‘Eco-Colonialism’: Rift Grows Between Indigenous Leaders and Green Activists

Martin Louie, the hereditary chief of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation.

Indigenous communities say they’ve had enough of activists invading their lands, misleading them about their agendas and using hard-line tactics against those who don’t agree

With flowing long hair, stoic expression and tribal garb, Martin Louie, the hereditary chief of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation in north-central British Columbia, more than looked and acted the part of an aggrieved leader in the epic fight against the Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline.

He was quoted in the campaign’s news releases, filed complaints to the United Nations and spoke defiantly to investors. Environmental group Stand.earth even described him as the “poster boy” for Indigenous opposition to Enbridge Inc.’s pipeline.

The $7-billion pipeline was eventually cancelled last year, but Louie didn’t actually want to sink the project. Lost in the heat of the public battle was that he really just wanted to win more money for his impoverished community than the “ridiculous” $70,000 a year being offered by the company.

Louie’s experience is indicative of a widening rift between Indigenous communities and activists over natural resources, particularly in British Columbia, the focal point of major green campaigns generously funded by U.S. interests to thwart oil and gas exports.

The campaigns consistently portray a united Indigenous anti-development front and allies of the green movement, but some Indigenous leaders are becoming alarmed that they could be permanently frozen out of the mainstream economy if resource projects don’t go ahead.

They said in interviews they’ve had enough of activists invading their lands, misleading them about their agendas, recruiting token members to front their causes, sowing mistrust and conflict, and using hard-line tactics against those who don’t agree.

“The best way to describe it is eco-colonialism,” said Ken Brown, a former chief of the Klahoose First Nation in southwestern B.C. “You are seeing a very pervasive awakening among these First Nations leaders about what is going on in the environmental community.”

For instance, Louie is now one of the leaders of the proposed $17-billion Eagle Spirit pipeline, a Northern Gateway alternative championed by First Nations.

“When I went after Enbridge we were trying to gain more benefits for major projects going through our country,” he said.

Word soon got out about his differences with Enbridge and he was approached by a handful of lawyers representing green organizations who promised him assistance and funding, Louie recalled.

Their partnership ended bitterly because the two sides had conflicting objectives. He wanted better benefits; the activists wanted the project to fail.

The eventual failure of Northern Gateway was just one of a series of tipping points in recent months that worry some Indigenous leaders.

There was also the demise of Pacific NorthWest LNG and Aurora LNG, as well as the continuing challenges faced by the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and other proposed LNG projects. These cancellations and obstacles are celebrated by activists, but also wiped out jobs and revenue for First Nations.

Calvin Helin is chairman and president of the proposed Eagle Spirit pipeline, conceived and backed by First Nations groups and individuals.

Eagle Spirit also faces difficulties. Led by Indigenous lawyer Calvin Helin and supported by First Nations along the proposed route through northern B.C., the project will collapse if the federal government goes ahead with a tanker ban that is making its way through Parliament.

The ban is related to the Great Bear Rainforest, which was created by the B.C. government last year to conserve a big part of the province’s northern and central coast.

Both initiatives are seen by greens as big achievements, but are disputed by First Nations such as the Lax Kw’alaams, who said they were advanced without proper consultation and prevent their members from making a living.

Brown’s experience with environmental activism started about a decade ago, when he was chief of his tribe and supported two run-of-river hydro projects.

The projects were attacked by groups such as Save Our Rivers and Western Canada Wilderness Committee for being harmful to fish habitat, and Brown’s band was criticized for being “sellouts and socially irresponsible people looking for the quick buck,” he said.

“What an onslaught it was. There was a high level of participation from people who had never been to the region … and they were all conveying the same narrative: ‘The sky is falling, keep your blood money, corporations are evil.’”

Brown, who now runs a consulting company, said similar tactics are used against other projects, too.

“If First Nations communities are willing to conform to the prescribed eco-narratives, they are going to get all kinds of accolades and praise, but if they don’t conform, it’s vitriolic hit pieces on these people,” he said.

Louie is still shaken by the backlash he experienced. After complaining to activists they were only using him to advance their cause, he said he was blackballed.

“Workers were spreading the word that I am not a good man, that I am there to ruin the environment, that I am making money on my own,” he said. “They were making me sound like I am taking millions from a lot of people. If I was in that position, I wouldn’t be struggling to pay for my car payments.”

Louie said he joined the Eagle Spirit project to achieve what he couldn’t with Northern Gateway: help his tribe become economically self-reliant.

Martin Louie in 2012 leading a protest against Enbridge Inc’s Northern Gateway pipeline.

They were making me sound like I am taking millions from a lot of people. If I was in that position, I would not be struggling to pay for my car payments – Martin Louie

Environmental organizations and Indigenous communities in recent years have found common cause in opposing some projects and in fighting the impacts of capitalism on the environment, said Dwight Newman, Canada research chair in Indigenous rights at the University of Saskatchewan.

A big reason is that Indigenous people have unique legal rights and by working with them, green groups are better able to block developments than if they relied on environmental grounds alone, he said.

Section 35 of Canada’s constitution states the Crown has a duty to consult with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities and, where it anticipates adverse impacts, to accommodate to the extent reasonably possible.

So far, the law has been used against development, but one of the unknowns is whether Indigenous communities will use it to pursue economic development and override the environmental laws that block projects such as Eagle Spirit, Newman said.

“At some point, these arguments will end up in the courts, either directly as rights claims or as claims that there ought to have been consultation on potential effects on such rights,” Newman said in an article for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, where he is a senior fellow.

“And the very presence of these arguments will overturn the expectations of many who think they have liberal views, but actually have ongoing paternalistic views that assume First Nations always need protection from development.”

And the very presence of these arguments will overturn the expectations of many who think they have liberal views, but actually have ongoing paternalistic views that assume First Nations always need protection from developmentDwight Newman

Many conservation campaigns rely on U.S. funds because there is more money available there due to tax laws and an abundance of wealthy philanthropists.

Vancouver-based researcher and blogger Vivian Krause has tallied the large sums poured by U.S. groups to fight pipelines and gas projects in Canada by analyzing tax filings.

The biggest funder has been the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which has granted more than $190 million to First Nations, environmental and other organizations working in B.C., Krause said.

The top recipient of funds from the Moore Foundation is Tides Canada, which received at least $70 million, she said. Tides Canada spends that money internally and re-grants it to other groups, particularly First Nations organizations.

Other big U.S.-based funders are the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts.

“These American interests are trying to stop these projects any way they can, and one of the best ways is by leveraging the constitutional rights of First Nations in the courts,” Krause said.

The former United Nations worker said she pursued the research because of pleas for help from Indigenous leaders “who want jobs and social and economic prosperity (and) are sick and tired of what they call the paid protesters.”

One of those leaders is Gary Alexcee, a hereditary chief of the Nisga’a Nation near Alaska, and a member of Eagle Spirit’s Chiefs Council. He’s disappointed the federal government is giving more weight to environmentalists than to the needs of Indigenous communities.

“We were totally taken aback and surprised by the announcement of this tanker ban because of the government’s statement that they were going to include First Nations,” he said. “No one got consulted.”

Eagle Spirit would create jobs and opportunities “that people never had” in a region where other industries such as fishing, forestry and eco-tourism are doing badly, he said.

Gary Alexcee, a hereditary chief of the Nisga’a Nation near Alaska.

Alexcee, 70, said many in his community don’t support green campaigns. He said activists have come to the region in big numbers and picked “token” members to advance their causes.

Relations between activists and Indigenous people got really ugly in nearby Prince Rupert, in the territory of the Lax Kw’alaams.

The community was initially opposed to a liquefied natural gas project proposed by a consortium led by Malaysia’s Petronas because of its location on Lelu Island, which they believed would threaten juvenile salmon.

They became supporters after negotiating bigger benefits and getting the project to re-locate.

But a small group of opponents continued to protest. Their frontman was Donnie Wesley, who claimed to be a hereditary chief and led an occupation of the site. That opened the door for activists to come in and offer band members funds and assistance to defeat a high-profile target, said Mayor John Helin.

Dozens of “professional protesters” travelled to the area from as far away as California with funding from groups such as SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, which, in turn, was getting money from Tides and the Moore Foundation.

“More or less, they called me a traitor,” Helin said.

Everybody said they hated me for working for Enbridge, you are the enemy, you are a traitor – Ray Jones

Petronas pulled the plug on the $36-billion venture this summer, which meant $2 billion in benefits over 40 years for the band were lost.

The Lax Kw’alaams chided Wesley for misrepresenting himself as a hereditary leader. The dispute over who represented the community ended up in court. Wesley lost and is appealing.

Greg Knox, executive director of Terrace, B.C.-based SkeenaWild, said there is a wide range of perspectives in Indigenous communities and while some may feel they lost opportunity when Petronas cancelled its LNG project, others were relieved because salmon were no longer threatened.

“This project was proposed for a terrible location,” Knox said. Many other LNG projects were also proposed, but “this was the only one that people were concerned about and there was big opposition to.”

His group also campaigned against Northern Gateway and supports the tanker ban, he said, but doesn’t have a position on Eagle Spirit yet because it doesn’t have enough information.

Stand.earth brags on its website that it has delayed or stopped 21 “dirty oil pipelines and train projects.” But it relied on Will George, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, to confront Kinder Morgan Canada chief executive Ian Anderson at a recent Vancouver Board of Trade event promoting the $7.4-billion expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

“I do not welcome you onto my territory. You are not welcome on my lands, and you certainly cannot be doing business here without Tsleil-Waututh consent,” George said, according to a statement distributed by the group.

“It’s really Indigenous nations protecting their land that allows us to win these fights,” said Stand.earth campaigner Hailey Zacks, noting 150 First Nations in Canada and the U.S. are opposed to the project.

For its part, Kinder Morgan said 42 directly impacted Indigenous communities are supportive of the pipeline expansion and have signed benefits agreements.

What I do know is that the communities that I work with are willing to do whatever it takes to stop it – Hailey Zacks, Stand.earth campaigner

Zacks couldn’t speak to that, but said, “What I do know is that the communities that I work with are willing to do whatever it takes to stop it.”

Haida Gwaii is one community known as a hostile place for development of all kinds — and for those who dare to promote it.

Hereditary chief Ray Jones, 66, was harshly castigated for doing consulting work for Northern Gateway, which would have included tankers sailing to and from Asia, potentially impacting the island.

A former captain in the fishing industry with intimate knowledge of the coast, the 66-year-old said he supported the shipment of oil and gas and any other work that promised desperately needed employment.

His contract job with Enbridge involved building communications between the island community and the company, he said.

But Jones was up against powerful forces. Haida Gwaii’s leadership worked closely with activists, he said, “a whole pile of them,” particularly from the David Suzuki Foundation, visited the area regularly and influenced the local population.

The foundation did not respond to an interview request.

The community was so close-minded about getting an alternative point of view, few even asked him what his job with Enbridge involved, Jones said.

“Everybody said they hated me for working for Enbridge, you are the enemy, you are a traitor,” he said. “I have two sisters who don’t talk to me. I have had people call me the village clown, a lot of derogatory things. I’ve had my tires slashed, I’ve had somebody key my car. It’s ugly.”

The same attitude has killed other jobs, pushing young people away and leaving the rest with nothing to improve their lot, he said.

“I always tell my grand children, get a damn good education because I don’t know what you kids are in for in your life,” Jones said. “We lived in a good time.”

By: Claudia Cattaneo – Jan 4, 2018.

[SOURCE]

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Four More Indigenous Young People Take Own Lives in Northern Ontario, Sparking Calls for Actions

Eenchokay Birchstick School at Pikangikum First Nation.

18 suicides this year among members of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation

  • Staff | The Globe and Mail – Jul. 06, 2017

Indigenous leaders in Northern Ontario say community workers are exhausted and their children are dealing with tragedy upon tragedy after four more young people – three of them under the age of 16 – took their own lives in the past week.

The deaths bring the number of suicides this year among members of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a collection of 49 First Nations with a combined population of about 45,000, to 18 since the start of the year. Half of those who died were between the ages of 10 and 15, including three young girls who lived in the same small and remote community of Wapekeka.

“We’re overwhelmed, first of all, and the message that we keep hearing over and over again from our leadership and our front-line workers is that they’re exhausted and just trying to keep kids alive,” Alvin Fiddler, the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, shown in this 2016 photo.

“We’ve become experts in crisis management,” Mr. Fiddler said, “and what we’re looking for now from different governments, provincial and federal, is some long-term sustainable strategies moving forward because we need to move beyond the crisis state we’ve been in for so long now.”

The most recent string of deaths began with two children in Pikangikum over the weekend. One was a boy who was said to have been 10 or 12 years old. The other was a girl who was 12.

Then, on Tuesday, a 15 year-old-girl killed herself in the community of Summer Beaver.

And on Thursday, a 21-year-old man from the Fort Severn First Nation killed himself in Thunder Bay, where he had gone to obtain medical treatment.

Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading cause of death of First Nations people under the age of 45 and the suicide rate for First Nations male youth is five times the national average.

Officials with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation say the numbers in their region are probably even higher than what has been reported because not all suicides are recorded as such or gain attention.

But the deaths in Wapekeka of 12-year-old Chantell Fox and her friend, Jolynn Winter, which occurred two days apart in January of this year, made national headlines, as did the suicide of 12-year-old Jenara Roundsky in June.

Leaders of that community say they told the federal government last summer that they were hearing about a suicide pact among their young people but a request for help garnered no immediate response from Ottawa.

Since the deaths in January, more federal assistance was provided. Health Canada says it is now paying more than $900,000 annually for mental-wellness programs in the fly-in village of 430 people. That includes $380,000 for four youth mental-health workers who were requested by the community.

But the people of Wapekeka remain anxious about the safety of their youth. On June 19, fearing further loss of life, Wapekeka declared a state of emergency. And the latest deaths are a reminder that children in other communities are also at risk.

“I understand that kids as young as 10, 11 and 12 in Wapekeka feel that they need to go out into the community, to patrol the community, with knives in their pockets so they can cut down a peer or friend who has tried to hang themselves,” Mr. Fiddler said. “That’s really sad. I can’t imagine a child that has to live like that.”

[SOURCE]

Indigenous Leaders Applaud Tragically Hip Frontman ‘Gord Downie’ For First Nations Advocacy

The Tragically Hip's Gord Downie performs during the first stop of the Man Machine Poem Tour at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, B.C., Friday, July 22, 2016. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie performs during the first stop of the Man Machine Poem Tour at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, B.C., Friday, July 22, 2016. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Canadian Press, August 23, 2016

Leaders of Canada’s indigenous community say they feel stunned and grateful to Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie for training the spotlight on issues plaguing First Nations.

Downie spoke passionately of struggles in Canadian native communities during what was widely presumed to be the iconic band’s final performance on Saturday in Kingston, Ont.

Addressing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in the audience to take in the show, Downie expressed fears that Canada’s beleaguered indigenous peoples are perhaps in more dire straits today than they have ever been.

The singer, who’s battling terminal brain cancer, said he believed Trudeau could help bring about meaningful change and called upon Canadians to be more mindful of northern affairs.

Indigenous leaders say Downie’s assessment is accurate and thanked him for taking time to speak up for their communities in the midst of his own struggle.

They say Downie’s words are yet another powerful call for change that they hope both politicians and regular citizens will heed.

http://bit.ly/2bLlHyS

Brazil’s Guarani-Kaiowa Tribe Allege Genocide Over Land Disputes

Indigenous leaders have accused landowners of murder

Indigenous leaders have accused landowners of murder. (Screenshot)

By BBC | Posted September 8 2015

Genocide is an emotive and powerful accusation to make against anyone but it is exactly what some indigenous leaders in Brazil say is happening to their people because of their government’s ignorance, if not its compliance.

For the past week hundreds of members of the Guarani-Kaiowa tribe have been mourning the death of a 24-year-old man, Semiao Vilhalva. He was killed – shot in the face – during an invasion, or re-occupation, of three farms in the western state of Matto Grosso do Sul.

I looked on as elderly members of the tribe chanted tributes in their native tongue and led mourners across fields they say have belonged to their people for centuries – long before their present white so-called owners arrived, cut down the trees and populated the area with cattle.

A Guarani leader denounces the murder of indigenous leader Simao Vilhalva during a protest in front of the Planalto Presidential Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, 1 September 2015.

The Guarani have taken their protests to Brazil’s capital, Brasilia

Mourners at Semiao's funeral 08 September 2015

The Guarani hold their own ceremony for Semiao

Semiao's grave 08 September 2015

Semiao Valhala was buried on disputed land

Semiao was buried on this land, now occupied by the Guarani but also claimed as legally theirs by several influential and powerful farming families here in the state of Matto Grosso do Sul.

Guarani men showed me the very spot, on the bank of a small river, where Semiao was shot and died. The gunman, say my guides, was a hired “pistoleiro” brought in by the farmers to intimidate and scare off the Guarani.

Map of Brazil

But, if anything, the murder of their young leader has made these indigenous people even more resolute to remain.

“This is a deliberate policy of genocide. It’s a long legal process designed to kill our people, slowly but surely,” says Guarani elder Tunico Benites.

He goes on: “Our rights are being violated and we don’t have even the basic conditions to survive. So we have no choice but to occupy, to retake our lands – otherwise we can’t survive as a people.”

Tunico Benites 08 September 2015

Tunico Benites says his people face a threat

One of those farmers whose land is claimed by the Guarani, under a legal ruling dating back to 2005, is Roseli Ruiz. She is also the chairwoman of the local farmers’ syndicate, or union, and is completely mistrustful of the way the dispute has been reported in the international media.

In her office in the rural town of Antonio Joao, Roseli Ruiz dismisses any suggestion that farmers had a hand in the death of Semiao.

Arguing that that there was no obvious gunshot wound on his body (in contrast to a video I was shown which suggested otherwise) the combative Ms Ruiz offered an explanation that the Indians themselves brought someone who had died earlier, and presented it as a murder, just to discredit the farmers and advance their claims to the land.

Roseli Ruiz in her office 08 September 2015

Roseli Ruiz: “I was known as Roseli of the Indians”

Roseli Ruiz paints a picture of a hitherto mutually beneficial relationship between indigenous and farmer.

“I was known as Roseli of the Indians,” she cries. “I took them to hospital if they were ill and even built them a school.”

It was a relationship that, according to Roseli, only started to deteriorate when the Guarani began to pursue claims to the land – claims which she insists are baseless.

Ranchers have long been part of Brazil’s drive for development – deep into the interior of the country and into conflict with indigenous people.

While some farmers have taken their cattle and moved on from the disputed land, others are refusing to move.

Gino Ferreira with horse 08 September 2015

Farmers like Gino Ferreira refuse all attempts to move them out

Gino Ferreira, like many farmers, has legal titles to his fazenda – or farm. He blames the government for doing nothing while an inevitable conflict loomed.

“This is my family’s land,” says Gino. “If the Indians arrive and take it over what do you think I’m going to do? Lose all I’ve worked for?”

He too, dismisses any allegations that farmers had a hand in the death of the Guarani leader, Semiao.

“We’re not bandits and we don’t hire gunmen,” says the 50-year-old farmer.

He goes on, “There are political reasons why they to try and make us look bad but none of it is true.”

Indigenous leaders protest with a coffin against the murder of the leader of the Guarani Kaiowa ethnicity, Semiao Vilhalva, in Brasilia, Brazil 01 September 2015.

But the Guarani’s reputation for dogged determination and their struggle has attracted attention beyond this rugged border region between Brazil and Paraguay.

Survival International, one of several pressure groups to criticise the hitherto unexplained death of the tribe’s leader said, “What is particularly harrowing about this murder is that the Guarani knew their reoccupation was likely to end in bloodshed.”

The mood among the Guarani is militant. As other Brazilians this week celebrated their independence day, the land’s original inhabitants mourned what they had lost.

For now the Brazilian army is doing a good job of keeping the two sides apart – preventing new land invasions and more retribution.

Occupying these 10,000 hectares the Guarani may have succeeded in recovering some of what was historically theirs.

But it has come at a high price and their lives are still burdened by poverty and discrimination.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-34183280

Report: Killings Of Indigenous Leaders And Environmental Activists Rises

Reuters/Nacho Doce

Reuters/Nacho Doce

By Black Powder | Red Power Media

A report entitled, “How Many More?” released by Global Witness, shows a 20 percent rise in the number of killings of Indigenous leaders and environmental activists last year.

The report states that 116 activists were killed in 2014.

Some 40 percent of victims are indigenous peoples, protesting against hydropower, mining, logging, water and land grabs.

Each week at least two people are being killed for taking a stand against environmental destruction. Some are shot by police during protests, others gunned down by hired assassins. As companies go in search of new land to exploit, increasingly people are paying the ultimate price for standing in their way.

The report noted that in 2014 alone, 116 cases of killings in 17 countries were recorded in Central and South America and Southeast Asia, with Brazil as the worst-hit with 29 people killed, followed by Colombia with 25, the Philippines with 15 and Honduras with 12.

Report

At least 935 people were killed in 35 countries from 2002 to 2014, compared with 908 from last year’s figure (2002 to 2013), stated the study released Monday (April 20) in Washington DC at the announcement of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winners.

The prize is the world’s largest award for grassroots environmentalists who protect the natural environment.

Honduras suffered 111 killings between 2002 and 2014. The case of indigenous activist Berta Caceres, this year’s winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, is emblematic of the systematic targeting of defenders in Honduras.

“They follow me. They threaten to kill me, to kidnap me, they threaten my family. That is what we face,” said Caceres. Since 2013, Caceres said three of her colleagues have been killed for resisting the Agua Zarca hydro-dam on the Gualcarque River, which threatens to cut off a vital water source for hundreds of indigenous Lenca people.

Protest in the Philippines

Protest in the Philippines

The Philippines leads countries in Asia with the highest number of people killed.

The report finds that 82 people were killed from 2002-2014, in the Philippines alone.

For Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the report is of a serious concern as many of the remaining forests and biodiversity hotspots are in indigenous peoples’ ancestral territories.

“One factor why this is so is because indigenous peoples protect and defend their territories from environmental destruction caused by corporate and state programs which pose high social and environmental risks,” Tauli-Corpuz told the InterAksyon.com.

“The use of paramilitary groups by corporations and the government to quell resistance against destructive projects should be stopped and the provisions of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act in relation to the need to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples should be effectively implemented.”

Tauli-Corpuz, who is also the executive director of the Tebtebba Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education, further said the government of the Philippines is a signatory to almost all international human rights conventions and adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, yet extrajudicial killings of indigenous leaders and activists persist.

“I urge the government to address these human rights violations and uphold its obligations to International Human Rights Law. Its reputation of being one of the most dangerous places for environmentalists and also for indigenous activists is a source of shame not only for the country but for its citizens. The State should seriously address many of the unsolved killings and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

On December 22, 2014, police at the Letpadaung copper mine in Myanmar (Burma) shot and killed a woman who had joined other protesters attempting to prevent the mine’s operator from fencing off land for the project.

More and more people are being killed protecting rights to land and the environment. 47 Indigenous peoples were killed in 2014. The actual number may be even higher as a victim’s indigenous identity is likely to be underreported and cases related to indigenous people often occur in remote areas.