Chief Al Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation (previous Chief) and Jack Woodward, pre-eminent authority on Aboriginal law in Canada, speak to a full house on Salt Spring Island about the need to tackle the tar sands if we are going to really be effective in the fight against climate change.
After viewing a film by Alan Bibby entitled Liquid Truth, Chief Lameman describes with heartbreaking honesty how his people can no longer make a traditional way of life in their home territory: "Sometimes you lie awake at night and you think about it...you think this is the end."
Led by Chief Al Lameman (previous Chief) this band is doing something few would dare to try, but many believe needs doing. They are taking a stand against the rapid, unmitigated expansion of the Alberta tar sands industries. They are suing the federal and Alberta governments for the health of the planet, to preserve the integrity of the boreal forest and the habitat that has sustained their people for generations, and to ensure the future happiness and freedom of their children and all our children in a world that has controlled greenhouse gas emissions.
This is really the only action in play at the moment that can do something concrete - because it's based on the band's constitutionally guaranteed right to hunt and trap on their ancestral lands in perpetuity. This gutsy little band of 900 is going for a Supreme Court declaration that the cumulative impact of the tar sands infringes on their treaty rights - and that would make the 17,000+ permits issued to big oil illegal - and worthless. Jack Woodward of Woodward & Company LLP explains how this lawsuit will work to stop the expansion of the tar sands industry.
In the 1870s, the people of the Beaver Lake area signed Treaty 6, giving up their traditional land in return for the promise that they could continue to live off the land as they had always done. According to Jack Woodward, the Canadian and Alberta governments are currently breaking this promise.
In Jack's talk, he describes the imminent threat of the massive expansion of the tar sands, explaining that if the expansion continues, the tar sands developments (currently the size of Florida) will wreak destruction on the great boreal forest - the largest carbon sink in the world.
Currently, Alberta's tar sands are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and the greatest obstacle to Canada meeting its global climate change responsibilities.
Should the tiny Beaver Lake Cree community of 900 prove victorious, tar sands expansion projects would be forced to stop. Jack Woodward's point is that the only sure way to halt the ecologically disastrous expansion is legally, through dealing with Aboriginal treaty rights that are protected under the Canadian Constitution.
"Only the Indigenous treaty peoples of Alberta have the legal power to curtail the reckless behaviour of the wealthiest, most powerful industries on the planet."
The law is clearly on the side of First Nations - the greatest barrier to justice for the Beaver Lake Cree is the high cost of the legal system. And as you might imagine Canada and Alberta do not want to lose this case, so they are putting up a serious fight. Up against the bottomless pockets of two levels of government are the 900 Woodland Cree whose traditional lands are directly in the path of the planned tar sands industrial expansion. RAVEN has intervened to attempt to bring some fairness to this situation. Click here to donate to RAVEN today