I have thought a lot about this blog over the weekend; it didn’t just happen. I went skiing for the first time at Lake Louise. The snow is good for the first week of December, and riding that chair lift this early in the season was an excellent place to think.
In Canada, we are conditioned to be “politically correct”. In particular we are not supposed to criticize or speak out against the First Nations, their heritage or their role in Canadian history. Certainly, as has been reported extensively this week, the circumstances surrounding the living conditions in the community of Attawapiskat in Northern Ontario is tragic no matter who is responsible.
However, I have to ask, while I think Canadians appreciate the ongoing challenges all sides face with resolution of ownership of traditional lands and treaties, why can’t we criticize or speak out more aggressively against First Nation positions that can be self-serving and represent a negative to the rest of the country?
With the Keystone XL pipeline in the USA dominating the headlines in recent months, we are now seeing a new battleground forming. The proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, owned by Enbridge Inc., will move approximately 500,000 barrels of oil-sands crude from Alberta to Kitmat B.C. and it is becoming the next war for environmental opposition, and First Nations.
On the weekend it was reported that 60 First Nation groups have signed a statement that says: “First Nations, whose un-ceded territory encompasses the entire coastline of British Columbia, have formed a united front, banning all exports of tar sands crude oil through their territories”.
Media reports that the Yinka Dene Alliance, and the Coastal First Nations, have stated they would not support the proposal under any circumstances, and Chief Jackie Thomas of Saik’uz First Nations said: “We have banned all oil pipelines and tankers using our laws, and we will defend our decision using all means at our disposal”.
Here is my take. Enbridge and the companies involved have, and will continue, to bend over backwards to recognize the First Nations and work with them. Equity stakes in the project have been offered and, as reported in Saturday’s Globe and Mail, have been accepted by at least one First Nation. The offer of negotiations with others remains open, and an extensive environmental process is under way that will allow everyone to have input prior to any approval.
It is evident that respect and consideration is being shown to the First Nations from the development side, however, none of this seems to matter to some of the First Nations involved.
While I am only one person, the statements above are not acceptable to me and I hope they would be unacceptable to many other Canadians.
These particular First Nation groups are suggesting they own the entire coastline of British Columbia and seem to believe their “laws” should supersede the laws of Canada. They have issued a direct threat to stop the project in any way possible. Read between the lines; it means civil disobedience.
Never mind being politically correct, here is what I think.
First, with all due respect to the First Nations involved, and I mean that sincerely, it is ridiculous to think that one group, First Nations or not, can dictate to the rest of the country what happens on the entire coast of British Columbia.
Second, in my view, First Nation “laws” cannot take precedence over the laws of Canada or the Provinces.
Finally, I don’t think anybody likes to be threatened. This country belongs to all of us.
I think we have the right to speak out, and with the increased intervention of the First Nations groups, I think we need to speak out aggressively about First Nation positions that we believe are not reasonable or realistic on specific issues or projects.
Importantly, we should do this constructively, but without fear of being labelled as against the overall aspirations and objectives of the First Nations people in other areas.
The First Nations expect the rest of Canada, and its governments, to “work with” their various groups to find solutions to the many problems facing them.
Well that works both ways. Without co-operation and constructive dialogue by the First Nations on projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline, I find it harder and harder to be sympathetic to their valid concerns in other areas.
Well that’s enough for one morning. I welcome everyone’s thoughts.
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