Leaders of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation (COTTFN) will be in Toronto next week, pursuing their legal challenge against the National Energy Board (NEB) approval of Enbridge’s plans for Line 9B. Direction of flow in the 40-year-old pipeline is soon to be reversed, to carry tar sands oil and other petroleum products to the East Coast.
COTTFN’s case will be heard at the Federal Court of Appeal, 180 Queen St. W. at 9.30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 16. The main basis for the Appeal is whether the NEB was without jurisdiction to issue the exemptions and authorizations to Enbridge, prior to the Crown fulfilling its constitutional duty to consult and accommodate the First Nation.
Chippewas of the Thames
Chippewas of the Thames First Nation (COFTTN) Reserve covers 40 sq. km., and is located on the Thames River, 24 km. west of St. Thomas, in south-western Ontario. COTTFN has a population of about 2,500, of whom less than 1,000 live on reserve. The Line 9B pipeline crosses the Thames River, which runs through the Chippewas traditional territory and provides a source of drinking water to the First Nation. As Chief Joe Miskokomon says, “we are in the position of having to argue about this pipeline in the Federal Court of Appeal on the issue of aboriginal consultation. Regardless of the outcome of our appeal, we need to raise awareness about the environmental concerns and scientific uncertainty with a pipeline dating back to the 1970’s that will have new stresses that will be placed on it.”
Pumping toxic tar sands through Line 9 raises the risk of a spill, and continues to deny the consent of the 18 First Nations whose territory it crosses. As Myeengun Henry of COTTFN explains, “Line 9 has been flowing light crude oil through Chippewas of the Thames traditional territory for 40 years without our consent. It is time for industry and governments to honour the treaties and wampum belt agreements. Indigenous nations and all residents of Canada are responsible for the safety of our Mother Earth!”
On May 21, with Enbridge set to begin pumping before even hearing the results of the Federal Court decision, the First Nation applied to the NEB for a stay of its decision to allow Enbridge to begin operation of the reversed pipeline. This request was resisted in belittling terms by Enbridge’s lawyers, who said the Chippewas had waited too long to apply for a stay, claiming “Equity comes to the aid of those who are vigilant and not those who, like COTTFN, sleep on their rights.” Like their approval of Line 9, the NEB again sided with Big Oil against First Nations, and denied the request for a stay.
Truth and Reconciliation
It is ironic that, in the same week when Enbridge and the NEB were making light of the Chippewa’s request for a stay, in Ottawa the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was solemnly releasing its report on the residential schools and its recommendations for a new relationship with aboriginal peoples. The TRC calls on Canada to “fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples as the framework for reconciliation.” It also calls on Canadian corporations to “commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.” We indeed have a long road to travel!
Rolanda Elijah, director of lands and environment for the Thames First Nation, said, “We are expressing concerns about the land and water, but we find ourselves having to make assertions in areas covered by treaty. We want to help define what a new approach should be, as we prefer not to be in the courts.”
Many non-aboriginal groups in Southern Ontario, also resisting Line 9 and the rest of the Harper Government’s high-carbon agenda, have recently signed on to an open letter, strongly supporting the Chippewas of the Thames position. Various solidarity events are planned for next week, beginning with a speakers’ panel on the evening of Monday June 15 (details to be announced).
First Nations continue to lead the way in protecting our land and water for future generations. Next week’s Chippewas court case is a golden opportunity for all of us to show solidarity in this, our common struggle. As Chief Miskokomon said, “We need to public and First Nations across the country to see this appeal as an opportunity to lend their support to Chippewa. And to strongly encourage government and industry to pursue alternative approaches to address how natural resources are developed to benefit the seventh generation.”
Sign the online petition supporting COTTFN and contribute to their legal funds now. Then on June 16, join the court support: pack the courts (180 Queen St West, 7th floor) at 9:30am and then join the solildarity rally at 11am.