Canada Votes 2015

Prime minister using national security to distract from faltering economy, says Grand Chief

Concern that Harper may be ‘desperate enough to deliberately provoke a conflict’ with Aboriginal peoples
Photo: Brodie Guy

“We’re in the middle of an election,” says Stewart Phillip, the grand chief of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and “we’re dealing with a very dangerous government.”

As the economy falters, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying to turn national security into an election issue, says Phillip.

Indigenous peoples, land and resource extraction fall squarely on Harper’s security agenda.

“I’m really concerned that the Harper government is desperate enough to deliberately provoke a conflict, a fight, with us over these issues,” says Phillip. “I know that the RCMP have been asking a lot of questions about Unist’ot’en.”

Speaking at the one-year memorial for the Imperial Metals Mount Polley mining disaster earlier this month, Phillip pointed out that history has seen many violent confrontations between the Canadian state and Indigenous groups defending their lands.

But now Indigenous land defence plays a critical role in the global movement against climate change.

The Unist’ot’en camp, located directly in the GPS coordinates of several planned oil and gas pipelines, has resisted industrial encroachment in the area for six years. The Unist’ot’en are a clan in the Wet’suwet’en Nation, whose traditional unceded territory lies in the central interior of British Columbia.

In past months unannounced visits from land surveyors, industry representatives and RCMP have been increasing, with threats of arrest on at least one occasion.

In response the Unist’ot’en issued a declaration, signed by the clan and Wet’suwet’en Nation chiefs, which they say they are enacting as law. “Our traditional structures of governance retain complete jurisdiction in our territory,” says the declaration, which cites Supreme Court decisions in support of this position.

The proposed pipelines are an essential step in government and industry’s plan to increase exports of tar sands oil and fracked gas and turn Canada into an energy superpower, a plan many believe spells disaster for the economy and environment.

Dependence on oil has already pushed the Canadian economy into recession, and tar sands exploitation would push climate change beyond the internationally agreed-upon 2 C limit, say experts.

With the recent passage of “anti-terror” Bill C-51, the Conservative government has identified any threat to “the economic or financial stability of Canada or with the country’s critical infrastructure” as a threat to national security, and in doing so has given more powers to police agencies to disrupt activities perceived to fall under this umbrella.

More to the point, last year a leaked internal RCMP document entitled “Criminal Threats to the Canadian Petroleum Industry” warned of “violent anti-petroleum extremists” driven by an “anti-petroleum ideology” that poses a criminal threat to Canada’s oil and gas industry.

A healing centre focused on Indigenous youth bearing the consequences of Canada’s colonial legacy was recently opened at the Unist’ot’en camp.

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