More than a pipeline: understanding and responding to the environmental injustices surrounding the Coastal GasLink pipeline conflict
Abstract: The winter of 2020 was dominated by Canadian and international news coverage about a group of indigenous land defenders in Northern British Columbia, Canada. At the centre of the media frenzy was a pipeline conflict involving an indigenous community, namely, the Wet’suwet’en Nation, and Canada’s largest private sector investment ever which is set to cross directly through Wet’suwet’en territory. This research set out to understand the conflict from an indigenous perspective and to identify potential environmental injustices as defined by Schlosberg’s (2004) environmental justice framework. Using a mixed methods approach, including an emphasis on indigenous research methods, this research plotted out the main drivers, pressures, state, impacts, and potential responses to the conflict. Neocolonial and neoliberal behaviour was found to be driving the conflict through mechanisms like Canada’s cultural assimilation agenda, lacking aboriginal rights, and prioritization of profit and economic growth. Moreover, a rise in social and climate activism was found to be adding a ‘positive pressure’ to the situation, while climate change, economic pressures on reserves, Canada’s current political landscape, Canadian law, and historical relations between settler Canadians and First Nations (partially fueled by a lack of indigenous presence in Canada’s education system) were found to exacerbate the current conflict. The observed impacts of this conflict have been significant; the indigenous community in Canada has reported increases in racism and calls for violence against indigenous people online. Contrastingly, there has also been an increase in unity between different indigenous groups within Canada as well as an increased public awareness of indigenous injustices. This research identified multiple environmental injustices related to this case. The main injustices at the core of the conflict are a lack of recognition of Wet’suwet’en Nation’s hereditary governance system and the subsequent procedural injustice which occurred when the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs were bypassed and ignored during the process of Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Additionally, the distribution of environmental risks was found to be entirely skewed towards the people of Wet’suwet’en Nation which rely on their land for food, water, traditional indigenous culture etc. Further injustices included disproportionate police presence and use of force against (indigenous) land defenders. Changes to Canada’s educational system and a formal adoption of UNDRIP on federal level were identified as necessary responses to help reconcile these environmental injustices, however participatory research and action to address structural injustices in Canada will be needed to ensure the justice and equity that the indigenous community deserves.
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