Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Open Space: Government needs to stop valuing pipelines over treaties

October 5, 2016 by Mason Hendrix, contributing writer

When a government enacts a treaty with a First Nations tribe and then turns around and breaks that treaty, it’s swept under the rug with justifications or bribes, and it’s time for that to stop.

I can’t help but notice striking parallels between the fiasco in North Dakota, which is centred around the construction of a new oil pipeline on First Nations land, and the proposed construction of a new hydroelectric dam—dubbed Site C—in northeastern BC.

The North Dakota Access is part of a larger project called the Bakken Pipeline, which was announced in 2014 and has been gathering opposition from climate activists, landowners, and several First Nations groups.

This story originally appeared in our October 5, 2016 issue.

This story originally appeared in our October 5, 2016 issue.

The proposed Bakken Pipeline would be comparable in size to the rejected Keystone XL pipeline, and would run from North Dakota to Illinois, carrying approximately 470,000 barrels of crude oil on a daily basis.

Proponents of the pipeline argue that it would bring jobs and economic growth, but how many of those jobs would be going to people who actually live in these regions, and how many of those jobs would be permanent?

I know one thing for sure: what would be permanent are the changes to the environment that would occur during construction of the pipeline and the environmental catastrophe that would ensue if the pipeline leaked.

The oil companies in North Dakota have hired security details as part of their response to peaceful protesters, who have been bitten by attack dogs and sprayed with pepper spray without provocation.

Of course, the government is on the side of the oil companies, breaking its oaths to the First Nations peoples, who have suffered enough, having endured the largest genocide on the continent and having most of their land annexed by foreign powers. Every time the government breaks a treaty, it only adds insult to injury and pulls us one step further from reconciliation.

Much of what is now North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming was once part of the Great Sioux Reservation, created through the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. The Treaty has been altered by the US government many times throughout the course of history, and if the Bakken Pipeline were to leak, there would be significant ramifications for the local First Nations people. This would certainly be a violation of the treaty.

If you have an ear for provincial news, you are probably well aware of the Site C project, which is currently in the early stages of construction and is located along the Peace River. No peace will be found in this awful case of injustice and oath breaking.

BC Hydro claims the dam will create enough energy to power 450,000 homes; the downside, however, is that 83 kilometres of pristine river valley will have to be flooded, wiping out 5,550 hectares of land, around 70 percent of which is currently used for agricultural purposes.

Treaty 8 is a 116-year-old treaty between Queen Victoria and several First Nations of the Lesser Slave Lake area. The construction of Site C would violate the protected treaty rights and would severely impact the tribes.

The energy output that BC Hydro would gain from the Site C project will not even be required for another 20 to 40 years, making the dam an extremely pre-emptive enterprise with extremely sudden impacts.

Luckily, peaceful protesters in northeastern BC have not yet met the kind of armed corporate retaliation that those in North Dakota have faced, but both governments are surely guilty of the same desecration and indifference to First Nations’ ancestral homelands.

I believe that with such a high environmental cost involved, the only correct thing to do would be to respect the wishes of the local inhabitants.

Unfortunately, the government doesn’t feel the same way. If they had any respect for democracy and freedom, they would not be behaving in such a disrespectful and invasive manner.

Promises must be kept; land must be preserved.

Treaties must be respected.

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