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A Tale of Two Pipelines ( Original Author: Liam Ragan)

Moving up in unison, dozens of national guard and police enter Oceti Sakowin camp with weapons drawn, bringing to an end to the highly publicized Sioux protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota. Some 2,000 kilometres away, a similar situation plays out on the jagged coastline of British Columbia but with different results. Both of these are part of ongoing Indigenous struggles for land rights, healthy environments, and the freedom of self-determination in the face of the state.

Though we share a border, Canada and the United States have long differed in their approach to Indigenous peoples, resulting in different Indigenous legal rights in each country. Because of this, communities seeking to prevent development projects on their land make their cases in radically different ways north and south of the border. Religious Freedoms and Treaty Rights

The Sioux have taken a number of approaches to combating the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through their territory. While most of the media focus has gone towards the protest camp at Standing Rock, this was by no means the tribe’s only path to resistance. In the courts, they pursued legal claims on two primary bases.

The first way in which the Sioux challenged the pipeline project was grounded firmly in treaty rights which date back to the 19th century. These clearly state that the tribe maintained fishing and water rights for bodies of water adjacent to the pipeline. On this basis, the pipeline would need Sioux approval before being built, otherwise it would breach the terms of their treaty. The second, more roundabout way in which they argued their rights, was by appealing to the Constitutional First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religious practice without government interference. Given the centrality of water to the Sioux way of life, the pipeline posed an unacceptable risk to their religious practices. Standing Rock protester squares off with U.S. national guard and police. Source: Ryan Vizzions

Despite the validity of these legal claims , neither were able to stop the encroachment of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Addressing religious concerns, Energy Transfer Partners claimed the pipeline wouldn’t spill , and thus the Sioux shouldn’t be concerned. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers upheld this, dismissing Indigenous religious concerns as invalid justification as they had done in past cases . The claim to treaty rights showed more promise, going so far as to obtain a temporary rejection of permits from the outgoing Obama administration. This was short lived however, with Trump signing a presidential memorandum barely a month into office allowing the Army Corps of Engineers to dismiss potential treaty rights.

With all Indigenous objections ignored, refuted or forcibly removed, the pipeline was built, and today actively transports oil. While its supporters tout claims that the pipeline is failsafe, those most at risk find little reassurance in the frequent small spills already occurring from a pipeline barely a few years old. To quote tribal attorney Jan Hasselman , “Pipelines spill and leak. It’s just a fact.” Environmentalism and Aboriginal Title

As pressure mounts to build a pipeline connecting Alberta oil reserves to an ever-hungry Asian market, Indigenous resistance remains fierce. One such project, the Northern Gateway Pipeline, sought to bridge the gap between the tar sands and the Pacific by cutting through over a thousand kilometres of pristine mountain and forest habitat. Ending in Kitimat, British Columbia, the proposed line would cut through multiple First Nations’ territories, many of which are unceded territory. Many residents of the Great Bear Rainforest rely on healthy aquatic ecosystems for their survival. Source: Province of […]

This was posted without properly crediting the Original Author, Liam Ragan. I apologize.

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