When it comes to relations between the federal government and First Nations communities, it comes as no surprise that there is a baseline of mistrust. Although there are numerous historical reasons why Indigenous people have a good reason to mistrust colonial government policy – from broken treaties to forced residential schooling – the current positioning around pipeline developments have done a great deal to heighten this mistrust.
For instance, in BC the Gitga’at First Nation have launched a constitutional challenge against the government’s failure to consult indigenous communities concerning the impact of Enbridge’s Northern Gateways Pipeline. The BC province decided not to conduct its own environmental assessment of the proposed pipeline, waving its duty to consult with the First Nations by entering into an ‘equivalency agreement’ to accept the less stringent policy of the federal National Energy Board. 1
For many, the lack of consultation underscores the close relationship between the Harper government and the oil industry. What is also evident is that no pipelines or tar sands development will ever be safe and that the environmental damage that is being done directly impacts the ability for ecosystems to survive. Speaking about Enbridge’s community consultation process, one member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia Ontario puts the relationship succinctly: “They [Enbridge] say they want to be good neighbours, but you’re not being good neighbours by emitting these toxins. It’s like a bully punching you in the face.”2
The Harper government has failed to take steps towards building trust with first nations – or any communities concerned about the implications of pipelines. Instead, the Harper government has drastically cut back the environmental legislation most responsible for protecting against the likely harm of pipelines and removed public funding from scientific research into potential consequences.3 While simultaneously de-funding scientific research, the government has dramatically increased funding for surveillance of first nations and environmental groups that may be involved in taking direct action to stop these harmful developments.4