Grand Chief predicts repeat of Oka crisis if feds fail to consult First Nations before Enbridge Northern Gateway decision

Leader says conflict will continue to escalate until the government decides to negotiate in good faith and honour First Nations rights.

Photo by David P. Ball

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced yesterday that the federal government's decision to the deeply controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is expected some time in mid-June. For it to be approved, however, the federal government is constitutionally required to meaningfully consult First Nations along the pipeline route. 

Failure to consult First Nations will result in crisis: Grand Chief

If Canada fails to respond to live up to its obligations to consult First Nations, British Columbia’s Grand Chief Stewart Phillip believes it will almost certainly see another Oka Crisis, referencing a 78-day standoff in 1990 between the Mohawk people, the Quebec police and the Canadian military that broke out when the province tried to build a golf course on a traditional burial site. 

He said the “drive-by” consultation the Harper government has completed so far isn’t enough. Even in light of continued opportunities to engage with First Nations—the Haisla Nation recently informed the federal government once again that allowing Enbridge to build its pipeline without adequate consultation would be illegal—Phillip thinks it’s too late for Northern Gateway and other late-stage projects.

“It’s pretty much a perfect storm that’s developing if the government just overrides the JRP panel process and approves these projects,” he told the Vancouver Observer.

Despite decades of court decisions affirming Aboriginal rights and title and several major militarized conflicts between Indigenous people and the Canadian government, the courts are still full of nations looking to enforce their constitutionally protected rights. And the land is filling up with nations who see no option but to put their feet on the ground.

He said the time for meaningful consultation has long passed and, if the government intends to honour its constitutional obligations to Indigenous people, it has no other choice but to reject to Northern Gateway.

As it has been in the past, the conflict can be traced back to the Crown’s unwillingness to honour Indigenous sovereignty.

“The courts have said very clearly that consultation needs to happen at the earliest instance when it become clearly evident that a project proposal will in fact infringe on the rights and interests of First Nations people or communities.”

History repeating itself: negotiation or confrontation

When court decisions aren’t enough to settle First Nations rights and title issues, conflict spills out onto the land itself. It's a phenomenon Phillip said he is starting to see again.

In 2006, retired senators Gerry St Germain and Nick G. Sibbeston co-authored a report titled Negotiation or Confrontation: It’s Canada’s Choice, framing that choice as one between prompt and fair land claim settlement or violent conflict such as that seen in Oka, Ipperwash and Caledonia.

St Germain writes in the conclusion, “The Committee feels that eliminating the delay in settling Specific Claims is an outright necessity not only for the claimants but for Canadians in general. Failing to find the political will to act appropriately on Specific Claims could invite more confrontations. The choice is Canada’s.”

More in News

Views from a refugee camp: Who gets into heaven?

I have just returned to Vancouver Island from Greek refugee camps where I met a Yazidi man named Jason who told me about his escape from ISIS in Iraq.   His story begins on a desert road where a...

Vancouver's bicycle sharing grows as 15 new stations installed

Mobi bicycle by Shaw Go in Vancouver. Photo by Christopher Porter from Flickr Creative Commons

International Women's Day Concert celebrates female musicians who turned tragedy into triumph

Every March 8, on International Women's Day, we hear about the achievements of brilliant, talented women around the world. But how often do we learn about the physical and mental disabilities or...
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.