Supreme Court of Canada to Rule on Indigenous Relationship with Energy Sector

Supreme Court to Issue Landmark Rulings on Indigenous Relationship with Energy Sector

John Paul Tasker | July 25, 2017

The Supreme Court will deliver two landmark rulings Wednesday that could lead to fundamental changes for Canada’s energy sector and its relationship with Indigenous Peoples. At issue is the Crown’s constitutional obligation to consult with Indigenous Peoples before approving the construction of a pipeline or allowing a natural resources project to proceed. The top court is expected to give further details on just how much consultation is required, and who should be doing it.

Energy companies have signalled they are concerned that a longer, more arduous consultation process could stymie projects and the jobs that come with development.

Some First Nations and Inuit activists have said that the National Energy Board, the country’s energy regulator, has inadequately consulted with their communities before approving projects. There have also been questions as to whether NEB members are best equipped to represent the federal government in these sorts of consultation talks with Indigenous Peoples.

There are two cases at issue. The first was brought by Inuit living in the small Nunavut community of Clyde River, who are opposed to offshore seismic testing in Baffin Bay. A Norwegian consortium wants to conduct the testing so it can search for oil and gas.

The Inuit have said the NEB should never have approved the permit for this type of testing — which uses sound wave technology to see if there are reserves under the sea floor — because of the possibility it could disrupt fish and sea mammals the community relies on for food. The Supreme Court will rule on whether the NEB adequately consulted Inuit in the area when it gave the green light to the testing. (The consortium has delayed testing three times because of the legal action.)

‘Existential threat’

Nader Hasan, the lawyer representing the Inuit, said the best possible outcome would be the Supreme Court reversing the NEB’s 2014 decision to grant a five-year permit for the companies to conduct this type of “blasting.”

“There have certainly been other cases where there has been far more consultation than what happened in Clyde River, where the government just wasn’t there — full stop. The Inuit wrote to the minister saying, ‘The NEB ran roughshod over our rights, you owe us a duty of consultation, where are you?’ And the minister wrote back saying, ‘We’re going to leave it to the NEB,'” Hasan said, speaking of former Conservative Aboriginal affairs minister Bernard Valcourt.

“There was no consultation outside of the regulatory process. We’re asking the court to put an end to that [and] give some much-needed guidance on what exactly the duty to consult looks like and what is required to make deep consultation meaningful,” Hasan said in an interview with CBC News ahead of the ruling.

Jerry Natanine, Clyde River’s former mayor and a leading voice against the testing, said the NEB process was a foregone conclusion. “When they were going up there telling us what they were going to do, it wasn’t a consultation,” he said. “They just told us what they were going to do and didn’t answer our questions.”

“This decision means everything to the Inuit, seismic blasting is an existential threat,” Nasan added. “It is a threat to their food security and their 3,000-year-old way of life.” …

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UN Directs Canada to Protect Wood Buffalo National Park

UN Committee Directs Canada to Protect Wood Buffalo National Park

By Natasha Riebe | July 5, 2017

The Wood Buffalo National Park could be demoted on the world stage if Canada doesn’t do more to protect the water and land from development. The United Nations World Heritage Committee voted Wednesday to call on Canada to implement an action plan involving 17 directives created by a monitoring mission to the park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — last year.

They include improving monitoring of the Peace-Athabasca-Delta, assessing the environmental impacts of the Site C dam on the river system and creating a buffer zone between the park and the oil sands. If the park doesn’t follow through with the recommendations and report back to the committee by the end of 2018, it could be put on a list of sites classified as UN World Heritage in Danger. If designated as such, it would be the first heritage site in Canada to be added to the list and the second in North America, after the Everglades National Park in the United States. …

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Land Transfer Brings Closure to Salish Sea Tribe 20 Years After Village Site and Cemetery Disturbed

Land Transfer Brings Closure to Lummi Tribe 20 Years After Ancestors’ Remains Disturbed

By Lynda V. Mapes | June 30, 2017

First there was a human cranium, then a large leg bone, and teeth; then Al Scott Johnnie knew he was looking at the remains of his ancestors, disturbed in the construction of a sewage treatment plant.

The violation of a Lummi village site and burial ground at Semiahmoo Spit nearly 20 years ago was remembered this week, in a ceremonial procession. Once there, Harry Robinson, mayor of Blaine, signed over the deed to the nearly 2-acre site to Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, on behalf of the Lummi Nation.

“It is good to see this finally happening, that we were able to bring some closure,” said Ballew, who signed the transfer seated at a folding table next to Robinson, set just in front of where the ancestors were reburied.

Wrapped in hand-woven Coast Salish blankets presented for the occasion, the two passed the papers between them, sealing a small but redemptive act. Tribal members in black-feathered headdresses and ceremonial dress stood behind them as they signed, singing, drumming and shaking deer-hoof rattles. A pair of eagles repeatedly flew over the property.

After the signing, Robinson told the crowd, assembled facing the burial site, “We know this is sacred ground. We look forward to continuing the relationship we established in this process and continuing to work with you in the future.”

The singers had led about 100 people to the site to witness the signing, including tribal elders and cultural leaders and many who worked at the site, sifting through the material disturbed in construction, to find the bones and belongings of their ancestors.

An attorney for the tribe ultimately had to fly to Colorado to track down human remains carted off the site in vegetable boxes by the archaeologist supervising the job. Some 450 dump-truck loads of cultural material from the site full of human remains and artifacts also had been dumped in stockpiles and even sold as fill.

“We literally drove around the county, looking for fresh piles of shell midden in people’s yards,” said Alyson Rollins, today a physical anthropologist for the tribe. Shell middens are layers of cooking remains, particularly bones, shell and grease, deposited through years of human use of a site.

Lummi Cultural Department Director Al Scott Johnnie said he remembers going to the site on a routine visit to check in on the ongoing construction in August 1999 and learning that the remains of some 44 of his ancestors had been trucked away to Colorado.

State and federal officials at that time shut down any further work at the site, citing egregious violations of the protocol to protect cultural materials.

An archaeologist who carted the remains in his truck to his home was put on leave, then resigned.

Ultimately indigenous use of the area was revealed to date back at least 4,500 years.

Archaeologists found more than 350,000 animal and fish remains at the village site, and tens of thousands of artifacts, including more than 19,000 items at least a century old, or much, much older.

The material dug from the site was replete with bone, stone and antler tools. There were spear points, arrow heads, fishing weights, bone awls and adzes. Spindle whorls documented a high culture including weaving arts, fine carving and body ornamentation, including labrets.

In all more than 35,300 ancestral human remains were found. The tribe reburied their ancestors in five separate ceremonies as remains were recovered, concluding in 2013. …

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Nunavut Complains That Federal Scientists Took Franklin Artifacts Without Permission

HMS Terror on ice, 1837

Nunavut Complains that Federal Scientists took Franklin Artifacts without Permission

The Nunavut Premier’s protest — in a letter directly to Justin Trudeau — adds ownership disputes to an archeological search already plagued by bad blood

By Tom Spears | June 23, 2017

Nunavut’s premier complained directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last fall that federal scientists took artifacts of the doomed Franklin Expedition — enough for a major museum exhibit — without permission. The artifacts recovered since HMS Erebus was found in 2014 cover a wide variety of well-preserved ship’s equipment and men’s personal belongings: part of the ship’s wheel, its bell, belaying pins, blue and white china plates, cups and saucers, a cannon, a sword hilt, a knife and a ceramic pot labelled “anchovy paste.” The complaint is in a formal letter from Premier Peter Taptuna, obtained by the Ottawa Citizen through an access-to-information request.

His protest adds ownership disputes to an archeological search already plagued by bad blood. Last summer private searchers discovered the wreck of one Franklin ship, HMS Terror, and didn’t tell their government search partners for a week. Nunavut considers the wreck site of HMS Erebus to be within its internal waters, giving ownership to the territory and to the Inuit Heritage Trust, the letter says. “Nevertheless, Parks Canada removed artifacts from HMS Erebus. “This was unfortunate and inconsistent with past practice.”

It says Parks Canada has abided by Nunavut’s regulations in a series of searches for the lost Franklin ships since 2002 “and has not claimed title in specimens until the discovery of HMS Erebus in 2014.” Yet at the same time, Parks Canada says the wreck is still British property. A summary also contained in the access-to-information package summarizes it this way: “As is the cases for HMS Erebus, title to the wreck and contents of HMS Terror remains with the United Kingdom. A 1997 Memorandum of Understanding specifies that upon discovery, the United Kingdom will transfer ownership of recovered artifacts to Canada, with specified exceptions.”

The Nunavut premier’s letter, sent just weeks after the discovery of Franklin’s second ship, Terror, adds that the premier expects Parks Canada officials to “consult and elaborate with our officials regarding the enforcement measures that will be employed at HMS Terror site…” And it complains that the private searchers from the Arctic Research Foundation were outside the approved search area. That doesn’t please the premier either: “As well, the finding of the HMS Terror seems to have been haphazard and not within the scope of the permits granted or the agreed-to search parameters.” …

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Indigenous Sovereignty Is On The Rise. Can It Shape the Course of History?

Indigenous Sovereignty is on the Rise. Can it Shape the Course of History?

By Julian Brave NoiseCat | May 30, 2017

Time has long worked against Indigenous peoples. The English-speaking epochs of the last 200 years – the Pax Britannica and American Century – share the same dramatic opening scene: a global coup displacing millions of people and thousands of societies, from the Mi’kmaq in New Foundland to the Māori in New Zealand.

Property, sovereignty and even history itself are said to originate with these Anglo-Saxon triumphs. History and time are appropriated as the sole possessions of the white men who inherited the earth. For the ruling class, their passage marks the steady advance of civilization, modernity and progress. Rapturous booms and tumultuous busts are punctuated by bloody wars recast as heroic conquests. All throughout the land, alabaster monuments memorialize these triumphs and tragedies.

For Indigenous peoples, the same dates, statues and eras mark massacres, epidemics and expulsions. Generations rue the insidious devastation of occupation. Songs and stories reverberate to the rhythms and dreams of a halcyon freedom receding into legend as our last elders who bore witness pass on to the next world.

The history of the English-speaking world, brought crashing down upon Aboriginal peoples, is a shared nightmare lurking in the collective subconscious of the survivors. From reservations, ghettoes and schools where the first peoples of these lands were sent to assimilate or die, we look out upon a world built on the premise that in it we have no place.

Nowhere is this history more palpable than Australia. The First Nations under the Southern Cross and the Emu in the Sky have called the Australian continent home for more than 60,000 years, making them one of the world’s longest-standing cultural groups with an unbroken connection to their ancestral lands.

They endured one of colonization’s most brutal onslaughts justified by settlers who openly questioned their humanity and often speculated that their diverse and vibrant societies were “the connecting link between man and the monkey tribe”.

In Australia, unlike the rest of the Commonwealth and the United States, treaties were never signed between First Nations and the Crown. Instead, the British – seasoned colonizers by this point in time – wrote off Aboriginal peoples as savage wanderers who did not have sufficient humanity to merit title to their homelands. The entire continent was expropriated under the doctrine of terra nullius – a legal principle that said Indigenous territories were empty and free for the taking.

Despite Australia’s relentless disavowal of Indigenous presence, Aboriginal peoples never gave up hope. A sign in front of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy established in 1972 on lawns facing Canberra’s Parliament House reads: Sovereignty never ceded. Through decades and even centuries of survival and struggle, the first Australians have won remarkable victories recognizing their personhood, land rights and right to self-determination in the face of a profound history of dehumanization.

Yet the stubborn and punitive Australian state continues to deny their rightful and enduring sovereignty.

Last week, more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders gathered at the community of Mutitjulu, situated at the eastern base of the sacred Uluru rock formation. There, in a community that still bears the scars of the controversial and punitive 2007 Northern Territory Intervention, when soldiers invaded aboriginal communities, delegates worked long into the night to chart a path forward for Aboriginal peoples in Australia. On Friday, in The Uluru Statement from the Heart, a majority rejected symbolic constitutional recognition and asserted their unextinguished sovereignty.

“This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors.” The statement continues: “This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.”

The statement demands a permanent First Nations voice be enshrined in the constitution, perhaps in a model similar to New Zealand’s Māori seats or Section 35 of the Canadian constitution, and calls for the formation of a commission for Makaratta – an Indigenous Yolgnu word for treaty.

While a great political fight lies ahead, the Uluru referendum and statement mark a historic moment – not just for Australia, but also for Indigenous peoples and the planet. After decades of struggle and advances won in small and often unnoticed increments, Indigenous sovereignty has arrived in full bloom as a global aspiration and force for human good. …

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Islanders Question Plan to Dig in San Juan Islands Monument

Some Islanders Don’t Dig Federal Plan to Dig in San Juan Islands Monument

By John Ryan | May 24, 2017

The Trump administration has given an initial thumbs-up to a plan to dig holes throughout a meadow of rare wildflowers inside the San Juan Islands National Monument. It’s not part of any effort to eliminate the monument: It’s part of local tribes’ efforts to improve their diets and revive old traditions. The Trump administration released its list of 27 national monuments up for review — and possible elimination – earlier in May. The Hanford Reach National Monument along the Columbia River is on the list; the much smaller San Juan Islands National Monument is not. But just because land is in a national monument doesn’t mean it’s protected from harm.

Iceberg Point

The San Juans are mostly private land, with public parks in some of the islands’ most scenic locations. Iceberg Point, at the rocky, southern tip of Lopez Island, is one of the bigger parcels in the 1,000-acre San Juan Islands National Monument, designated in 2013 by President Obama. The Bureau of Land Management runs this southernmost outpost of the San Juan Islands. It has called Iceberg Point an “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” since 1990.

This month, the agency said its proposal to dig 100 to 190, possibly more, holes in the meadows and forests at Iceberg Point and conduct a three-week field school there would have no significant impact. Archaeologist Patrick McCutcheon from Central Washington University and up to 25 students would do the digging in July during a three-week field school.

The plan has some islanders crying foul. “I’ve never thought of it as a place of research,” one Lopez resident said at a public meeting about the Iceberg Point proposal in May. “Isn’t Iceberg considered a reserve, to be protected from this kind of activity?” she asked.

‘Irreversible damage’

“The damage will be irreversible,” said biologist Russell Barsh with Kwiaht, a Lopez-based scientific nonprofit that has been studying the ecosystem of Iceberg Point for more than a decade. “What’s in that area could include the last remaining specimens of a number of wildflower species that we’ll never see again, at least not here in the islands,” Barsh said while standing in Kwiaht’s research garden in the middle of the island.

The Kwiaht garden grows native, edible plants. A recent open house at the garden served camas salsa, Indian-celery hummus and pickled salmonberry shoots. “The plants we focus on in our research garden grow wild at Iceberg Point,” Barsh said.

But Iceberg Point isn’t wild, exactly: It’s more like a very old, overgrown garden. “A pre-contact or pre-Columbian agricultural landscape in which Coast Salish people were gardening camas and other plants for the villages here on the south end of Lopez,” Barsh said.

Archaeological research can garner fierce opposition from tribes seeking respect for their ancestors and their cultures. The 8,000-year-old skeleton known as Kennewick Man was laid to rest by five eastern Washington tribes in February after a 20-year dispute.

McCutcheon’s Iceberg Point project, in contrast, has the support of at least four western Washington tribes. “We wholeheartedly support the science and the research approach he’s taking,” Leslie Eastwood, general manager of the Samish Nation in Anacortes, said, with the proviso that any artifacts found be left in place.

“They’re there for a reason, and let’s not disturb them,” she said. …

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Climate Change Threatens Pacific Northwest Coast Heritage Sites

Climate Change Threatens Coastal Archaeological Sites

By Jes Burns | May 12, 2016

It’s the kind of foggy day you’d expect at Redwood National Park on the Northern California coast. The headlands are shrouded in mist and the gray-blue ocean churns against the shore. “This place is called Shin-yvslh-sri~ – the Summer Place,” says Suntayea Steinruck a member of the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation and Tribal Heritage Preservation Officer for Smith River Rancheria.

Her ancestors lived, hunted and fished around what used to be a small village on this site. “It has a name for a reason. Summer Place. We have that connection with the environment, knowing exactly where we come from,” she says from a bluff high above the ocean.

John Green is also Tolowa, a member of the Elk Valley Rancheria, and directly traces his family back to a village in the area. He says there were likely a small group of plank houses on this site, occupied by a few families. This spot was part of a network of Tolowa villages of different sizes and importance up and down the Southern Oregon and Northern California coastline. “You have everything here. But you got to remember that your land was out in the ocean a lot further than it is now. A lot of it has been washed away,” Green says.

This has been especially true in the past few decades. Redwood National Park Archeologist Michael Peterson says in this spot, the cliffs have retracted about three feet just since 2007. “This is a combination of everything bad: increasing climate change, increasing of terrific weather, storms,” Peterson says. “I’ve seen whole redwood logs lying up on top rocks that are like 12 feet above high tide area. You could tell how big the storm, the waves were.”

Erosion has been happening all along the Northwest coast for thousands of years. But recently there’s been a change in the intensity and frequency of coastal storms. “The whole acceleration has increased, and we’re definitely losing sites more rapidly,” says Rick Minor, an archeologist with Heritage Research Associates in Eugene, Oregon. Minor says archeologists in California are already beginning to come together to address the effects of climate change, but Oregon and Washington are lagging behind.

“And clearly if we don’t do something within next decade or so, we’re going to have a huge loss of sites,” he says.  …

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US Approves Oil Drilling in Alaska Waters

US Approves Oil Drilling in Alaska Waters, Prompting Fears for Marine Life

Associated Press | July 13, 2017

An Italian multinational oil and gas company has received permission to move ahead with drilling plans in federal waters off Alaska which environmental campaigners say will endanger polar bears, bowhead whales and other marine mammals.

Late on Wednesday, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced conditional approval of an exploratory drilling plan submitted by a US subsidiary of the company Eni.

The company plans to drill four exploration wells from the Spy Island drill site, an 11-acre artificial gravel island constructed in Alaska state waters 6-8ft deep. Spy Island is one of four artificial islands in the Beaufort Sea, off Alaska’s north coast, that support oil production.

Barack Obama last year banned oil and gas exploration in most of the Arctic Ocean. Donald Trump in April ordered the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, to review the ban, with the goal of opening offshore areas. Environmental and Alaska Native groups sued to maintain it.

Environmental groups say potential spills put marine wildlife at risk. Eni’s leases would have expired at the end of 2017, said Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, in a prepared statement. Eni’s plan calls for extended-reach wells that could stretch more than six miles into federal waters.

The Trump administration provided the public only 21 days to review and comment on the exploration plan and only 10 days to comment on scoping for an environmental assessment, Monsell said. “Approving this Arctic drilling plan at the 11th hour makes a dangerous project even riskier,” Monsell said. “An oil spill here would do incredible damage, and it’d be impossible to clean up.” …

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