Kanesatake hopes to build opposition, raise cash for pipeline fight
by Christopher Curtis, Montreal Gazette, Nov 17, 2015
If Kanesatake was meant to lead the fight against the Energy East pipeline in Quebec, things might be getting off to a slow start.
Last weekend, the environmental group Greenpeace held workshops on the Mohawk territory that focused, in part, on mobilizing people against the proposed pipeline. Only about five locals attended the event, according to Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon.
Energy East would link the Alberta oilsands to a terminal in New Brunswick and pass through traditional Mohawk land — as well as territory claimed by about 150 First Nations across Canada. Simon has been outspoken in his condemnation of the $12 billion project, promising to fight it in the courts and, if need be, physically block construction of the pipeline.
Because a court battle with one of Canada’s largest energy companies won’t be cheap and since the Kanesatake Mohawks have limited financial means, Simon says he needs to get organized and gain larger public support for his community’s struggle.
“The only thing keeping us from moving ahead is funding,” said Simon, who opposes Energy East for fear of an oil spill or other potential environmental pitfalls. “If we have to rely on civil disobedience as a last resort, we’ll do that. Right now, though, we need to raise some money and take this to the courts … There’s crowd funding, pass the hat around, get five bucks apiece, we can do it that way. And we can tap into NGOs (like Greenpeace).”
Simon is hoping to replicate a model that has shown results on the West Coast. In British Columbia, a partnership between seven First Nations and groups like Sierra Club cobbled together a $525,000 legal fund through spaghetti dinners, bake sales and other community events.
That money helped the communities pay for a federal court challenge last October of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. First Nations, through a series of favourable Supreme Court decisions, have secured the right to be consulted and accommodated by the federal government ahead of pipeline projects that might affect their territorial rights.
As a result of this unique legal relationship, environmental groups are increasingly throwing money and support behind indigenous groups — who claim the federal government’s consultation isn’t comprehensive.
On Saturday, another group in Kanesatake welcomed representatives of an indigenous clan that has been living in the British Columbia wilderness, blocking construction of three pipelines that pass through traditional Unist’ot’en territory. The group has maintained a presence in the forest for five years, persisting in the face of a firebombing attack in 2013 and pressure from the RCMP to cede the territory.
“You look at their determination, their resolve and you have to be inspired by that,” said Clifton Nicholas, the Mohawk documentary filmmaker who invited Unist’ot’en spokesperson Freda Huson to Kanesatake. “There’s a lot of value in seeing something that’s working somewhere else and drawing lessons from it.”
The Unist’ot’en have — simply by occupying their traditional land — managed to delay work on pipelines by Chevron, Enbrigde and TransCanada.
“They’ve moved their routes several times, but each time they do they don’t realize it’s still my peoples’ territory,” said Huson, who was in Kanesatake Saturday. “The key to success in any campaign, it’s to reach out to people who have the same battle as you and share your struggle.
“We don’t see this as just an indigenous problem, it’s a worldwide problem and we need to get support outside our communities,” said Huson, who will speak at Université du Québec à Montréal Tuesday and in Akwesasne on Thursday. “This hasn’t been easy, but we won’t stop.”
For its part, TransCanada — the company behind Energy East — says it will continue consulting with First Nations as it prepares to present the project to the National Energy Board. TransCanada has met with 180 aboriginal communities since 2013 and they’re funding 53 traditional land use studies alongside various territorial governments.
Grand Chief Simon certainly isn’t the only Quebec leader to oppose the pipeline — Laval’s Mayor Marc Demers said last September that his city has the power to block the project and “push back its promoters.” Even Premier Philippe Couillard expressed reservations about Energy East this month after TransCanada announced it was abandoning plans to build an export terminal in Quebec.
But despite pockets of resistance throughout the province, Simon might find that building a concerted opposition movement won’t be easy.
“We’re going to keep trying, I’ll work 18 hours a day if I have to,” he said. “We’ll stop this thing.”