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Tsleil-Waututh leaders sign the Treat Alliance Against the Tar Sands in Vancouver, B.C. on September  22, 2016. (Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey/ National Observer)

Tribes Across North America Unite in 'Wall of Opposition' to Alberta Tar Sands

More than 50 tribes signed on to the historic treaty alliance, banding together for the sake of their health and planet

Lauren McCauley

In a historic show of unity, more than 50 First Nations across North America on Thursday signed a new treaty alliance against the expansion of tar sands mining and infrastructure in their territory.

Citing the threats to water and land through a spill or pipeline leak, as well the industry's undeniable impact on "catastrophic climate change," the treaty (pdf) states, "Tar Sands expansion is a collective threat to our Nations. It requires a collective response."

"Therefore," it continues, "our Nations hereby join together under the present treaty to officially prohibit and to agree to collectively challenge and resist the use of  our respective territories and coasts in connection with the expansion of the production of the Alberta Tar Sands, including for the transport of such expanded  production, whether by pipeline, rail or tanker."

"We are in a time of unprecedented unity amongst Indigenous people working together for a better future for everyone."
—Rueben George, Tsleil-Waututh Sacred Trust Initiative

Leaders gathered in Vancouver, which sits on Musqueam Territory, as well as on Mohawk Territory in Montreal for simultaneous ceremonies to cement the continent-wide agreement, which specifically unites the tribes in opposition to all five current tar sands pipeline and tanker project proposals—Kinder Morgan, Energy East, Line 3, Northern Gateway, and Keystone XL—as well as tar sands rail projects.

Canada's National Observer reported, "At the signing on Musqueam land in Vancouver, the lineup of chiefs waiting to put their names down filled up an entire room. It was a powerful ceremony, and participants clad in the regalia of their nations traveled from across [British Columbia] and northern Washington to be part of the growing movement."

"What this Treaty means is that from Quebec, we will work with our First Nation allies in B.C. to make sure that the Kinder Morgan pipeline does not pass and we will also work with our Tribal allies in Minnesota as they take on Enbridge's Line 3 expansion, and we know they'll help us do the same against Energy East," said Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon. 

As Carrier Sekani Tribal Chief Terry Teegee observed, "a pipeline cannot hope to pass through a unified wall of Indigenous opposition," nor can it find an alternate route around it.

"We are in a time of unprecedented unity amongst Indigenous people working together for a better future for everyone," added Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Sacred Trust Initiative.

"Many such treaties between Indigenous Nations concern peace and friendship and the protection of Mother Earth. The expansion of the Alberta Tar Sands, a truly massive threat bearing down on all of the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island and beyond, calls now for such a treaty."

Indeed, the signing comes amid a historic display of strength and solidarity against the Dakota Access Pipeline, with thousands of representatives from more than 185 tribes across Canada and the U.S. joining the Standing Rock Sioux encampment in North Dakota.

The Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion also comes the same day that a landmark report confirmed that tar sands mining in Alberta has poisoned the air and sickened local First Nations communities in that region.

"In this time of great challenge we know that other First Nations will sign on," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, who signed the document, referring to the threat of climate change.

"Indigenous people have been standing up together everywhere in the face of new destructive fossil fuel projects, with no better example than at Standing Rock in North Dakota," he continued.

As the treaty itself states, the tradition of reaching across tribal borders follows generations of similar agreements.

"We have inhabited, protected, and governed our territories according to our respective laws and traditions since time immemorial," it reads. "Many such treaties between Indigenous Nations concern peace and friendship and the protection of Mother Earth. The expansion of the Alberta Tar Sands, a truly massive threat bearing down on all of the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island and beyond, calls now for such a treaty."


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