The Assembly of First Nations Youth Council announced yesterday that it will raise funds to support pipeline protests in Canada modelled on the successful opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the United States.
“It’s not a matter of whether Standing Rock will happen in Canada, it’s a question of when,” council co-chair Will Landon told CBC. “We’re trying to make sure we have pre-emptive measures in place to get resources for when those camps do occur.”
The fund will be called Nibi-ogichidaakwe, Ojibwe for “water protector,” and will “only provide money for peaceful protests, water walks, and public information sessions,” CBC reports.
“The youth council will be joining forces with the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, a group composed of 120 First Nations and tribes across North America who oppose oilsands expansion and pipeline construction,” writes CBC’s John Paul Tasker. “The alliance added new signatures to its modern-day treaty Thursday, including the Algonquin Nation, on whose territory the AFN’s gathering was held this week.”
Landon cited 12-year-old Autumn Peltier of the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island as the youths’ inspiration for setting up the fund.
“I’m sad because our waters are sick, not just here in Canada but all over the world,” Peltier told the assembly. “I’m not standing here for fun. I’m here to make a serious statement. I don’t want to come back when I’m 70 and nothing has been done. This land is not for sale or profit. We need to come together for our water.”
Peltier “brought those concerns, along with her frustration about recently approved government pipelines, directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week,” the National Observer reports, during a special presentation at the assembly. “Autumn was handing Trudeau a symbolic gift when she told him how she felt and started crying.”
Peltier, who’d previously “flooded” her mother with questions after learning she couldn’t safely drink the water in her community, “told her mother that Trudeau said he would protect the water,” the Observer notes.
“I was watching her, and I saw her say something, and I thought: ‘Oh my goodness, what did she just say to him?’” recalled her mom, Stephanie Peltier. “And then I saw her crying and then I knew it was an emotional thing for her.”
Afterwards, “I got real teary and I told her: ‘He made a commitment to you…he made a promise. So now we’re going to hold him to that promise.’ I was really proud of her (to) stand up for herself and speak up for all the children in our land.”
Earlier in the AFN assembly, Fort McKay First Nation Chief Jim Boucher said his community “has seen a financial windfall from its involvement in oil and gas extraction, and that environmentalists should be ignored because they are to blame for widespread poverty in Canada’s north,” Tasker reports.
“When it comes to pipelines and oilsands development, it’s clear from our perspective that we need to do more,” Boucher told an open mic session on energy policy. “We’re pro-oilsands; if it weren’t for the oil my people would be in poverty right now.”
But while Fort McKay, located north of Fort McMurray, is debt-free and largely self-funding, with an unemployment rate of zero, Landon said chiefs who support fossil development are short-sighted.
“To me, there’s no difference between oil dependence and being dependent on the government,” he said. “You’re still relying on something that has potential to harm your people and your constituents.”
Late last month, VICE ran a detailed exposé on the pressure that fossil and pipeline companies have been exerting on First Nations leaders to accept development deals.
“VICE News obtained the confidential documents that provide new details about how Enbridge and British Columbia wooed First Nations members into supporting pipelines, even as communities hardened their opposition,” the online news outlet reports. “Experts say the deals they have struck are perfectly legal ways to engage with Indigenous communities. But the nations affected by the projects feel Enbridge and the British Columbia government went behind their backs. A groundswell of people from Gitxsan and Haida Gwaii say the unelected hereditary chiefs don’t speak for them—and they think they are being ‘paid off’ in exchange for their support of pipelines.
“In their eyes, that doesn’t amount to consent.”