Canada’s First Nations on Wednesday protested across the country — blocking railways, border crossings, and in some places hindered access to oil and natural gas facilities — to protest the federal government’s passage last month of an omnibus budget bill that altered the rules for leasing tribal lands.
The protests, collectively called a national day of action by the country’s Idle No More movement, are in response to Ottawa’s passage of House Government Bill C-45, also known as the Jobs and Growth Act of 2012. The bill was introduced in both houses of Canada’s Parliament in October and given royal assent, the final stage before becoming law on Dec. 14.
C-45 amends three subsections of the Indian Act. One of the changes gives the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development the power to approve lease sales, if a majority of the electors in a tribal band council approves the sale in a referendum. According to reports, the federal cabinet held that power before C-45 was enacted.
“The bill doesn’t change anything in terms of leasing,” Travis Davies, spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), told NGI’s Shale Daily. “It didn’t change the regulatory system; we still have to meet the same regulations. But it did remove some of the [regulatory] duplication by the provincial and federal governments and given clear timelines for major projects.
CAPP officials believe C-45 makes Canada more competitive in the global marketplace, he said.
“We set up shop in a lot of areas where other industries don’t. We have a lot impact on the economies in those places. If we can be more competitive — do more investment, and help more of these Aboriginal people in terms of employment and their own businesses — it’s good for them and good for Canada, too.”
The Lubicon Lake Nation stated Wednesday that even though it hasn’t signed a treaty or land rights settlement with Ottawa, it would act in solidarity with other tribes and set up checkpoints near oil and natural gas fields on traditional lands in Alberta.
“We’re not out blocking the roads and shutting things down, we’re not at that point,” said Lubicon Councillor Bryan Laboucan. “All we’re doing here today is taking a few minutes to talk to people visiting our territory, whether for work or just passing through, and educate them on our situation.”
The checkpoints were to be peaceful and not constitute a blockade. “[We] provided notice to oil and gas exploration companies…that the nation would be delaying traffic throughout the oilfield, to get their message out and [issue] a warning to oil companies that it could get worse.”
Davies said CAPP wasn’t aware of any problems at oil and natural gas facilities in the country.
“We haven’t seen anything in terms of a production disruption or anything like that,” Davies said. “All of the companies are on the ground talking to the communities that are closest to them. There have been some blockades of roads, but that’s basically a traffic issue, not a production issue.”
The Lubicon government said the Alberta government has issued thousands of oil and natural gas leases within its tribal borders, and extraction activities totaling C$14 billion have already taken place without its permission. “Our community remains one of the poorest in the province, with inadequate infrastructure,” it said.
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