This case study introduces the concepts of place-based and Indigenous environmental justice as well as the theory of Indigenous sovereignty, as articulated within a Canadian context and considers their application with respect to the Indigenous peoples with traditional territories within the borders of Canada. The specific legal and industrial contexts affecting Indigenous peoples in Canada are briefly examined to frame two cases of environmental justice issues in the northeastern corner of British Columbia. The two cases are oil and gas development and the proposed development of a new dam which will represent the largest industrial development in Canada in the last several decades. The perspectives of British Columbia Treaty 8 Indigenous Nations on the impacts of these industrial developments are presented.

KEY MESSAGE

Students viewing this case study will:

  • Gain a basic understanding of place-based and Indigenous environmental justice, as well as Indigenous sovereignty.

  • Gain an understanding of the challenges facing Indigenous peoples in Canada with respect to industrial development, as examples of environmental injustice.

  • Be introduced to two examples of environmental justice issues affecting Indigenous peoples in British Columbia, Canada; oil and gas exploitation and a proposed dam.

  • Gain an understanding of the concerns of the Indigenous peoples with respect to these two developments.

INTRODUCTION

  • Indigenous Youth Took Center Stage at People's Climate March (May 5, 2017)

  • Chile's Indigenous Mapuche Protest Deadly Police Brutality (March 20, 2017)

  • Ecuador's Indigenous People Take Their Case against Chevron to Canada (December 21, 2016)

  • The Dakota Access Pipeline and Doctrine of Native Genocide (December 7, 2016)

  • Quebec Mohawk Chief Vows Civil Unrest If B.C. Pipeline Moves Forward (December 7, 2016)

  • Guatemala's Indigenous Water Protectors Organize to Challenge Hydroelectric Projects (December 3, 2016) [1]

Industrial development threatening Indigenous peoples' survival occurs across the globe and, in the Americas, goes back centuries to the time of European invaders. This encompasses everything from nuclear bomb tests (the US southwest, the Bikini Islands, and Australia [2]), to murder in the name of resource extraction (Guatemala, Honduras [3]), to pollution poisoning critical lands and Indigenous peoples (Canada [4, 5]). In the face of such threats, Indigenous peoples around the globe and across the centuries resist, as the news headlines above suggest. Ongoing conflicts with industry, and the governments which facilitate industrial development, make the discussion and practice of environmental justice with respect to Indigenous peoples critical. It is also critical to recognize that for every well-publicized case of environmental injustice, others just as serious occur regularly, but are far less visible.

This case study examines environmental justice (EJ) and Indigenous peoples in Canada focusing upon the challenges faced by Indigenous peoples in northeastern British Columbia. While not as well-known as some current Indigenous protests, this corner of Canada illustrates the threats to the survival of Indigenous cultures through threats to ecosystems underpinning those cultures. Northeastern BC is an environmental and social “sacrifice” zone, as industrial development in this remote location benefits the more populous areas in southern BC, and Canada, while the costs and impacts to local communities are poorly recognized and overshadowed by proposed industrial developments in more populated areas.

CASE STUDY CONTEXT AND THEORETICAL LENS

Twenty-first century Canada economically remains a significant primary resource producer. As of 2015, 1.77 million jobs are directly or indirectly linked to natural resources extraction, accounting for 17% of Canada's Gross Domestic Production. Over the next decade, over 400 major resource-based projects are in process, representing an estimated $691 billion Canadian dollars of investment. The natural resources sector contributes $27 billion to government coffers annually through $231 billion worth of exports [6]. This creates immense incentive to exploit these natural resources, which creates serious challenges for ecosystem and human wellbeing. Exacerbating these circumstances is a geographic stratification of population and natural resources in every Canadian province and territory such that the majority of the population (holding the majority of political decision-making ability) lives far away from the under-populated hinterlands where the majority of natural resources are extracted. That majority population, which benefits economically from resource extraction and elects the governments promoting resource extraction, are usually insulated from the immediate consequences of extraction activities and are able to ignore the consequences for the smaller remote populations living adjacent to extraction sites. This is the jumping-off point for bringing an environmental justice lens to bear.

Environmental justice as a concept developed in the United States around the understanding that visible minorities and economically disadvantaged people are disproportionally targeted for and affected by industrial development [7], (Figure 1). A foundational EJ event was a 1982 Warren County, North Carolina (USA) blockade, where a largely African-American community protested its selection as a hazardous waste disposal site without being consulted in the decision-making process [8], (Figure 2). Subsequent EJ work linked race/income with locally unwanted land uses. In the 1980s, approximately three out of five African Americans lived near at least one uncontrolled hazardous site as did half of Native Americans [7]. Presently, visible minorities remain more likely to be exposed to contamination impacting ecosystems and cultural subsistence [7], (Figures 36).

FIGURE 1.

Art by Ricardo Levins Morales (Source: http://www.rlmartstudio.com).

FIGURE 1.

Art by Ricardo Levins Morales (Source: http://www.rlmartstudio.com).

FIGURE 3.

Image by Wake Forest, My Neighborhood is Killing Me (Source: http://beautifultrouble.org/theory/environmental-justice/).

FIGURE 3.

Image by Wake Forest, My Neighborhood is Killing Me (Source: http://beautifultrouble.org/theory/environmental-justice/).

FIGURE 4.

Photograph, Child and Power Plant (Source: https://www.michigandaily.com/article/toxic-tour-lead).

FIGURE 4.

Photograph, Child and Power Plant (Source: https://www.michigandaily.com/article/toxic-tour-lead).

In the United States, most EJ theory is race based. In Canada, where EJ theory started with a focus upon race [9, 10, 11, 12], additional key foci include place, geography and class, or “place-based EJ” [13]. Place-based EJ is less developed than race-based theory, but may have greater application to resource extraction in remote places. Place-based EJ theory derives from a range of variables, including community size in relation to population centers, economic contexts and social/cultural elements, rather than solely race [13].

In Canada, much EJ theory and practice also centers around Indigenous peoples [9, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16]. The theory of “Indigenous EJ” links race-based EJ and place-based EJ as Indigenous peoples are inextricably linked culturally and physically to the matrix of ecosystems within which their culture exists. However, environmental justice generally needs better development with regard to Indigenous peoples [17, 18, 19, 20], and relatively little research examines EJ and Indigenous peoples in Canada [11, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27]. Table 1 summarizes key elements aspects of these three EJ theories.

TABLE 1.

Key features of three environmental justice theories

Race-based EJPlace-based EJIndigenous EJ
  • Racial discrimination in environmental policy-making and enforcement of regulations and laws.

  • The deliberate targeting of communities of color for toxic waste facilities.

  • The official sanctioning of the presence of life-threatening poisons and pollutants for communities of color.

  • Excluding people of color from leadership of the environmental movements.

  • Drawn from [28]

    • “The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.… Fair treatment means that no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies.”

  • United States Environmental Protection Agency 1982 (https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice).

 
  • Environmental inequities have more to do with geographical contextuality and socioeconomic characteristics than ethnic identity.

  • Key variables include:

    • Community size in relation to major population centers

    • Economic/political standing derived from proximity or significance to political/economic centers

    • Economic contexts (is the community a resource-extractive economy versus a knowledge-based or other type of economy)

    • Social/cultural elements.

  • Place-based EJ is defined by Mitchell as:

    • “The right to a safe, healthy, productive and sustainable environment for all, in which environment is viewed in its totality and includes ecological (biological), physical (natural and built), social, political, aesthetic and economic components” [13, p.557)].

 
  • Focuses upon the key challenges facing Indigenous people across the globe.

  • While based upon a racial characteristic (indigeneity) this is also based within geographic contextuality (place-based EJ).

  • Unlike broader place-based EJ, Indigenous EJ recognizes geographical presences and cultures fixed within certain places that can trace roots back thousands of years.

  • Place and culture/spirituality are inextricably intertwined and are included within assessments of harm and response, in addition to physical, health, or economic harms.

  • Schlosberg and Carruthers [17, p.13] state that Indigenous environmental injustices are “direct assaults not only against the people, but also against cultural practices and beliefs, and the ability of their community to reproduce those traditions. Indigenous leaders thus articulate environmental injustices as a set of conditions that remove or restrict the ability of individuals and communities to function—conditions that undermine their health, destroy economies and cultural livelihoods, or present general environmental threats.”

 
Race-based EJPlace-based EJIndigenous EJ
  • Racial discrimination in environmental policy-making and enforcement of regulations and laws.

  • The deliberate targeting of communities of color for toxic waste facilities.

  • The official sanctioning of the presence of life-threatening poisons and pollutants for communities of color.

  • Excluding people of color from leadership of the environmental movements.

  • Drawn from [28]

    • “The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.… Fair treatment means that no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies.”

  • United States Environmental Protection Agency 1982 (https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice).

 
  • Environmental inequities have more to do with geographical contextuality and socioeconomic characteristics than ethnic identity.

  • Key variables include:

    • Community size in relation to major population centers

    • Economic/political standing derived from proximity or significance to political/economic centers

    • Economic contexts (is the community a resource-extractive economy versus a knowledge-based or other type of economy)

    • Social/cultural elements.

  • Place-based EJ is defined by Mitchell as:

    • “The right to a safe, healthy, productive and sustainable environment for all, in which environment is viewed in its totality and includes ecological (biological), physical (natural and built), social, political, aesthetic and economic components” [13, p.557)].

 
  • Focuses upon the key challenges facing Indigenous people across the globe.

  • While based upon a racial characteristic (indigeneity) this is also based within geographic contextuality (place-based EJ).

  • Unlike broader place-based EJ, Indigenous EJ recognizes geographical presences and cultures fixed within certain places that can trace roots back thousands of years.

  • Place and culture/spirituality are inextricably intertwined and are included within assessments of harm and response, in addition to physical, health, or economic harms.

  • Schlosberg and Carruthers [17, p.13] state that Indigenous environmental injustices are “direct assaults not only against the people, but also against cultural practices and beliefs, and the ability of their community to reproduce those traditions. Indigenous leaders thus articulate environmental injustices as a set of conditions that remove or restrict the ability of individuals and communities to function—conditions that undermine their health, destroy economies and cultural livelihoods, or present general environmental threats.”

 

One last theory is relevant to this case study, Indigenous sovereignty, given the unique legal circumstances of Indigenous peoples within Canada. Indigenous peoples are “faced with systemic environmental injustice” due to “the failure by the Canadian state to recognize underlying and inalienable Aboriginal title and rights” to traditionally used public lands (“Crown” land in Canada) and natural resources [14, p.12]. This reality gives rise to demands for the recognition of Indigenous sovereignty. Indigenous sovereignty is, according to Indigenous theorist Coulthard, the “call for the delegation of land, capital, and political power from the state to Indigenous communities through a combination of land claim settlements, economic development initiatives, and self-government agreements” [29, p.3]. Indigenous theorist Simpson further describes the requirements for developing Indigenous sovereignty:

Building diverse, nation-culture-based resurgences mean significantly reinvesting in our own ways of being: regenerating our political and intellectual traditions; articulating an living our legal traditions, language leaning; creating and using our artistic and performance based traditions. [Decolonization] requires us to reclaim the very best practices of our traditional cultures, knowledge systems and lifeways in the dynamic, fluid, compassionate, respectful context in which they were originally generated [30, pp.17–18].

The legal context in Canada provides significant support for Indigenous sovereignty, as Indigenous peoples in Canada have significant legally based rights. While the legal circumstances of Indigenous peoples are exceedingly complex, beyond this case study to explain,1 and subject to change through court cases, key protections/considerations include:

  • Section 35 of the 1982 Canadian Constitution recognizes (rather than grants) Aboriginal rights to hunt, fish, and gather for subsistence, ceremonial, and cultural survival purposes (Table 2 offers key excerpts).

  • A series of federal laws and court decisions over Aboriginal rights around, and possible legal title to, lands and resource access.

  • Historical (“numbered”) and modern treaties.

TABLE 2.

Selections from Section 35 Constitution Acts 1867–1982 (Canada's Constitution Act 1982

PART II
RIGHTS OF THE ABORIGINAL PEOPLES OF CANADA 
Marginal note: Recognition of existing aboriginal and treaty rights
  • 35. (1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.

  • Definition of “aboriginal peoples of Canada


(2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.
  • Marginal note: Land claims agreements


(3) For greater certainty, in subsection (1) “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.
  • Marginal note: Aboriginal and treaty rights are guaranteed equally to both sexes


(4) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to in subsection (1) are guaranteed equally to male and female persons. 
PART II
RIGHTS OF THE ABORIGINAL PEOPLES OF CANADA 
Marginal note: Recognition of existing aboriginal and treaty rights
  • 35. (1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.

  • Definition of “aboriginal peoples of Canada


(2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.
  • Marginal note: Land claims agreements


(3) For greater certainty, in subsection (1) “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.
  • Marginal note: Aboriginal and treaty rights are guaranteed equally to both sexes


(4) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to in subsection (1) are guaranteed equally to male and female persons. 

Aboriginal rights have been upheld by a series of court cases (R. v. Delgamuukw 1997; R v. Sparrow 1990; Tsilhquot'in Nation v. British Columbia 2008; Tsilhquot'in Nation v. British Columbia 2014) [31]. After conservation requirements are met, Indigenous peoples have priority rights to access land and natural resources, only then followed by the contingent rights held by companies and mainstream society (R. v. Sparrow 1990). Sparrow determined that any infringement upon established Aboriginal rights must be avoided unless there are “compelling and substantial” reasons (usually determined by government, subject to court challenge), in which case, government can infringe upon Aboriginal rights, including limited access to, or use of, natural resources. In addition to Aboriginal rights, most, but not all, Indigenous peoples possess rights conferred by historical (numbered) or modern treaties agreed to by their governments and the federal government of the time.

However, treaty and Aboriginal rights are frequently ignored or abrogated by government. In these cases, Indigenous Nations have resort only to lengthy and expensive court challenges to force a government to honor legal obligations [31, 32]. Governments are also obligated to consult meaningfully with Indigenous peoples when anticipating impacts upon their rights from proposed developments, and are often expected to mitigate such impacts. However, neither rights nor legal obligations have stopped industrial encroachment or impacts upon ecosystems critical to the survival of Indigenous cultures. If government chooses to simply ignore Indigenous Nations' concerns, there are few means outside of (often unsuccessful) court challenges or creating public outcry to force government to do otherwise.

A final lens by which to examine these issues is the lens of Indigenous worldviews, especially in relation to Indigenous embeddedness within specific ecosystems. Worldviews are how a group defines their world, and there is a significant mismatch between Indigenous worldviews and those of non-Indigenous Canada. For Indigenous cultures, the land, animals, and plants that make up an ecosystem within which they exist are far more than a collection of exploitable resources [33, 34]. Indigenous peoples are rooted in specific ecosystems through complex interconnections derived from their history, their cultures, their spirituality, and their community networks linked throughout the ecological attributes of their traditional territories. This circumstance, from an Indigenous EJ lens, requires recognition of the distinct impacts of industrial exploitation of resources in territories of Indigenous peoples. This includes, for example, an erosion of traditional knowledge, the loss of traditional foods and traditional material goods created from specific (and non-substitutable) plants and animals, the loss of natural resources required for cultural subsistence, destruction of the graves belonging to their ancestors, and intrusions not just into traditional use areas, but into sacred lands as well [18, 34].

Indigenous demands for environmental justice go beyond distributional equity to emphasize…their ability to continue and reproduce their traditions, practices, cosmologies, and the relationship with nature that tie native peoples to their ancestral lands [17, p.10].

The consequences for Indigenous peoples of industrial development upon lands they utilize to maintain their culture, are profound. The loss of culture threatens their history, the wellbeing of the current generation and their children's future. Indigenous peoples living in Canada rank below other Canadians in terms of socioeconomic indicators [35]. Indigenous peoples attribute this, in part, to be the consequence of the loss of the profound inter-linkage between cultural health, land health, and social well-being within Indigenous cultures coupled with long-term and subtle social impacts of the loss of land, and the culture that has developed within that land [34, 36, 37].

THE CASE STUDY: THE PEACE REGION AND TREATY 8 INDIGENOUS NATIONS

The northeastern portion of British Columbia (BC), the Peace region (Figure 7), presents a useful exploration of place-based and Indigenous EJ. The Peace (officially the Peace Regional District) has a population of about 56,500. Most live along the Peace River. The area is comprised of the Boreal White and Black Spruce Biogeoclimatic Zone. It is an ecologically diverse area and as a result is also a productive and critical collection of ecosystems. Approximately 61% of BC's bird species and 46% of all breeding species reside here. Multiple wetlands, ponds, and streams create a major migratory corridor for water- and shorebirds. Moose, mule, white-tailed deer, caribou, and elk are common ungulates and the area also supports Dall sheep, black bear, grizzly bear, and gray wolf. Freshwater fish species include the Arctic grayling, northern pike, and slimy sculpin [38]. Major tree species include white spruce, black spruce, trembling aspen, lodgepole pine, balsam poplar, tamarack, subalpine fir, and paper birch.

FIGURE 7.

Map of Peace region, British Columbia, Canada (Source: [39])

FIGURE 7.

Map of Peace region, British Columbia, Canada (Source: [39])

Human residents largely make their living through agriculture, natural resources exploitation (forestry, mining, and oil and gas development) or through provision of support services (Tables 35). The Peace is also a millennium long home to the Dunne'za peoples, who are Beaver and Cree cultures comprised of five Indigenous Nations: West Moberly First Nations, Halfway River First Nation, Doig River First Nation, Saulteau First Nations, and Prophet River First Nation. All are signatories to the BC portion of Treaty No. 8 ( Appendix 1) and participate in the Treaty 8 Tribal Association (http://treaty8.bc.ca/). While these Nations (Tables 68) participate in mixed economies, including working with resource industries (Table 9), they also rely heavily on subsistence activities both to feed community members and to maintain their cultures [32, 34, 40].

TABLE 3.

Comparative population numbers between northeastern British Columbia and other regions of the Province

Regional District in bold; selected subset italic2016 population
Vancouver Island/Coast 800,716 
Capital (Victoria, BC) 382,645 
Mainland/Southwest 2,930,041 
Greater Vancouver 2,558,029 
Thompson/Okanagan 549,956 
Kootenay 149,661 
Cariboo 154,026 
North Coast 53,659 
Nechako 41,057 
Northeast 72,496 
Northern Rockies 5,992 
Peace River 66,504 
British Columbia (Total) 4,751.612 
Regional District in bold; selected subset italic2016 population
Vancouver Island/Coast 800,716 
Capital (Victoria, BC) 382,645 
Mainland/Southwest 2,930,041 
Greater Vancouver 2,558,029 
Thompson/Okanagan 549,956 
Kootenay 149,661 
Cariboo 154,026 
North Coast 53,659 
Nechako 41,057 
Northeast 72,496 
Northern Rockies 5,992 
Peace River 66,504 
British Columbia (Total) 4,751.612 
TABLE 4.

Northeastern BC regional labor profile 2017

Total population (Age 15+) 56,500 
Total employment 40,600 
Unemployment rate 6.5% 
Total population (Age 15+) 56,500 
Total employment 40,600 
Unemployment rate 6.5% 
TABLE 5.

Regional employment by industry sector April 2017 in the Peace region (X = suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act)

Total employed, all industries 39,600 
Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas 3,500 
Utilities 
Construction 6,400 
Manufacturing 2,000 
Services-producing 26,800 
Wholesale and retail trade 6,000 
Transportation and warehousing 2,100 
Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing 2,000 
Professional, scientific, and technical services 1,900 
Business, building, and other support services 
Health care and social assistance 4,300 
Information, culture, and recreation 
Accommodation and food services 2,200 
Other services (except public administration) 2,400 
Public administration 
Educational services 2,400 
Total employed, all industries 39,600 
Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas 3,500 
Utilities 
Construction 6,400 
Manufacturing 2,000 
Services-producing 26,800 
Wholesale and retail trade 6,000 
Transportation and warehousing 2,100 
Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing 2,000 
Professional, scientific, and technical services 1,900 
Business, building, and other support services 
Health care and social assistance 4,300 
Information, culture, and recreation 
Accommodation and food services 2,200 
Other services (except public administration) 2,400 
Public administration 
Educational services 2,400 
TABLE 6.

Aboriginal peoples in the Peace region (2011 census)

Total PopulationMaleFemale
North American Aboriginal origins 8,920 4,520 4,400 
First Nations (North American Indian) 6,520 3,310 3,210 
Inuit 35 10 25 
Métis 2,920 1,490 1,430 
Total PopulationMaleFemale
North American Aboriginal origins 8,920 4,520 4,400 
First Nations (North American Indian) 6,520 3,310 3,210 
Inuit 35 10 25 
Métis 2,920 1,490 1,430 
TABLE 7.

Total First Nations population in private households by Registered or Treaty Indian status in the Peace region (2011 census)

Registered or Treaty Indian 2,980 
Not a Registered or Treaty Indian 1,460 
Registered or Treaty Indian 2,980 
Not a Registered or Treaty Indian 1,460 
TABLE 8.

Total Aboriginal identity population aged 15 years and over in private households by labor force status and income in the Peace region (2011 census)

In the labor force 4,110 
Employed 3,645 
Unemployed 465 
Not in the labor force 1,805 
Participation rate 69.5% 
Employment rate 61.6 % 
Unemployment rate 11.3% 
Median income ($) 26,685  
Average income ($) 37,434  
In the labor force 4,110 
Employed 3,645 
Unemployed 465 
Not in the labor force 1,805 
Participation rate 69.5% 
Employment rate 61.6 % 
Unemployment rate 11.3% 
Median income ($) 26,685  
Average income ($) 37,434  
TABLE 9.

Aboriginal employment by industry sector in the Peace region (2011 census)

Total labor force population aged 15 years and over having an Aboriginal identity in private households by industry—North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) 2007 4,110 
All industries 4,040 
Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting 205 
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 535 
Utilities 30 
Construction 590 
Manufacturing 140 
Wholesale trade 75 
Retail trade 520 
Transportation and warehousing 145 
Information and cultural industries 45 
Finance and insurance 40 
Real estate and rental and leasing 40 
Professional, scientific, and technical services 105 
Management of companies and enterprises 
Administrative and support, waste management, and remediation services 130 
Educational services 220 
Health care and social assistance 330 
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 35 
Accommodation and food services 275 
Other services (except public administration) 215 
Public administration 340 
Total labor force population aged 15 years and over having an Aboriginal identity in private households by industry—North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) 2007 4,110 
All industries 4,040 
Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting 205 
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 535 
Utilities 30 
Construction 590 
Manufacturing 140 
Wholesale trade 75 
Retail trade 520 
Transportation and warehousing 145 
Information and cultural industries 45 
Finance and insurance 40 
Real estate and rental and leasing 40 
Professional, scientific, and technical services 105 
Management of companies and enterprises 
Administrative and support, waste management, and remediation services 130 
Educational services 220 
Health care and social assistance 330 
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 35 
Accommodation and food services 275 
Other services (except public administration) 215 
Public administration 340 

Since the 1940s, the Peace has also been a substantial source of natural resources and energy generation, and further, is undergoing significant industrial development presently and will likely continue to do so into the future. It is an already (over) crowded resource development and extraction landscape (Table 10). When assessed altogether, known as cumulative impact assessment, currently there is no un-impacted land in the Peace (Figure 8). For this case study, two specific industrial developments will be examined for their impacts on the region's Indigenous peoples: oil and gas (O&G) development in northeastern BC and the Site C dam.

TABLE 10.

Approved and proposed development projects in the Peace region 2016

Large-scale hydroelectric dams (including the Site C dam) 
Run of the river electricity generation developments In the hundreds 
Mines 
Windfarms 
Oil and gas wells 18,793 
Industrial facilities 10,815 
Oil and gas pipelines 100,000 km 
Electrical power lines In the thousands 
Roads 60,000 km 
Fee simple and agricultural lands Thousands of hectares 
Forestry cut blocks 6,000 
Large-scale industrial projects proposed as of 2016 [4128 
Large-scale hydroelectric dams (including the Site C dam) 
Run of the river electricity generation developments In the hundreds 
Mines 
Windfarms 
Oil and gas wells 18,793 
Industrial facilities 10,815 
Oil and gas pipelines 100,000 km 
Electrical power lines In the thousands 
Roads 60,000 km 
Fee simple and agricultural lands Thousands of hectares 
Forestry cut blocks 6,000 
Large-scale industrial projects proposed as of 2016 [4128 
FIGURE 8.

Map of cumulative impacts from industrial development in the Peace region. Map was compiled by West Moberly First Nations Lands Office using all BC government sources available as of 2011 (Source: [41])

FIGURE 8.

Map of cumulative impacts from industrial development in the Peace region. Map was compiled by West Moberly First Nations Lands Office using all BC government sources available as of 2011 (Source: [41])

The development of O&G in the Peace has been occurring since the 1950s [42]. Since 2000, however, rates of resource development have soared due to the introduction of the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas. In the Peace the largest employment sector is in O&G, which provides 10.5% of all jobs (Table 5), (Figure 9). Indirect employment through providing services to the industries or to the workers is also substantive. After a two-year slump, 2017 witnessed a significant development boom. A January auction for petroleum and gas rights generated $40 million in total sales. Estimates for the 2017 BC drilling season include 367 new wells [43].

Most BC O&G development occurs in the Peace, which is a remote and under-populated region when compared with the “Lower Mainland,” including the city of Vancouver, and Vancouver Island, where the provincial capital of Victoria is located. While remote communities do experience positive impacts from industrial development, largely through employment, the residents bear all of the negative impacts, including air, land, and water contamination and related health impacts, the risk of catastrophic events (sour gas venting or oil spills), the loss in quantity and quality of fresh water, the loss of use of private lands adjacent to extraction sites, and the loss of employment from other resources [44, 45, 46], (Figure 10).

In contrast, the residents of BC's south, including Vancouver and Victoria, suffer few, if any, direct negative impacts, and face few direct risks2 but experience considerable positive social benefits such as subsidized health care and education which are underwritten by O&G royalties ($1.5 billion between 2014 and 2015 [47]). Thus there is a differential sharing in the quantity and quality of impacts (positive and negative) between the large urban centers distant from most resource extraction sites and the communities living with extraction activities.

The second EJ issue under consideration is the proposed Site C dam [48]. A companion to the 1950s WAC Bennett (Figure 11) and the Peace Canyon Dams, the Site C dam would flood a 51 mile stretch of the Peace River, and about 13,000 acres of land. Flooding will destroy critical ecosystems (Figure 12), threatening culturally important species including woodland caribou, bison, muskox, and eagles, destroy some of the best agricultural land (Figure 13) outside of the Lower Mainland, as well as stands of valuable timber and the homes of ranchers, farmers and Indigenous peoples [49, 50]. In so doing, the development will compound existing damage to ecosystems caused by the first dams, which drowned thousands of caribou, contaminated fish and compromised the cultures of Indigenous peoples theoretically protected by the Treaty they had signed. In 2016, BC Hydro (the government entity overseeing hydroelectricity development) acknowledged that damage and issued an apology to the Indigenous peoples affected, including that history in its Interpretation Centre at the Bennett Dam [51]. Despite this admission, the BC government is proceeding with Site C.

FIGURE 11.

Photo of the WAC Bennett Dam in northeastern British Columbia (Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/canadagood/3390099061)

FIGURE 11.

Photo of the WAC Bennett Dam in northeastern British Columbia (Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/canadagood/3390099061)

FIGURE 12.

Photo of the area of the Peace River to be dammed (Source: https://www.desmog.ca/2015/12/18/photos-destruction-peace-river-valley-site-c-dam)

FIGURE 13.

Graphic on preserving agricultural lands in the Peace (Source: http://www.stopsitec.org/take_action_6)

FIGURE 13.

Graphic on preserving agricultural lands in the Peace (Source: http://www.stopsitec.org/take_action_6)

The political enthusiasm for the dam is based upon increased electrical production which will offset projected future demand, but will also allow the development of natural gas production in northwest BC. Further, BC has plans to sell the electricity generated at the dam elsewhere, at considerable profit. Finally, there is support for the project by labor unions, local governments, and many local communities because of the potential for long-term employment (estimated at 10,000 person years by BC Hydro) and anticipated economic growth (Figure 14). BC Hydro stated that, as of September 2016, it had spent $1.3 billion and had more than 1,860 workers working on the dam (85% from BC) [52].

Treaty No. 8 Nations will be affected in multiple ways, including through the loss of ecosystems they not only depend upon for subsistence, but which form the basis of their cultures [32, 34]. In response to provincial and federal government support for the dam, despite serious questions about the benefits of the dam versus the costs [49, 50], the governments of West Moberly and Prophet River Nations have filed numerous court challenges [48, 49, 50].3,Table 11 presents Treaty 8 Tribal Association's official statement of concern on the Site C dam. Organized protests have occurred in 2015 and 2016 (Figures 1517) including a 2016 awareness raising bus caravan across Canada (Figures 18 and 19). Final court decisions, however, may come too late to stop the dam and have not stopped ongoing destructive preparatory work. Two videos, the first showing the Peace River Valley prior to the dam, and the second discussing the impacts of the dam,4 are good introductions to the Site C controversy.

TABLE 11.

Statement of Treaty 8 on Site C Dam 2015

  1. Site C is an infringement on our Treaty Rights, yet BC Hydro proceeds with construction.

  2. There are alternatives to Site C that do not infringe upon our Treaty Rights.

  3. There are alternatives to Site C that do not destroy the Peace River Valley.

  4. The remaining stretch of the Peace River Valley is vital to Treaty 8 First Nations practicing our Treaty Rights.

  5. The outcomes of the Site C legal proceedings have the potential to impact the treatment of First Nations by government an adhered to numbered Treaties across Canada by government and industry.

 
  1. Site C is an infringement on our Treaty Rights, yet BC Hydro proceeds with construction.

  2. There are alternatives to Site C that do not infringe upon our Treaty Rights.

  3. There are alternatives to Site C that do not destroy the Peace River Valley.

  4. The remaining stretch of the Peace River Valley is vital to Treaty 8 First Nations practicing our Treaty Rights.

  5. The outcomes of the Site C legal proceedings have the potential to impact the treatment of First Nations by government an adhered to numbered Treaties across Canada by government and industry.

 
FIGURE 17.

Protest graphic on Site C dam (Source: http://raventrust.com/join-the-circle-no-site-c/)

FIGURE 17.

Protest graphic on Site C dam (Source: http://raventrust.com/join-the-circle-no-site-c/)

FIGURE 18.

Photograph of the Caravan for the Peace and Chief Roland Willson, West Moberly First Nations (Source: http://www.nationalobserver.com/2016/04/05/news/treaty-8-chiefs-condemn-site-c-dam-project)

FIGURE 18.

Photograph of the Caravan for the Peace and Chief Roland Willson, West Moberly First Nations (Source: http://www.nationalobserver.com/2016/04/05/news/treaty-8-chiefs-condemn-site-c-dam-project)

The Indigenous peoples are not alone in their fight against Site C. A number of local ranchers and landowners are participating in the fight against Site C. Most stand to lose farms and ranches held by their families for generations, with little or no compensation. Two videos offer the perspectives of these landowners.5 Finally, support has been received from outside agencies. In 2016 Amnesty International released a report opposing the dam for its violation of human rights [53].

APPLYING THE THEORETICAL LENS

Four theoretical lens related to environmental justice were introduced earlier. Their application to the Peace region is now examined. Race based EJ does offer a basic lens. When examining the impact of industrial development on the Peace, there are significant impacts upon Indigenous peoples. However, the other theories presented have greater utility in analyzing this case study.

There are components from the Peace case study that are best understood through the lens of place based EJ. The first is that the remoteness of northeastern BC from provincial and federal power centers is a significant factor in how little known is either the level of industrial development or its regional impacts, even within BC. While past, current, and proposed developments affect a greater land base than better known developments (Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline, for example), and arguably cause far greater environmental impacts, the remoteness of the region from Vancouver and Victoria, and public consciousness, means little public opposition to such development outside of the Peace. Few BC residents are aware of the amount of O&G development in the northeast corner of their own province. The second component is the explicitly open trade-off of a booming economy versus environment and traditional cultures and lives (including third-generation farmers and ranchers as well as Indigenous cultures) by the provincial and federal government in supporting both oil and gas as well as the Site C dam [39, 44, 45, 46, 49, 50].

This circumstance reflects the significant difference in populations between the Peace and the south and, as a consequence, the relative difference in decision-making power or political influence as well. The Peace has a population of roughly 60,000; the most populated portion of BC, the Lower Mainland (including Vancouver) and Vancouver Island (where the provincial capital of Victoria is located) has a population of roughly 2.6 million (Table 3, Figure 20). The majority of provincial political power rests with the elected Members of the Legislative Assembly which represent regions well away from resource extraction, as West Moberly First Nations Chief Roland Willson is well aware: “If they propose a coal mine in downtown Vancouver, it would be a different story. If they wanted to flood the Fraser River, you know” [34, p.697]. Tellingly, little research has actually been done on the social and environmental impacts of resource extraction or dams in the Peace [32, 34, 41, 54].

The Indigenous EJ lens provides an even greater focus on the consequences for Treaty 8 Nations in the Peace. Indigenous EJ notes the ancient and inextricably linked nature of Indigenous cultures and the ecosystems within which the culture is set. For the Indigenous peoples of the Peace,

their cultural integrity, their ability to persist as a Dunne-za people, is utterly dependent upon the ability to continue their traditional seasonal round of subsistence, cultural and spiritual activities. The continuance of the seasonal round relies on the continued existence of key species (which the Dunne-za would not consider as simply resources) and their continued ability to interact meaningfully with those species and the ecosystems which support all species…The rate and scale of industrial development is, however, placing that continuance in serious jeopardy [55, p.425].

Industrial development in Indigenous peoples' traditional lands results in sickness, expatriation from ancestral lands, and poverty, all manifestations of the collision of worlds and cultures [36, 37]. Indigenous peoples are well aware of the consequences, surrounded as they are by industrial impacts within their territories, as research carried out in 2007 [34, 41] documented.

To be a proud First Nations person, you have to be connected to your culture. You have to know where you came from, and where and what are the important parts…why is my culture important today, and why is making dry meat, and picking these berries, critical to our way of life. The whole tone of government is economics and jobs, and training and forcing people into this economy, and there is not an appropriate amount of attention placed on maintaining [our culture]. We're the ones fighting. We can see our land base eroding [34, p.693].

It just becomes like an industrial zone, the area that they operate…none of our people will eat the meat from those areas once the oil and gas companies move in, in a big way, and everybody knows about the H2S [sour natural gas]. Everybody just worries that it is contaminated [34, p.694].

They spoil it. They spoil the berries, and they spoil our water there. They spoil our fishing. You spoil everything! You really kill the moose, I said, “You get the hell out of here, because I don't want you here” [34, p.692].

One aspect that is rarely acknowledged is the impact of multiple developments in a small region. Figure 8 demonstrates the extent of the loss of unaltered lands in the Peace:

The death of a 1,000 cuts, we are experiencing…because oil and gas has their mandate, and their planning process, forestry has their mandate and planning process. All of these different planning processes, independently working in their silos…separate from each other, with nobody overlooking the whole process, and definitely nobody managing the impacts of those interactions on treaty rights and health of the First Nations people [34, p.696].

A last perspective from Indigenous EJ involves the ability of a culture to persist. For Indigenous peoples, one of the most important considerations is their children:

When I think the level of development…our children are seeing it, and they are scared…What 11 year old should have to worry about having clean water or clean air [34, p.695]?

Finally, there is the lens of Indigenous sovereignty. Indigenous sovereignty posits that Indigenous peoples should legally be treated as sovereign nations, with rights to manage their own governments, communities, land, and natural resources. This could be the case in the Peace. While the Nations signed Treaty No. 8 agreeing to share their lands, in the context of their Treaty rights, the Nations' traditions, customs, and traditional seasonal round relating to hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering throughout their territory [56] were, in a meaningful way, guaranteed forever [40]; that “they would be as free to hunt and fish after the treaty as they would be if they never entered into it,” because “the Treaty would not lead to ‘forced interference with their mode of life’” [57]. Court cases have determined, for example, it is unacceptable to simply tell a First Nation to “hunt elsewhere” [40]. Examining the Peace from the perspective of Indigenous sovereignty, while it is clear that Indigenous peoples' rights have been ignored and possibly abrogated, they perhaps do have claim to, and immense need for, the legal ability to govern much of their lives themselves.

CONCLUSION

As with any EJ case study, the consequences of the injustice are profound for the people who bear the burden. The question remains, however, as to what decisions a society will permit their government to take, whether from ignorance or indifference, that perpetuates environmental injustice for a vulnerable few in a trade-off for the benefit of the more powerful many.

CASE STUDY QUESTIONS

  1. Bentham's philosophy of Utilitarianism, at its most basic, argues for the greatest good for the greatest number. In other words, it could be read to argue for the tyranny of the majority. How does society reconcile the needs of the majority with meeting the needs of smaller groups? This concern might also be considered within the context of power. How does society ensure that those without power (political, economic) be included in decisions that affect them? How can their rights and needs be meaningfully recognized and addressed by those with power (or by those who monitor those with power, i.e., voting citizens)?

  2. The world's Indigenous peoples strive to retain their unique cultures, spiritualities, languages, and traditional means of subsistence. For most, this requires access to the functional ecosystems that the cultures are embedded within. However, protecting these ecosystems and these cultures would mean vastly restricting conventional development of most nonrenewable and renewable resources, as currently practiced. Is it reasonable to expect modern industrial society to give up or limit access to these resources, upon which their cultures depend, in exchange for allowing Indigenous peoples to continue their traditional practices? Are there alternatives that could be considered?

  3. Do you think the theories of place-based and Indigenous environmental justice add to the theories of race-based environmental justice? How? How do the different theories expand opportunities to address environmental injustices?

  4. What are the differences in the perspectives of the Indigenous peoples, as presented in this case study, from your cultural perspectives? Are there points of agreement?

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thanks to West Moberly and Halfway River First Nations for participating in the research that is part of this case study. While they do not take responsibility for the author's conclusions, by Band Council Resolutions, all Nations formally acknowledged their support for the research outcomes.

COMPETING INTERESTS

The author has declared that no competing interests exist.

NOTES

NOTES
1
Muir and Booth [31] provide an overview of the legal framework affecting indigenous peoples in Canada with respect to land and natural resources, as of 2017.
2
This is changing in 2017, as the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline will bring increased amounts of Alberta oil through a pipeline within Greater Vancouver, and public awareness of the risks has been greatly increased, but only around their local pipeline (http://globalnews.ca/tag/trans-mountain-pipeline/).
3
To hear Chief Roland Willson (West Moberly First Nations) speak on Site C, see the video here https://www.facebook.com/PeaceValleyEnvironmentAssociation/videos/754473578041683/
4
Eoghan Moriarty, “This is What the Peace River Valley Looks Like Before Site C dam”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OO7_gJtwTdA; Desmog Canada, “What is the Site C Dam”: https://www.facebook.com/DesmogCanada/videos/946582382113989. Many additional photos and videos can be found on the Peace Valley Environmental Association's Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/PeaceValleyEnvironmentAssociation/.

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SELECTED PASSAGES OF TREATY NO. 8 AND COMMISSIONER INTERPRETATIONS

ARTICLES OF A TREATY made and concluded at the several dates mentioned therein, in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety-nine, between Her most Gracious Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, by Her Commissioners the Honourable David Laird, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Indian Commissioner for the said Province and the Northwest Territories; James Andrew Joseph McKenna, of Ottawa, Ontario, Esquire, and the Honourable James Hamilton Ross, of Regina, in the Northwest Territories, of the one part; and the Cree, Beaver, Chipewyan and other Indians, inhabitants of the territory within the limits hereinafter defined and described, by their Chiefs and Headmen …

AND WHEREAS, the said Indians have been notified and informed by Her Majesty's said Commission that it is Her desire to open for settlement, immigration, trade, travel, mining, lumbering and such other purposes as to Her Majesty may seem meet, a tract of country bounded and described as hereinafter mentioned, and to obtain the consent thereto of Her Indian subjects inhabiting the said tract, and to make a treaty, and arrange with them, so that there may be peace and good will between them and Her Majesty's other subjects, and that Her Indian people may know and be assured of what allowances they are to count upon and receive from Her Majesty's bounty and benevolence.

…the said Indians DO HEREBY CEDE, RELEASE, SURRENDER AND YIELD UP to the Government of the Dominion of Canada, for Her Majesty the Queen and Her successors forever, all their rights, titles and privileges whatsoever, to the lands included within the following limits…

And Her Majesty the Queen HEREBY AGREES with the said Indians that they shall have right to pursue their usual vocations of hunting, trapping and fishing throughout the tract surrendered as heretofore described, subject to such regulations as may from time to time be made by the Government of the country, acting under the authority of Her Majesty, and saving and excepting such tracts as may be required or taken up from time to time for settlement, mining, lumbering, trading or other purposes.

And Her Majesty the Queen hereby agrees and undertakes to lay aside reserves for such bands as desire reserves, the same not to exceed in all one square mile for each family of five for such number of families as may elect to reside on reserves, or in that proportion for larger or smaller families; and for such families or individual Indians as may prefer to live apart from band reserves, Her Majesty undertakes to provide land in severalty to the extent of 160 acres to each Indian, the land to be conveyed with a proviso as to non-alienation without the consent of the Governor General in Council of Canada, …

It is further agreed between Her Majesty and Her said Indian subjects that such portions of the reserves and lands above indicated as may at any time be required for public works, buildings, railways, or roads of whatsoever nature may be appropriated for that purpose by Her Majesty's Government of the Dominion of Canada, due compensation being made to the Indians for the value of any improvements thereon, and an equivalent in land, money or other consideration for the area of the reserve so appropriated.

Report of Commissioners for Treaty No. 8

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, 22nd September, 1899.

The Honourable

CLIFFORD SIFTON,

Superintendent General of Indian Affairs,

Ottawa.

SIR, — We have the honour to transmit herewith the treaty which, under the Commission issued to us on the 5th day of April last, we have made with the Indians of the provisional district of Athabasca and parts of the country adjacent thereto, as described in the treaty and shown on the map attached.

Our chief difficulty was the apprehension that the hunting and fishing privileges were to be curtailed. The provision in the treaty under which ammunition and twine is to be furnished went far in the direction of quieting the fears of the Indians, for they admitted that it would be unreasonable to furnish the means of hunting and fishing if laws were to be enacted which would make hunting and fishing so restricted as to render it impossible to make a livelihood by such pursuits. But over and above the provision, we had to solemnly assure them that only such laws as to hunting and fishing as were in the interest of the Indians and were found necessary in order to protect the fish and fur-bearing animals would be made, and that they would be as free to hunt and fish after the treaty as they would be if they never entered into it.

We assured them that the treaty would not lead to any forced interference with their mode of life, that it did not open the way to the imposition of any tax, and that there was no fear of enforced military service. We showed them that, whether treaty was made or not, they were subject to the law, bound to obey it, and liable to punishment for any infringements of it. We pointed out that the law was designed for the protection of all, and must be respected by all the inhabitants of the country, irrespective of colour or origin; and that, in requiring them to live at peace with white men who came into the country, and not to molest them in person or in property, it only required them to do what white men were required to do as to the Indians.

…it is safe to say that so long as the fur-bearing animals remain, the great bulk of the Indians will continue to hunt and to trap.

Indeed, the Indians were generally averse to being placed on reserves. It would have been impossible to have made a treaty if we had not assured them that there was no intention of confining them to reserves. We had to very clearly explain to them that the provision for reserves and allotments of land were made for their protection, and to secure to them in perpetuity a fair portion of the land ceded, in the event of settlement advancing.

Your obedient servants,

DAVID LAIRD,

J. H. ROSS,

J. A. J. McKENNA

Indian Treaty Commissioners.

From: https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100028813/1100100028853