I took this photo while Jim Maloney, war chief for the Sipekne'katik district of Mi'kma'ki, spoke about Alton Gas at a town hall on Monday March 27th in Halifax.
Recently I co-hosted two events related to this topic along with partners from the grassroots of the fight against Alton Gas, a few Dalhousie University students, and the Canada Research Council on Sustainability and Social Change. The first was panel discussion on UNDRIP and its potential impacts on resource development in Canada. Panelists Naiomi Metallic and Patti Doyle-Bedwell, both trained lawyers, spoke about the declaration from personal and professional perspectives. As you might imagine there is a lot to be said about how UNDRIP could impact resource development in Canada, but I drew a few key lessons from their talk. (If you didn’t get to attend or watch the live stream, you can see the recording here).
One of the articles of UNDRIP declares the right to free, prior, and informed consent. This phrase is far more powerful than I previously understood it to be. Under current Canadian law, the crown has a duty to consult with Indigenous peoples about matters that affect them, for example, a large industrial project. The key here, as Naiomi Metallic pointed out, is that this is a commitment to a process, not an outcome. If UNDRIP was meaningfully implemented, that would mean the crown would have to commit not just to process of consultation, but to the outcome of consent.
This seems so simple, but it was transformative to hear articulated so clearly. This lesson has been staying with me as I hosted the second event, Protectors: cross movement resistance to Alton Gas town hall (this is part of a tour with more events coming up!). The idea of consultation vs. consent was central to the first discussion in Halifax on Monday.
It’s clear that the idea and the value of consent is understood very differently by the Canadian and provincial governments, and Indigenous nations. While the government can complete consultation and carry on, Mi’kmaq activists know that even if the government gives permission for a project like Alton Gas, the people will fight until the bitter end to see it stopped. As one of the town hall speakers Dorene Bernard said, “If Alton Gas or the province had come and consulted us in 2003 when they started thinking about the project, they would have heard us say ‘no way’ and could have saved themselves 35 million dollars.”
I was reminded that of course consultation should happen between governments – that means the government should conduct consultation with the Mi’kmaq nation, not the company or the provincial government. Jim Maloney, war chief of the Sipekne’katik district, said on Monday, “Alton Gas or any corporation doesn’t have the authority to consult with an Indigenous nation, it has to be a government to government process. For the provincial government to direct a corporation like Alton Gas to conduct consultation right from the start is wrong. Why would we talk to a corporation?”
A popular question at the town hall was how people could support the movement to stop Alton Gas. All the speakers agreed that the growing alliances between Mi’kmaq and non-Indigenous people are a key element of the movement’s success so far. “What we have is experience, and what you have is education. That’s a great combination,” said Jim Maloney.
These are just a few prominent moments of the last few weeks of work, and I’m sure I’ll continue reflecting and learning as the rest of the Stop Alton gas town hall tour unfolds.
Stay tuned for the Antigonish Stop Alton Gas town hall on Thursday March 30th, and future events that are in the works!
Speakers from the Halifax stop on the Stop Alton Gas town hall tour. Photo credit: Angela Giles.