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Indigenous Leadership Vital to Stopping Tar Sands and Pipelines: Environmental Justice Panel

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Indigenous Leadership Vital to Stopping Tar Sands and Pipelines: Environmental Justice Panel

By Erika Del Carmen Fuchs

Toronto, February 16.

Community activists, environmentalists, First Nations and NGO organizers came together in Toronto to discuss strategies for social movements to work together to build a more environmentally just future. This included opposing the Canadian government's plans to build more pipelines to export tar-sands oil, and working towards joint strategies for Rio+20 a UN conference on sustainable development. In June of this year, indigenous peoples and social movements will converge in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to remind world leaders that they want systems change not climate change.

Panelists including Andrea Peloso, Code Pink; Brent Patterson, Council of Canadians; Dave Vasey, Environmental Justice Toronto; and Raul Burbano, Common Frontiers agreed that it was key to follow indigenous leadership in resisting environmentally destructive projects such as the multi-corporation tar sands development, and Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines in Canada.

“We are all on the frontline. We must find our own frontline and act from the locality,” said Ben Powless of the Indigenous Environmental Network. Powless called all Canadians to act and take responsibility for the government’s local and international actions, which has led to its global reputation as the “colossal fossil” at the 2011 Durban Climate Change conference due to holding back negotiations.

“All Canadians have a responsibility to challenge the Canadian government, Canadian corporations and even NGOs that are not following indigenous leadership, through solidarity.” In the destruction surrounding the tar sands in Alberta, it is indigenous communities that are paying the highest costs, with severe and direct effects on their health and transmitting of traditional ways of living.

Powless describes walking through the tar sands area like being “in the middle of a war zone.” The boreal ecosystem is being turned into a “moonscape”, with contaminated water, sick and deformed animals and fish, and unhealthy communities. Studies show that high levels of toxicity are resulting in children born with respiratory illnesses.

Andrea Peloso spoke of the environmental and military destruction of the oil economy, in which ironically wars for oil consume more oil than societies’ do in their daily use. She emphasized the importance of environmentalists working together with anti-war activists to challenge the Harper government’s civil and human rights attacks, and criminalize those who oppose its policies and actions.

The idea of a country-wide Canada-Quebec-First Nations Social Forum came up as a way for organizations, communities and civil society to come together and share ideas and strategies on alternative social, economic and environmental policies. Part of organizing towards this and the global convergence at Rio+20 involves a critical analysis of the “green economy,” which is not the environmental-friendly version we are presented with, but a further “commodification of nature and the cycles of nature.”  Burbano of Common Frontiers spoke of how this green economy will not only be environmentally devastating, but further concentrate natural resources in the hands of multinational corporations, instead of with communities. The environment is secondary. The primary motive is to enable global capital to save itself from its current crisis.

For more information on the indigenous resistance to environmental injustice and on the Green or Greed Economy, go to: Indigenous Environmental Network:;;

The event was part of the Latin American and Caribbean solidarity month during February 2012. The activities are aimed at engaging the Canadian public on issues that link local and international issues and strengthens solidarity between North and South. For more information see

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