On November 30 the Supreme Court of Canada will hear two cases regarding destructive activities carried out by the National Energy Board and oil companies in or around the traditional territories of Clyde River Inuit and Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. These cases have many aspects in common, hence the decision to hear them at the same time.
Sign up for our newsletter
At the core of the cases is the Crown's constitutional duty to consult Indigenous peoples on resource development projects within their territories. For the past two years, the community of Clyde River has been fighting to overturn a 2014 NEB decision that allows a group of oil exploration companies to conduct seismic testing in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait. Clyde River argues that the NEB did not sufficiently consult with Inuit on seismic testing projects. The case also raises questions about the legitimacy of the NEB to represent the Crown when consulting with Indigenous peoples.
Besides threatening wildlife and compromising the traditional hunt essential to Inuit survival in a region where food security is a chronic problem, the approval of seismic exploration against the will of Baffin Island Inuit is a clear violation of their rights under international law set out by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Similarly, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation challenged the NEBs approval of the reversal of Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline between Sarnia and Montreal and deplore the lack of consultation with the community about this major pipeline passing where an oil spill could devastate the land and water.
The upcoming Supreme Court decision on these cases could be a landmark judgment and create jurisprudence that will reshape the future of resource development projects in Indigenous territories throughout the country. It will also clarify the NEB's role in consultations with Indigenous peoples, and the limit of its prerogatives to represent the Crown.
In this defining moment in the history of Indigenous rights in Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation reasserts:
We support Indigenous claims to be thoroughly consulted about development projects that threaten their way of life and culture, as is their right under Canada's constitution and international law. We also endorse the requirement to obtain their explicit consent for resource extraction projects proposed in their traditional territories.
Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and Clyde River Inuit are making an historic effort to defend their land and water from the impacts of fossil fuel development. By doing so, they are showing solidarity with all people in Canada concerned about climate change and Indigenous rights. We will stand in solidarity with them and all Indigenous peoples for their right to thrive in a healthy environment.
This is an opportunity for all people in Canada to show solidarity with Indigenous peoples opposing destructive development projects. Their inspiring battles and resilience light a possible path to environmental justice and reconciliation.