This article was written by David Suzuki for the The Georgia Straight, Vancouver's News & Entertainment Weekly.
In 2007, Canada was one of four countries to vote against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (with New Zealand, the United States, and Australia). With its single-minded focus on making Canada an “energy superpower”, albeit only with fossil fuels, the Harper government feared the declaration’s concept of “free, prior, and informed” consent regarding issues that affect Indigenous Peoples and their territories could hinder resource development.
The government was right. Most of Canada’s fossil-fuelled energy policies are on a collision course with reconciliation. Canada finally signed the declaration in 2010 but hasn’t made much progress living up to its principles around resource projects. Whether it’s oilsands, fracking, offshore drilling, mining, or pipelines, economic considerations are prioritized over Indigenous rights and environmental concerns—regardless of the government in power.
Rapidly shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy would be a win for the environment, climate, economy, and Indigenous rights. Renewable-energy projects create more good jobs, distributed through a larger number of communities, than fossil-fuel projects. They don’t damage land, water, and air the way fossil-fuel development does. And bringing clean energy to remote communities that now fly, truck, and ship expensive, polluting diesel fuel for generators would benefit those communities in many ways.
In their book The Reconciliation Manifesto, renowned Secwepemc activist and author Arthur Manuel (who passed away in January 2017) and Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson write that the federal government’s approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project was a continuation of its abrogation of the declaration. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “knew that if UNDRIP is properly implemented, he would need not just to ‘consult’ Indigenous peoples, he would have to gain our consent. And that, he knows, we will never give.”
An article on The Conversation website reports that 239 of 279 remote communities not connected to the power grid in Canada rely on expensive, polluting diesel. Almost two-thirds are Indigenous communities. “Large-scale, rapid improvements to energy access can have positive influences on economic, social, educational and health outcomes. They are an investment in the future that becomes the backbone to support a community’s needs and growth,” writes Jatin Nathwani, founding executive director of the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy and Ontario research chair in public policy for sustainable energy at the University of Waterloo.