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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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

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.

Leonardo DiCaprio challenges Stephen Harper to ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

August 27th 2014

Press Clipping: You can now add a Hollywood heavyweight to the list of people calling for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio called on Canada's leader to take the plunge after he had a bucket of ice water dumped over his head, alongside the leaders of several Alberta First Nations. DiCaprio, currently on tour in Alberta's oilsands, answered David Beckham's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge while visiting Fort Chipewyan last Friday.

Klein says Canada resources bad investment on land claims


Greg Quinn | Bloomberg News - August 25th 2014

Blog Post: Anti-globalization author Naomi Klein says global investors should avoid Canadian natural-resource companies because of the growing risk that courts will award more control of land to aboriginal groups, threatening the viability of proposed development projects. “Any resource investment in Canada right now should be treated as an uncertain investment,” Klein said in an interview. “More and more Canadians are realizing that indigenous land rights are the best legal tool to stop projects that are rejected by the majority of residents.”

‘There will be no pipeline’


GORDON HOEKSTRA | Vancouver Sun - August 18th 2014

Press Clipping: “The Dakelh people avoided conflict because the final answer in a conflict, it’s gruesome,” says Peter Erickson, a hereditary chief who holds the same title of Ts’oh Dai as chief Kwah did more than 200 years ago. “You look at the conflicts around the world — do we have to go to that point?” says Erickson. “At the same time, we have to ensure this land is here for our grandkids. … This project, on such a scale, cannot be allowed to come into our territory.”

Anishinaabeg decry TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline at Kenora open house

Crystal Green | IC Magazine - August 14th 2014

Press Clipping: Anishinaabeg and fellow Energy East pipeline resisters made a presence inside and outside Lakeside Inn on Tuesday, Aug. 12 for TransCanada’s second Kenora, Ont., open house. This time, the people weren’t interested in hearing TransCanada’s “information session” pitch. The tradeshow set-up had booths, corporate fact-sheets, and enough staff for one-on-one interactions to keep concerned citizens unaware of each other’s objections to the proposed Energy East pipeline.

Deformed Fish, Dying Muskrats Cause Doctor To Sound Alarm

August 6th 2014

Press Clipping: When Dr. John O’Connor arrived in Fort Chipewyan in 2000, he immediately began poring over patient files, piecing together what a series of seasonal doctors had left behind. What O’Connor discovered was a strikingly high concentration of cancer in the small community. “What had been documented before from the patients was quite concerning. The numbers just started to mount up,” he said. “It didn’t make sense.”