Superficial Consultations lead to Real Confrontations

by estelter on November 10, 2017 - 8:33pm

During Treaty Recognition week it is fitting to discuss contemporary treaty issues. For decades conflict, resistance and negotiations between Indigenous and settler governments have been taking place regarding territories and resources. The Cumberland House Cree First Nation are fighting for their treaty rights currently along the Saskatchewan River. Two dams situated on that river, the E.B. Campbell and Nipawinwere built before mandatory Environmental Assessments (EA).  They have significantly altered water flows and fisheries which impedes the ability of Aboriginal people to practice their treaty rights of hunting, fishing and trapping.  

Gloria Galloway's article, "Saskatchewan First Nation demands consultation in relicensing of dams" highlights the tensions between two conflicting groups. Saskatchewan plans to grant perpetuity licenses to the dams to continue operation as is. The Cree want to be consulted and be able to conduct their own study on how the dam impedes their ability to maintain their treaty rights.  

The Water Security Agency (WSA) of Saskatchewan replied to the Crees' demands stating that this situation does not require extensive consultations because the potential adverse effects on treaty rights are "minor in nature". They continued to say that they are not required to consult the First Nation on prior or continuing problems. This argument is based on Supreme Court decision in 2010. It is also interesting to note that the WSA does not list either dam on their website.  

There are certainly conflicts of interest, value and behaviour between the Cree and the dam builders. The two parties have historically disagreed about who should benefit and who should pay for the costs of the damsThe two groups also disagree on the purpose of the river, with one looking towards profit and the other looking towards livelihood.  

 In terms of uncertainty, risk is easily calculated for dams with considerable confidence. Since we know the adverse effects of dams on rivers, the government should have more regulations in place. Residents are concerned that the dams change the wetland's seasonal rhythms far beyond their natural variability and coping range.  

Many residents believe that an EA of the dams would benefit their communities. EAs work to reduce or eliminate negative environmental impacts stemming from development projects, and allow Canadians' concerns to be heardFailing to conduct an EA or to consult with local Indigenous communities is a failure on the part of the provincial government and the WSA. In 1963, the E.B Campbell dam went into service. It was granted a 50 year license to operate which expired in 2013. No EA was conducted in 1963 or in 1985 when Nipawin went into service.  

I was interested to see what happened in 2013 when the license expired. There is no EA posted for the two dams on the Government of Canada website. SaskPower is basing its assertions on research conducted in 2012, and claims it does not require an EA because the dams were build before EAs were mandatory. Their counterarguments rely on the findings of Dr. Tim Jardine, who conducted a study on ways to preserve biodiversity in the Saskatchewan River Delta. However, Dr. Jardine wrote to SaskPower to state firmly that his work was never intended to constitute a formal consultation. 

I also noticed that an Environmental Petition was created in 2005 by local residents concerned about the impacts of the dams. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada responded by saying that "Canadian fisheries waters have no legal obligation or mandate to maintain [an inventory of man-made dam structures]", so legally he does not know where the dams are located so he cannot actIt should be noted that the dams are owned and operated by the government. The Minister continued to say that the "DFO has no permitting authorities or responsibilities for the operation of man-made dams". The Minister is responsible for the habitats of fish and fisheries, which is what residents are saying is being destroyed by the damsThe statements made by the Minister highlight the injustices directed towards local residents. The government is continuing to be untrustworthy and is not taking the concerns of its citizens seriously.  

A superficial consultation process is not an effective management strategy. A shift away from top-down regulation to a collaborative management style would help legitimize state governance by allowing society to make decisions about how resources are managed and governed. More regulation and co-management between actors is required to maintain the longevity of the Saskatchewan River. Sincerely consulting with citizens and scientists will be the most effective strategy in ensuring the health of the river and the rights of the local people.