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

Canadian government pushing First Nations to give up land rights for oil and gas profits

Martin Lukacs | The Guardian - March 4th 2015

Press Clipping: The Harper government is collaborating with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) to win support for its pipelines and resource agenda by pushing First Nations to sideline their aboriginal rights in exchange for business opportunities, a revelation that is sparking strong criticism from grassroots Indigenous people. “Opposition to these projects by aboriginal groups may doom the development of oil, and natural gas pipelines and related infrastructure,” said envoy Douglas Eyford, "because neither industry nor our trading partners are prepared to idly stand by to wait out the results of judicial proceedings that can take a generation to complete."

Dene people in northern Saskatchewan are resisting uranium and tar sands mining

Michael Toledano | Vice News - February 14th 2015

Press Clipping: On November 22nd, 2014, a small group of Dene trappers called the Northern Trappers Alliance set up a checkpoint on Saskatchewan's Highway 955, allowing locals to pass while blockading the industrial traffic of tar sands and uranium exploration companies. "We want industry to get the hell out of here and stop this killing," said Don Montgrand, who has been at the encampment since day one. "We want this industry to get the hell out before we lose any more people here. We lose kids, adults, teenagers."

Why #BlackLivesMatter should transform the climate debate

Naomi Klein | The Nation - January 28th 2015

Press Clipping: The grossly unequal distribution of climate impacts is not some little-understood consequence of the failure to control carbon emissions. It is the result of a series of policy decisions the governments of wealthy countries have made—and continue to make—with full knowledge of the facts and in the face of strenuous objections. Clearly the definition of “dangerous” climate change had more than a little to do with the wildly unequal ways in which human lives are counted.

You did it!

Feature

Jason Mogus | Pull Together - January 2nd 2015

Blog Post: Thank YOU for everything you did to help reach Pull Together’s 2014 goal of raising $300K! That translates to a lot of support for First Nations legal challenges against Enbridge and its Northern Gateway pipeline proposal. In a marvelous display of solidarity, British Columbians and people from across the country stepped up and have become allies in the effort to protect our land, waters, and future.

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.