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Harper’s pipeline push thwarting reconciliation

VICTORIA, BC, Sep 29, 2013/ Troy Media/ – On September 22, 70,000 people braved the rain in Vancouver to Walk for Reconciliation.

The Walk – “Bringing Canada’s many cultures . . . together in a shared commitment to reconciliation” – was the culmination of a week of events associated with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for Canada’s Indian Residential Schools.

As Shain Jackson, an Aboriginal rights lawyer who has represented Aboriginal communities throughout B.C., said: “In this week of ‘Reconciliation’ we must remember that, like all historical injustices, the residential school experience was wrought on First Nations as a means of removing us from our lands and resources. It truly is as simple as that. Using unifying mechanisms such as race and religion to demonize another more vulnerable group and mobilize to take what they possess is as old as time. This continues to this day albeit under less viscerally provocative means.”

That quote helps explain why Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attempts to gain support from First Nations leaders for oil pipelines that would run through B.C. is not working and why he now finds himself in full damage control.

What is not understood clearly by Harper, his Cabinet, and many Canadians is how certain resource development projects are inherently irreconcilable with Indigenous relationships to the land. For First Nations in B.C., heavy oil pipelines are deemed too much of a risk to the numerous streams, rivers, and shorelines and traditional food sources reliant on them. These concerns have come forward repeatedly throughout the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel for the Northern Gateway project.

The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipelines are intended to bring oil sands bitumen across British Columbia for export to Asian markets. First Nations have cohesively opposed both projects for some time.

This is in marked contrast to the current liquefied natural gas (LNG) rush happening in B.C. Aboriginal leaders are openly consulting with government and industry, demonstrating their openness to economic development projects. First Nations communities are balancing the economic benefits of local jobs and much needed prosperity with the risks. Natural gas leaks diffuse into the atmosphere, whereas heavy oil pipeline leaks leech into water devastating whole ecosystems and the associated food chains.

Under Harper, foreign ownership rules in Canada have been consistently deregulated, to such an extent that economists and analysts are asking if he is selling out Canadian interests. According to research by the American-based grassroots environmental organization Forest Ethics, as much as two thirds of Alberta’s oil sands are now foreign owned, including by Chinese state-controlled CNOOC and Malaysian state-operated Petronas. In other words, the pipeline push across B.C. is not so much about diversifying markets for national economic interest and energy security as it is about allowing foreign interests access Canada’s oil, which will lead to the ongoing colonization of our native land.

Foreign interests hold no connection to the land and the local people who dwell on it. This foreign ownership deregulation, coupled with the severe razing of environmental protection in Canada by the omnibus budgets Bill C-38 and Bill C-45 – which undermines the Canada’s national interest and infringes on Aboriginal rights and title – was the catalyst that led to the grassroots social movement ‘Idle No More’.

Harper’s apology to residential school survivors does not seem as sincere now as when he first made it. While the Indian Act resulted in Aboriginal children being forcefully removed from their families and placed in residential schools, recognized by the United Nations as an act of genocide, his government, by failing to listen to Indigenous perspectives and lobbying hard for further assimilation and colonization, continues to use divisive tactics to propagate Canada’s genocidal past toward Aboriginal people.

Lee White is a Senior Advisor with GMG Consulting (Good Medicine Group), which works with Aboriginal communities and organizations, as well as government and resource-based industries, to support Aboriginal self-determination.

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