and the Mikisew Cree First Nation, prepared by the University of Manitoba was released. The report stated that the pollutants from the Oil Sands were affecting the water and food sources for those nations.

Bills C-38 and C-45

In 2012, two omnibus bills were passed, making changes to Canada's environmental, navigable waters and fisheries laws, Bills C-38 and C-45. These bills sparked criticism from many Indigenous groups, including Idle No More. On December 19, 2014, a Federal Court ruled that the federal government erred in its failure to consult with certain Aboriginal groups, prior to passing the bills. The government now has the opportunity to appeal the decision.

Hydraulic Fracturing New Brunswick

The Province of New Brunswick has placed a moratorium on any kind of hydraulic fracturing, a process used to extract natural gas from shale rock. This process has been opposed by local First Nations such as Mi'kmaq Nation and Elsipogtog as environmentally unfriendly. The New Brunswick government has listed five conditions that need to be satisfied to lift the moratorium, one of which is the implementation of a process for consultation with First Nations.

Ontario's "Ring of Fire"

Northern Ontario's mining region, nicknamed the "Ring of Fire" and located in the James Bay Lowlands, had run into development issues as a result of opposition by nine Matawa First Nations. Last year, the nations signed an agreement in relation to the development. Since signing the agreement, the province has agreed to create a framework for working with First Nations. However, the Matawa nations have now asked for a moratorium on all permits, so as to halt further development and planning until a framework for consultation is established.

The Pacific Trails Pipeline

The Pacific Trails Pipeline is another LNG project by Chevron Canada Limited and Apache Canada Ltd. The proposed route will pass through the land of sixteen First Nations in northern British Columbia. Fifteen of these nations have joined together to form the First Nations Group Limited Partnership ("FNLP"), which will be a partner to the project. The only First Nation affected that has not joined the FNLP is the Moricetown Band. An agreement reached on August 13, 2014, stated that no oil would be transported in the pipeline, which was the Moricetown Band's condition for joining. As of January 2015, the British Columbia Natural Gas Development Ministry also enacted a regulation prohibiting any oil or bitumen conversion in LNG pipelines. The Moricetown Band still has not signed on with the FNLP, but with this development an agreement may soon be in the works.

Tsihqot'in Decision

In June 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada granted title to the Tsihqot'in to over 1,750-square-km in British Columbia's remote central interior. The decision permits economic development to continue on the lands, but only with First Nations consent. The ruling is viewed as a major development in favour of Aboriginal land rights. The ruling, however, does not give First Nations arbitrary veto power; the government may demonstrate that the development is pressing and substantial in order to override the consent requirement.

Mount Polley Mine and Red Chris Mine

On August 4, 2014, there was a breach of a tailings dam related to the Mount Polley gold and copper mine, near Williams Lake, operated by Imperial Metals. The environmental damage prompted the nearby Tahltan elders to speak out against the mining interests in the area.  They subsequently joined with a movement called the Klabona Keepers to create a blockade around Imperial Metals' other nearby mine, Red Chris. The opposition between the groups is ongoing, though Imperial Metals secured an injunction against the blockade.

Flooding in Manitoba

The Jenpeg hydroelectric dam is located about 20 kilometres from Pimicikamak Okiawin First Nation. The province uses the dam to control outflows from Lake Winnipeg into the Nelson River, which has flooded Pimicikamak Okiawin land. The Pimicikamak Okiawin have been critical of the government's dam building for the past four decades. In 1977, the nation and the province signed a Northern Flood Agreement ("NFA"). On January 20, 2015, after admitting to not fulfilling the NFA, the province publicly apologized to the Pimicikamak Okiawin and promised to abide by the NFA.

There has been disagreement since 2011 between the Manitoba government and the First Nations of the province due to the alleged use of flood control structures by the province to divert water from populated areas into First Nations' communities. The province has tried to help these affected First Nations, including the 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. The province has agreed to a plan to build a new settlement for one third of the affected First Nations, investing $300 million of government funding.

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

Last year, the Ktunaxa Nation launched a challenge, under Section 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to a proposal to build a resort on their spiritual land. The action was denied by the British Columbia Supreme Court. The Ktunaxa is now appealing that decision.

Rio-Tinto Development Initiatives

The Innu First Nations of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John have initiated a class action against IOC Rio Tinto for $900 million. The action is based on the Innu Nations' allegations that the company has caused harm to them by operating a railway and mining complex since the 1950s without any consultation. The company tried to argue that the suit should be filed against the government, a motion which was denied in September 2014. IOC Rio Tinto appealed the decision, which was again denied by the Quebec Court of Appeal on January 12, 2015, allowing the class action to proceed against IOC Rio Tinto.

Overview of Indigenous Organizations Across Canada

Aboriginal peoples have always fought to preserve their unique cultures in modern Canada. In an effort to protect their ways of life, a number of grass roots Indigenous groups have sprung up to ensure that Aboriginal rights are upheld. Their causes range from issues affecting specific regions or groups to those affecting national Aboriginal rights.

Below is a summary of some of the most prominent movements across Canada. 

  • Pull Together

Pull Together is an organization that is helping the The Heiltsuk, Kitasoo-Xai'xais and Gitxaala Nations in their opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline. The Heiltsuk, Kitasoo-Xai'xais and Gitxaala Nations are nations native to British Columbia. Pull Together has been working with RAVEN (see description below) to crowd fund the money for these First Nations to get legal counsel to oppose the Northern Gateway.

  • Barriere Lake Solidarity

The Algonquians of Barriere Lake (ABL) are located in Quebec. The ABL has maintained its own governance system, rejecting the Indian Act. In 1991, the ABL and the governments of Quebec and Canada signed a trilateral agreement. The agreement aimed to initiate a program for co-management of resources. In an effort to enforce the agreement, Barriere Lake Solidarity was formed by individuals and groups outside the ABL. On behalf of the ABL, Barriere Lake Solidarity has conducted peaceful protests, education events, fundraising and media campaigns, and political campaigns.

  • Idle No More

Idle No More, begun in November 2012 was founded by a group of Aboriginal women in Saskatchewan.  Its goal is to educate people about proposed federal legislation relating to the Northern Gateway Pipeline. The group has evolved into one of the largest Aboriginal rights movements to date. Idle No More has led many educational events, campaigns, social media and live events. In 2015, we will likely see Idle No More continue its opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

  • Defenders of the Land

Defenders of the Land is an organization that seeks to create a unified network of Indigenous communities that band together for Indigenous rights and the rights of Mother Nature. The group was created in 2008. Defenders of the Land holds meetings and educational events, opposes the Indian Act and hopes to influence the government to make changes in its treatment of Aboriginal people.

  • Families of Sisters in Spirit

The Sisters in Spirit initiative documents violence faced by Aboriginal girls and women in Canada.  The program's goal is to identify the causes of this violence and create a solution. The Sisters in Spirit was initially federally funded; however, funding has since been pulled. Families of Sisters in Spirit is an organization mostly made up of Aboriginal women that have been, or have a friend or family member that has been, affected by violence.  The group aims to gain awareness for the treatment of Aboriginal women and raise support for the Sisters in Spirit research program.

  • Klabona Keepers

The Klabona Keepers are a group of Tahltan elders and families that live in the area known as Tl'abãne, near Iskut, British Columbia. The group has opposed treatment of Indigenous resources in the Tl'abãne region by mining interests in the area. Recently, after some toxic materials were released from a nearby tailing pond, the group created a blockade around the site of Imperial Metals' Red Chris copper and gold mine. On November 26, 2014, the British Columbia Superior Court granted an injunction to have the blockade removed. The group still plans to continue its stand against mining interests in the area. 

  • Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs (RAVEN)

RAVEN is a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to Aboriginal groups within Canada. Funding is given to groups that want to work lawfully with industrial developers to ensure that any new developments on Indigenous land are reconciled with traditional ways of life and other sustainable practices. The group was started in 2009 and operates out of British Columbia.  Notably, RAVEN has been funding the Beaver Lake Cree's impending trial against the Province of Alberta and the Federal government over the Tar Sands.

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
Jessica Lipton
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