First Nations Denied their Constitutional Right to Consultation

by kjohn on Novembre 26, 2016 - 5:44pm

       Pipeline development has become a contentious issue in Canada.  Pipeline enthusiasts point to the role of fossil fuels in the Canadian economy as justification for the expense and risk involved in construction and operation.  On the other hand, environmental activists are adamant that further fossil fuels exploration and pipeline development is detrimental to the environment and negates Canada’s climate change mitigation commitments.  People belonging to the First Nations of Canada are particularly concerned about pipelines because land development and environmental degradation threaten their livelihoods and culture, and infringe on their treaty rights and constitutional right to hunt and trap on their traditional territory.  Yet, Canadian authorities continue to embrace pipeline development and expansion as a means of economic progress.


       In his article titled Northern Gateway pipeline approval overturne, Jason Proctor of CBC News explains that there was inadequate consultation between the Federal Government of Canada and First Nations groupsAccording to Proctor, the Federal Court of Appeal has overturned the federal government’s approval of the Endbridge Northern Gateway twin-pipeline project, which would run from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia.  The proposed project would carry natural gas eastbound into Alberta and force diluted bitumen from the vast proven reserves of the Athabasca oil sands to the west coast, where it will be transported overseas. 


       Proctor identifies seven First Nations groups in British Columbia that are likely to be severely impacted by the project if it proceeds.  According to the Federal Court of Appeal, these groups were not granted an adequate level of consultation regarding the project, a constitutional right for First Nations in Canada.  Barry Robinson, an ecojustice lawyer interviewed for this news piece, explains that the court ruling gives backing to the resounding negative response from local communities, environmental groups and First Nations against the proposed project.


       I believe that the article is effective in explaining the Federal Court of Appeal ruling and the current state of the situation between the Federal Government, the judiciary, Endbridge Pipelines Inc., and First Nations groups.  However, the article fails to address the root of the conflict, an extremely important factor in understanding the issues at the centre of the battle. 


       First Nations opposition to natural resource development projects such as the Northern Gateway pipeline is the result of value-based conflict.  Value-based conflict involves differing ideas of natural resource management, and the goals that it ought to pursue.  Environmental values are deeply engrained in First Nations life and culture.  First Nations philosophy preaches respect and stewardship of the environment.  Many First Nations peoples develop and extraordinary spiritual relationship with nature.  As a result, First Nations groups believe that the most important factor in natural resource management is environmental protection.  However, corporations such as Endbridge Pipelines Inc. view profit as the most important goal.  Meanwhile, the Federal Government appears to value economic growth as a priority and attempts to balance economics, employment and the environment. 


       The different goals and values of natural resource management among the three main actors result in value-based conflict.  Recognizing the value-based roots of conflict between the federal government, Endbridge and First Nations in British Columbia is key to understanding the discourse and First Nations concern surrounding pipeline development in Canada. 


       While Canada’s authoritarian style of natural resource management can be viewed as supporting their claim to state legitimacy, the federal government has a duty to attentively consider the concerns of First Nations.  By not fulfilling its responsibilities to consult First Nations groups, abide by treaties and the constitution, and protect the environment, the government actually forfeits legitimacy in its quest to manage and develop Canada’s resources.



Proctor, J. (2016, June 30). Northern Gateway pipeline approval overturned. CBC British Columbia. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from