Keystone XL Pipeline Opposition: Beaver Lake Cree Nation
Canada’s First Nations indigenous tribespeople are taking the lead in the opposition of the Keystone XL Pipeline. One group, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation believes that the Keystone XL pipeline threatens the land, ecosystems, cultural heritage, and health of all humans. What makes the Beaver Lake Cree Nation remarkable is their small size, compared to their level of activism and passion. Their total registered population is about 1,112 people.
However, the Beaver Lake Cree are active and fierce in their opposition to stop the tar sand development. Last year, many members joined the April 2014 six-day rally in Washington, D.C., to protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline project. Their opposition is strong, steeped in their belief that they are the caretakers of the land, and have a moral and legal obligation to uphold this responsibility.
Beaver Lake Cree History
The Cree, one of the largest tribes in Canada, were referred to by the early explorers and fur traders as Kristineaux, Cris and other names, such as Nahathaway. The Cree traditional territory extended west from the Hudson-James Bay region to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. And in Alberta, Canada, stretched between the north banks of the north Saskatchewan River to Fort Chipewyan. This includes the Beaver, Athabaska, and Peace River basins.
The numerous bands each signed various numbered treaties with the Canadian government. Chief Pee-Yas-See-Wah-We-Cha-Koot and Councillor Pay-Pay-See-See_moo signed the adhesion to Treaty 6 at Fort Pitt on 9 September, 1876, on behalf of the Beaver Lake Band. This set up the band’s legal land rights, which has greatly energized their current environmental and legal opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Opposition Based on Traditions
The Beaver Lake Cree environmental activism is tightly tied to their traditional land use and spiritual life. The land is where they hunt, trap, and fish, supplying both food and economic gains. They also pick berries and gather medicinal herbs on these lands for their own use. The Cree have also provided identification of the significant sacred areas where these activities and traditional rituals are carried out for documenting in Traditional Land Use studies, many carried out by the oil and gas companies.
In 2008, the Beaver Lake Band created and signed the Kétuskéno Declaration, a document formalizing their role as caretakers of the Earth on behalf of future generations. It also enforced their legally protected rights to hunt, trap, fish, and protect the ecological integrity of their territories. The declaration states:
“We declare that no activities are to occur here that will destroy these lands, habitats and waters or their animals, fish, plants and medicine, such that we can no longer sustain ourselves through our traditional way of life. We cannot allow any activities that would make our traditional rights, which have been partly recognized by treaty and constitutional documents, meaningless.”
Taking Their Case to Court
As a result of this declaration, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation believes that the Keystone XL pipeline project is in violation of these beliefs and of the treaty they signed. The band is currently engaged in a constitutional Treaty rights challenge in the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Beaver Lake Cree case has named many treaty rights violations of Treaty 6 by the provincial government of Alberta, the federal government of Canada, and multiple oil companies operating in the tar sands. This includes all of the associated pipeline infrastructure coming out of Alberta to bring oil resources to international markets, and the Keystone XL pipeline, which cuts along their traditional areas, is also among the disputed projects.
Protests are only part of the Beaver Lake Cree’s overall plan. Members of the band have also taken to social media, with their own facebook page Beaver Lake Cree vs Tar Sands. The largest online effort to date has been the crowd fundraising for their court case. Part of the money raised will be used to hire scientist to conduct research on cumulative tar sands impacts within the territory.
The results of these efforts may have far-reaching effects. There could be a moratorium on any further expansion of tar sands projects in the area. This would include the Keystone XL pipelines, and further development of the tar sands would be minimized so as to not damage the ecosystem. This is the great big hope of the diminutive Beaver Lake Cree Nation.
(Top image note and source: Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation in Alberta leads a rally of Native Americans, farmers, ranchers, and cowboys to protest against the Keystone XL pipeline, Washington, D.C., April 22, 2014. Copyright Diaa Bekheet/VOA)
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