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Opinion: Climate extremists don’t speak for Indigenous groups

coastal-gasline-pipeline-gs1007
coastal-gasline-pipeline-gs1007

Enbridge recently announced that 23 First Nations and Métis communities plan to invest $1.12 billion to acquire an 11.57 per cent interest in seven Enbridge pipelines in Alberta’s Athabasca region, the largest-ever energy-related Indigenous partnership transaction in North America. This is a giant step towards economic reconciliation and a significant improvement for these communities on their path to self-determination and better material circumstances.

Unfortunately, groups like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, 350 Canada and the Wilderness Committee are actively working against Indigenous communities’ interests by insisting Indigenous people stay with the status quo and not pursue agreements of this kind. These groups believe they and they alone know what is best for Indigenous communities. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s clear that not all proposed projects are in the interests of Indigenous people. Some can be quite damaging and some of the people proposing them are disingenuous about building a genuine relationship with Indigenous communities. But that’s not true of all resource projects. Far from it. We need to champion responsible resource development, whether in mining, forestry or oil and gas.

Many of these extremist climate organizations say that projects like the Coastal Gaslink pipeline threaten Indigenous sovereignty. In fact, Indigenous communities are working tirelessly to achieve ownership in these projects and the efforts of climate extremists mainly threaten the progress being made.

In March, 16 of the 20 First Nations along the Coastal Gaslink pipeline corridor signed on to a 10 per cent equity ownership of the pipeline. That should have been celebrated by all who stand for Indigenous self-determination. But what do we hear from climate organizations? Nothing. Despite the clearly stated desires of affected First Nations, they continue to oppose the Gaslink project.

Real self-determination means Indigenous communities make decisions for themselves. They decide if they do or don’t want a project running through their land. It’s obvious why not just these 16 but all 20 First Nations along the pipeline corridor support the pipeline and have signed benefit agreements with Coastal Gaslink. Working with industry brings immense benefits for their communities. Not only are there jobs for their people but the financial benefits that come from royalties can have a big impact. Such projects give Indigenous communities hope for a better life and for real self-determination.

It’s time climate extremists stopped misrepresenting Indigenous communities’ views in order to promote their climate agenda. Many Indigenous people have already chosen to side with industry. Evidence of this is not just anecdotal. Last year, a poll commissioned by the Indigenous Resource Network found that 65 per cent of Indigenous respondents supported resource development.

It is no surprise that they do. But organizations like Greenpeace and Stand.Earth don’t want you to know they do. They want to perpetuate eco-colonialism in Indigenous communities and, as colonialists have long done, speak on their behalf.

Anti-pipeline protests have had a violent aspect that the brand-name climate NGOs tend to ignore. In February, Coastal Gaslink workers were attacked by protesters throwing Molotov cocktails and swinging axes. Some workers described their terror and fear as activists attacked their worksite. Three months later an RBC executive had his car bombed by Extinction Rebellion because of the bank’s role in financing the CGL pipeline.

Indigenous communities have the right to self-determination. They get to decide whether they support or don’t support resource projects on their land, where they are rights-holders. Climate organizations that interfere in the affairs of sovereign Indigenous nations and try to speak on their behalf are just modern-day colonialists.

Zachary Authier is a communications coordinator with the Indigenous Resource Network.