RAVEN - Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs

A path to jobs and justice: Op-Ed by Crystal Lameman

I was one of the first to sign the Leap Manifesto, and I helped write it.

You might find that strange if you’ve read the media reports calling its authors latte-sipping Toronto elites. I’m not exactly part of that class: I’m an indigenous mother of two from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, in the heart of Alberta’s oil industry.

From where I stand, the Leap Manifesto isn’t an attack on Albertans or its workers. It’s a gift, offering us a pathway to a more humane, healthy and livable province, one that honours the treaty rights of indigenous peoples and meets the needs of all its inhabitants.

That’s because the province we live in now is not working for a large number of us. My territory has been criss-crossed and despoiled by the infrastructure of every major oil company in the world – ignoring the treaties we entered into that are supposed to protect our right to hunt, fish, trap and gather for all time.

I have watched oil leak from in-situ projects into lakes near where our ancestors are buried. I have watched as our small community, in one year alone, lost five young people to suicide, with many more attempts. I have watched community members choose between working for the oil industry or living in poverty. I no longer want to see our lives destroyed and our hope dry up. I want to look forward to a different future, one filled with promise and optimism.

And the beauty of this moment is that our future could easily hold much more than just oil and gas. The price of solar panels is down 75 per cent since 2009. Last year, global investments in renewable power were double that of fossil-fuel plants. This month, Royal Bank of Scotland decided tostop doing business in the oil sands as it ramps up green-energy investment.

The time for a just transition beyond fossil fuels is now: Alberta holds incredible untapped potential for renewables, the best in Canada. The transition in Germany, where they have created 400,000 clean-energy jobs, is waiting to be emulated here. And there’s more: programs to retrofit vast numbers of homes and buildings, huge public investments in public transit, conservation and restoration programs – all of these are solutions that create well-paying, meaningful work and much-needed services.

What the Leap states is that, as we make these investments, we have a historic chance to heal deep wounds in our society. So, for example, it calls for indigenous communities such as mine to help lead the renewable revolution, and insists that all workers – including migrant workers – must have their full rights protected. It recognizes our obligations to retrain and re-employ Alberta’s current energy workers, but it also recognizes our responsibility to those on the front lines who are already experiencing displacement because of climate change.

When the Alberta NDP was first elected, many in my community felt cautiously optimistic. We were especially heartened when it pledged to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) – a starting point for the reboot of the relationship between Alberta and First Nations, and one of the Leap Manifesto’s core demands.

Implementing the UN Declaration would strengthen our role as protectors of the land and water, caretakers of the fundamental knowledge passed on to us. We are a key piece in the mosaic of solidarity that could be the next economy, one that works for everyone in the province.

Last December, I travelled to Paris to participate in the United Nations climate summit. I saw the new Alberta government enjoy its moment in the spotlight. I heard Justin Trudeau tell the world that “Canada is back.”

Today, I fear what Canada is actually back to is its bad habit of breaking treaties and sacred promises, and paying lip service instead of real consultation. Just look at the reports of a new deal between B.C. and Alberta to trade electricity from the Site C dam for approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline: If this is true, both premiers have failed to recognize indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent as outlined in UNDRIP.

The text of the Paris Agreement – which Canada officially signed in New York on Friday – pledges to keep warming within 1.5 to 2 degrees above preindustrial levels. Unless we embrace the bold vision of transformation embodied in the Leap, that will be just one more empty promise, one more broken treaty.

So let’s be more than “back.” Let’s embrace this historic moment and leap for our next seven generations.

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