By Judy Bird

Oil. We depend on it to fuel our cars and heat our homes. It’s an ingredient in our tech gadgets and many of the goods we use every day. We depend on it for jobs and investment diversity. It also has a dark side, one that devastates the environment, kills wildlife and pollutes water. It’s also at the centre of a fight over treaty rights and the government’s refusal to negotiate. Oil has been a recurring topic in the news in 2016 for different reasons, and that’s why we’ve chosen it as the Treaty 4 News newsmaker of the year for 2016.

In February, Poundmaker Cree Nation and Onion Lake Cree Nation launched a lawsuit on behalf of certain oil and gas producing First Nations against the Government of Canada over its mismanagement of oil and gas rights on designated Reserve lands. They estimated the damages suffered to be $3 billion, money which would have done much good for the communities, the Chiefs noted.

In July, the problem with oil pipelines came close to home when on July 21, 2016, a Husky Energy pipeline leak began spilling oil into the North Saskatchewan River system. The spill affected the city of Prince Albert, and many First Nations along the river. Water intake was shut down from the river and reservoir for the communities that relied on the river. In mid-September, SaskWater testing showed that the water was safe for treatment and use again. In November, Husky Oil said the leak was due to ground shifting.

Signs and banners at the Standing Rock site of the protest against the DAPL. Treaty 4 News file photo.

While communities were dealing with the spill and its effects, news came from south of the border about another struggle, this time to protect water from a pipeline being built. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were peacefully protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline Project (DAPL) from being constructed through the reservation and crossing the tribe’s water source as well as desecrating sacred land. The tribe said they had not been consulted on the pipeline crossing their land, nor had they given approval. Indigenous people from across the USA and Canada travelled to Standing Rock to show support and solidarity in protecting the water.

In December, news broke that the pipeline would not be allowed to go through. In a press release, the Army Corp of Engineers, the agency responsible for granting the permit to construct the pipeline, stated that further discussion is warranted. While these discussions are ongoing, construction on or under Corps land bordering Lake Oahe cannot occur because the Army has not made a final decision on whether to grant an easement.

Just days before news that the DAPL was halted, news from the Canadian federal government came, giving a green light to new pipeline projects in Canada.

Path of the Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline Replacement project. Treaty 4 News file graphic.

On November 29, the federal government approved Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement Project which runs through Treaty 4 territory, and will replace 1,067 kilometres of existing pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Gretna, Manitoba. The project is expected to generate $514.7 million in federal and provincial government revenues and 7,000 new jobs during construction.

Also approved was Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project, which will twin the existing Trans Mountain pipeline system between Edmonton, Alberta, and Burnaby, British Columbia. Both projects are subject to binding conditions that will address potential Indigenous, socio-economic and environmental impacts, including project engineering, safety and emergency preparedness.

One Canadian pipeline project was rejected. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipelines Project was determined that it was not in the public interest, given that it would result in crude oil tankers transiting through the sensitive ecosystem of the Douglas Channel, which is part of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Just days later at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly, the AFN Youth Council put forth a statement that they totally oppose the pipelines.

Treaty 4 News asked our colleagues in the media covering indigenous issues for their thoughts on the top stories of 2016, and the issue of the Husky spill, Standing Rock and protecting the water were unanimous in importance.

Tribal flags from across North America hang along a fence at Standing Rock where the people stopped the construction of the pipeline project. Treaty 4 News file photo.

“It’s like people have just had enough. I’m not sure what was the straw to break the camel’s back but indigenous people everywhere are just saying enough is enough, there has to be some acknowledgment of the harm,” said Betty Ann Adam with the Star-Phoenix in Saskatoon.

“I think that is a real testament to the dedication of water protectors to stay to continue to get the word out, obviously a wonderful use of social media to make sure that the world would notice and finally nobody could ignore it because there were so many thousands of people there, and in the end, something good has come out of it. We don’t know how long it will last and the story is going to continue,” said David Kirton, host of News Talk Radio’s Meeting Ground.

I don’t think we’re going to see the end of protests, camps, water protectors, I don’t think that’s going to stop anytime soon. There has been an awakening of indigenous people, particularly among indigenous women, they seem to be leading the cause in this effort of saving the planet,” said Kerry Benjoe, reporter with the Regina Leader Post.

“I was very impressed as to how the people were organized, and their determination, their ambition, to get the word out and to speak out against this pipeline going through their area. It took a lot of pressure to get where it is now where the pipeline has to back away for now. Who knows what happens when the Trump government comes in, it could overturn everything, and everything could start up again. I believe this issue is far from over,” said Nelson Bird, assignment editor with CTV News Regina.

Tomorrow: more top news stories from 2016



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