1. 10 mins The Liberals’ relationship with Indigenous communities sours (Oct. 16, 2016)
This article is worth the read. Trudeau “making heady promises of a new ‘nation to nation’ relationship with Indigenous peoples”, comes up against the stark reality of governing in the context of a long colonial history. Adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as being Canadian law – a move that the Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould, in a speech to the AFN Chiefs in Assembly agreed should mean immediately ‘ripping up the Indian Act”, was deemed ‘unworkable’ by her. Whether this is significant setback to honouring the Prime Minister’s political commitments to Indigenous peoples remains to be seen. When combined with the approval of controversial resource projects, over the objections of Indigenous governments, there may be cause for legitimate concern. But…all is not lost, the article notes that the Federal Government will be “backing UNDRIP in spirit, through legislation, “action” and “policy””. This is where the rubber hits the road, and is in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #34 calling on Canada to develop a national action plan, strategies and other concrete actions to implement UNDRIP. Much more needs to be done. How this commitment to ‘backing UNDRIP’ is defined and acted on will determine if the Government will be successful in repairing relationships damaged over many generations.
2. 10 mins Fluid situation for Alberta reserves (Oct. 17, 2016)
Over a 100 years ago the First In Time, First In Right (FITFIR) approach to water allocation was adopted in Alberta. Indigenous governments were not included in this decision, nor were any of their rights or entitlements to water. Now with water scarcity an issue in southern Alberta, and aboriginal rights clearly recognized in the Constitution and repeatedly upheld in the courts, Indigenous governments want this historical injustice remedied. This is a difficult, complex, highly sensitive issue (‘whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over’ – Mark Twain). Sadly, it seems like an aboriginal rights versus FITFIR fight is brewing. If it can’t be worked out politically, Indigenous governments will have their rightful day in court. The result, either way, will define First Nations water rights in Alberta and possibly in Canada. Another option? How about creating a nation-to-nation forum to redress this issue? Of all things, water – and the humans and ecosystems that depend on it – need a collaborative solution. We might all have to face – and abandon – some long guarded and outdated approaches, but it might be better to rebuild broken systems together than face the all-or-nothing outcomes that can happen when a court weighs in.
3. 2 mins At a pivotal moment, Canada needs to hustle on clean energy (Sep. 05, 2016)
This is a very clear and concise editorial showing the opportunity we face in clean energy provision in Canada. The federal government has announced a carbon tax, and has committed to special measures for vulnerable communities and regions. “Vulnerable” usually means there no other energy options in that region, or the cost of living is already extremely high. But where there are challenges, there are indeed opportunities and Indigenous communities and the North are exactly such places. Successful Indigenous and Northern led renewable energy projects, with respectful and engaged government and private sector partners, already exist (see our paper for NWT examples). They just need broader and consistent roll out. At the nation-to-nation level, Indigenous governments should be co-creators of regional, provincial, territorial and federal energy plans that set out how to achieve a common clean energy vision.
4. 5 mins ‘Nalcor should just give up’: Inuk artist Billy Gauthier enters Day 5 of hunger strike (Oct. 18, 2016)
Muskrat Falls, a seriously over-budget hydro megaproject, is a project that some say is a “boondoggle” that would never get approved today. It’s rife with controversy and local protests. Is this hunger strike to protest the dam or try to stop it? No, it is to push the project proponents to properly prepare the reservoir site for flooding in order to minimize contaminating the floodwaters with methylmercury. This is a classic example of the situation that plagues many projects, even after regulatory approvals are secured, because Indigenous governments were not involved in the decisions that were made in the political, policy or legislative realms that make the consideration of projects like these even up for discussion. The Prime Minister wants to remedy with a new nation to nation relationship with Indigenous governments, involving them right from the beginning in major projects like this, and while it’s a good start, there is more than can be done. What we want is a process of ‘collaborative consent‘ where Indigenous governments are involved as full partners in the policy direction being set in a region, territory, or province. Does the energy direction being taken in a region reflect Indigenous viewpoints, rights, and needs? If agreement can be reached on this big picture, then project decisions are likely to be easier to address. This would help Indigenous people who feel so frustrated and marginalized by current regulatory processes that they feel they have no choice but resort to hunger strikes to have their voices heard to prevent the contamination of the water by methylmercury.
5. 2 mins Falling Battery Costs Could Trigger ‘Investor Death Spiral’ Around Oil (Oct. 21, 2016)
For those that think renewables are still a fringe energy source, not ready for prime time – think again. Renewables are getting more efficient and cost effective every day. What has been a major deterrent for large-scale, high penetration deployment of solar and wind, say in remote off grid communities and industrial sites, has been the prohibitive cost of batteries that are needed to smooth out the variability on gray or windless days. This has been a key argument that has been used to continue to defend the status quo use of diesel as a main energy source for electricity and for heat. That equation is now changing as both renewables and batteries continue to come down in price. Even with massive subsidies, diesel is close to not being competitive. Take away the subsidies for fossil fuels and renewables and batteries become an obvious choice, with diesel reduced to a shrinking role at best as a backup energy source. The smart utilities will embrace the opportunities these developments bring. The horse and buggy age did not end because they ran out of either horses or buggies.