Is environmentalist solidarity with Indigenous peoples opportunistic?

During the last few years, solidarity with Indigenous peoples has been a major area of emphasis for environmentalist, climate change activist, and anti-pipeline groups. In part, this seems to be based on the view that indigenous peoples have the strongest legal tools for blocking new fossil fuel projects, at least in Canada.

This raises the question of how genuine the support for Indigenous people really is. Do these environmental groups provide such support principally for the narrow (yet essential) purpose of avoiding catastrophic climate change? Is it somehow automatically the case that indigenous communities will choose low-carbon energy if given more power to influence political and economic choices? When Indigenous groups support fossil fuel development, for whatever reason, what is the appropriate response for those seeking to prevent catastrophic climate change? And even if the impulse to prevent catastrophic climate change is morally laudable, how should indigenous communities feel about being used as a means to that end?

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

7 thoughts on “Is environmentalist solidarity with Indigenous peoples opportunistic?”

  1. A more charitable interpretation (from the perspective of climate activists) is that indigenous people have long understood some of the pressing questions of environmental sustainability that the global model of capitalist prosperity is now undermining.

    Regardless of what specific forms of power they can employ in any particular political jurisdiction, they are worth supporting both as environmental allies and as resilient societies with the capacity to exercise power globally.

  2. Amid Trans Mountain uncertainty, pro-pipeline Indigenous peoples make a pitch for development

    It’s a ‘myth’ that First Nation interests are always aligned with environmentalists, First Nations leader says

    Helin, a member of the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation near Prince Rupert, B.C., and a leading advocate for Indigenous self-reliance, said energy development can help First Nations people ease into the mainstream economy and end a cycle of dependency that has been fostered by racist policies designed to subjugate Indigenous communities.

    Helin said the old paradigm — where energy companies imposed their will on First Nations people without offering meaningful benefits in return — is over.

    “We’re asking, ‘What’s in it for us?’ We’re not going to accept big companies extracting the wealth and leaving us with a big environmental mess. We want real equity in these projects.”

    Stephen Buffalo, the president and CEO of the Indian Resource Council of Canada, said he wants to help First Nations “see the light” and the considerable economic benefits they stand to gain if they cash in. “We, the oil and gas-producing First Nations, we’re willing to take an advocacy position, help educate and defeat some myths about pipelines.”

    “There’s a lot of money going through those pipes, and First Nations can’t stand to the side and watch it go by,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

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