We need to protect people from harm and honour the Treaties
Treaties are living agreements between First Nations and the Crown. All Canadians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are therefore Treaty people. Treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are affirmed and recognized as central to Canada’s very existence as a nation by the Constitution Act, 1982.
Yet despite these lofty commitments, Canada continues to turn treaty lands like Beaver Lake Cree’s territory into sacrifice zones. Beaver Lake Cree lands, waters and resources have become inaccessible and unusable for the exercise of the nation’s rights under Treaty 6.
The Supreme Court of Canada has said that although the Crown has a right to authorize land use, there may come a time when Treaty rights are rendered meaningless because of too much Crown-authorized land use. The Beaver Lake Cree Nation is determined to halt the destruction before it reaches that point. This is what the Tar Sands Trial is all about.
Canada is home to one of the world’s largest and dirtiest oil reserves – the Alberta tar sands. Scientists have warned that continuing to rely on tar sands oil would mean “game over” for the climate, triggering the melt-off of Antarctic ice and other tipping points. Climate change would then become unstoppable.
Tar sands operations are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, and the industry’s share of national emissions is expected to double between 2010 and 2030.
If extracted and burned, the tar sands alone would mean “game over” for the climate, according to NASA scientist James Hansen. Continuing to burn the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuel on the planet would propel the Earth’s climate past tipping points, such as the melting-off of Antarctic ice. Once these tipping points are triggered, climate change would become a runaway train. In the words of legendary climate writer and activist Bill McKibben, humanity would be faced with a tough new planet – one plagued with devastating droughts, floods and hurricanes, and dramatically less able to feed and provision a growing world population.
The Beaver Lake Cree homeland has been scarred and polluted by numerous in-situ tar sands projects. Oil and gas wells and infrastructure have displaced moose and elk. Tar sands effluent has polluted the water. Caribou may be driven to extinction in this region within 10 years.
It’s not too late! The Beaver Cree have not only endured and survived, they are envisioning and proactively building a very different future for their land and their community. Their resilience and commitment to healing their land models what is possible for all of us. If we’re going to save our planet, NOW is the time.
The Beaver Lake Cree territory is now covered with 35,000 oil and gas sites, 21,700 kilometres of seismic lines, 4,028 kilometres of pipeline and 948 kilometres of road.
Renewable energy is rapidly gaining ground across the globe and prices continue to drop. Unlike tar sands operations which require enormous initial investments and are controlled by huge international conglomerates, renewable energy can be generated at the home, community and regional levels, creating local employment and building up local economies. Canada would create nearly four million new jobs if it moved to a net zero-emissions economy by 2050.
Indigenous communities are increasingly taking the lead in the transition to renewable energy. Even as they fight the tar sands giant, the Beaver Lake Cree are solarizing their schools and community buildings – exercising energy sovereignty and building an alternative to the oil and gas economy on their land.
“The beauty of this moment is that our future could easily hold much more than just oil and gas. The time for a just transition beyond fossil fuels is now. The transition in Germany, where they have created 400,000 clean-energy jobs, is waiting to be emulated here,” Beaver Lake Cree’s Crystal Lameman wrote in an editorial for the
Globe and Mail.
The U.S. solar power industry now employs more people than coal, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Energy.And there’s more: programs to retrofit vast numbers of homes and buildings, huge public investments in public transit, conservation and restoration programs – all of these are solutions that create well-paying, meaningful work and much-needed services.