Tar Sands Solutions Network

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Human Rights

Rapid tar sands development has resulted in devastating social impacts. In northern Alberta, local Indigenous communities are forced to endure highly degraded air and water quality. Eighty per cent of the traditional territory of the Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations has been rendered inaccessible for most of the year by tar sands development, and the Beaver Lake Cree have documented 20,000 treaty rights violations.

The expansion of tar sands refineries has also increased toxic pollution in numerous communities in Canada and the U.S., and pipeline companies have used eminent domain to confiscate private property from ranchers and landowners as they ram new pipelines through.

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Overview:
Tar sands expansion damages people and communities across North America
Key Issues:
- Indigenous peoples cannot hunt or fish on their land and have significantly higher rates of cancer
- Private property is confiscated and democratic rights trampled for pipeline expansion
Current Status:
First Nations are fighting multiple treaty rights battles and continue to be denied status to participate in expansion hearings

Indigenous peoples rely on healthy ecosystems for their food, water and livelihoods, but the insatiable appetite of the tar sands industry has decimated vast amounts of wildlife habitat and polluted the region’s rivers and streams with toxic and carcinogenic chemicals. The local, mostly Indigenous peoples, can no longer eat fish from local rivers and lakes, because tar sands pollution has left many of the fish deformed and diseased. Some people have even been forced to abandon their homes because air pollution is so noxious.

Fort McKay, which is surrounded on all sides by tar sands development, experiences serious air and water quality problems. The residents of Fort Chipewyan, located farther downstream from the tar sands, experienced a 30% increase in cancer rates and a 7X increase in rare and deadly cancers, which have been linked to pollution from tar sands development.

As a result, many of the Indigenous peoples living in close proximity to the tar sands believe that their constitutionally protected treaty rights have been ignored. Treaty 8, signed more than a hundred years ago, assures Indigenous people the right to hunt and fish on their traditional lands, but the intensity of tar sands development has nearly destroyed their ability to access the land for hunting, trapping and fishing. They have tried to work with governments to find a solution, but have been refused standing to participate in hearings about tar sands expansion, and the courts have refused to hear cases brought against the Alberta and Canadian governments to have their rights respected.

The human rights impacts are not, however, limited to northern Alberta. In both Canada and the United States, landowners have had their land confiscated by eminent domain so corporations can build tar sands pipelines where cattle once grazed and wheat once grew, threatening local water supplies and reducing property values.

Across Canada, the federal Conservative government has turned Canada into a near petro-state. It has intimidated community watchdog groups, gutted environmental legislation to limit democratic participation of citizens, and silenced scientists, all in an effort to pave the way for the expedient approval of massive tar sands development.

 

Rights Based Approach

 

Overall the TSSN believes that stopping the Tar Sands needs to be lead by First Nations and other Indigenous communities. First Nations people carry a unique set of priority rights and are the only communities that have a Nation to Nation relationship with both the US and Canadian government. The TSSN uplifts the voice of the communities most impacted by tar sands development through this “rights based approach,” that has successfully created national/international support and initiated much media attention globally on the tar sands issue. This is due to First Nations track record of creating and opening the avenues and opportunities for community leaders and members to tell the story of being impacted by the largest and most destructive energy project on earth.

We understand that the story of First Nations and Native American communities are based in legal constructs that are powerful mechanisms to stop the expansion of the tar sands. There are no other peoples in North America with the same legal abilities as First Nations and Native American communities. 

Human Rights Updates & Resources

Catholic bishops from every continent call for ‘an end to the fossil fuel era’

Jeff Spross | Think Progress - December 12th 2014

Press Clipping: A group of Catholic Bishops called on the world’s governments to end fossil fuel use on Wednesday, citing climate change’s threat to the global poor as the lodestar of their concern. According to the BBC, the statement is the first time senior officials in the Church from every continent have issued such a call. Striking a similar note to Naomi Klein’s recent book, “This Changes Everything,” the bishops’ statement also argued that global capitalism and its economic systems, as currently designed, are incompatible with long-term ecological sustainability

Getting the word out on tar sands pollution

Alexandra Paul | Winnipeg Free Press - November 18th 2014

Press Clipping: Scientists found pay dirt in tests on beavers and in samples of willow, which soaks up toxins through its roots. From there, the science traced the effects of tar sands pollution on human health, including the cancer rates. "These exercises showed the oilsands were having an explicit and significant effect on human health. The occurrence of cancer embodied both the science and the traditional knowledge,” said lead scientist Stéphane McLachlan.

Who’s paying the highest price for tar sands crude?

Ted Genoways | OnEarth - November 11th 2014

Visual: When migrating birds used to fly over the tar sands region, it was covered by pristine boreal forest, a perfect habitat and breeding ground for hundreds of bird species. Now it’s a polluted hellscape, crisscrossed by toxic tailings ponds—gigantic pools of chemical byproducts left over from the process of extracting and refining the world’s dirtiest fuel from huge open-pit mines.

Outside: The high cost of oil

Ted Genoways | Outside Magazine - November 11th 2014

Press Clipping: The crude that would feed the XL pipeline comes from a once pristine part of Alberta that now resembles mining operations on a sci-fi planet. At places like Fort McKay, home to First Nations people who've lived there for centuries, the money is great but the environmental and health impacts are exceedingly grim. The world has to have fuel. Is this simply the price that must be paid?

The wars at home: What state surveillance of an indigenous rights campaigner tells us about risk

Shiri Pasternak | DeSmog Blog - November 4th 2014

Press Clipping: Recent revelations that the RCMP spied on Indigenous environmental rights activist Clayton Thomas-Muller should not be dismissed as routine monitoring. They reveal a long-term, national energy strategy that is coming increasingly into conflict with Indigenous rights and assertions of Indigenous jurisdiction over lands and resources.

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Vancouver to appeal Shell’s tar sands expansion

Editors | Tar Sands Solutions Network - October 15th 2014

Blog Post: The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) leadership and Elderswere in Vancouver this morning, October 15th, 2014, to defend their appeal of the Federal approval of Shell’s Jackpine Mine Expansion tar sands project. The ACFN along with local groups have organized a solidarity rally and press conference outside of the courthouse before the hearings begin.

Indigenous groups lead the way on climate

Ashley Renders | Corporate Knights - September 23rd 2014

Press Clipping: Activists are flooding Wall Street today to remind investors that the risks of climate change are real and the movement to protect the planet is growing stronger. While indigenous communities have been at the forefront of the climate movement since the beginning, this weekend’s protests placed the spotlight firmly on indigenous peoples and people of colour as the leaders of the movement.

First Nations chiefs boycott Alberta government over consultation plan

Marty Klinkenberg | Edmonton Journal - August 31st 2014

Blog Post: Complaining they were not adequately consulted, a dozen First Nations chiefs from northern Alberta denounced the province’s proposed aboriginal consultation policy on Thursday and skipped an “engagement session” with Aboriginal Affairs Minister Frank Oberle. The Treaty 8 chiefs hand-delivered a letter to Oberle saying they will no longer participate in discussions about the legislation, which allows government to decide how much consultation is needed for development projects on native lands.