Let the river flow: victory for indigenous people and salmon

By Terry Winckler: There are few victories sweeter and more dramatic than the one just wrested by Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman and his tribal allies in a Fresno, California courtroom last week. They did nothing less than save an entire run of chinook salmon from a corporate grab of the water needed by those fish to survive their spawning run up the Klamath/Trinity rivers system.

The drama–and believe me, it was a mix of theater, unexpected turnarounds, and life-or-death arguments–climaxed late yesterday when a judge agreed that these salmon need the water more than the mega-farms which wanted it as a hedge against next year’s bottom line.

Dozens of Native America tribal members demonstrated outside the courtroom as U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O’Neill heard the warning of what happened 12 years ago during a drought year like this on that same river system. That year, a water grab authorized by the Bush administration left as many as 70,000 salmon dead in the rivers, with the next generation rotting in their bellies.

Years later, those rivers were empty of salmon, as were the larders of tribes along the river, and the future of the commercial/recreational fishing industry that depends on healthy salmon runs. The collapse of the fishery was so severe that California and Oregon declared formal states of emergency, and Congress appropriated $60 million in disaster relief for fishermen.

The spectre of the 2002 disaster and scientific testimony that showed it could happen again this year convinced Judge O’Neill to let the Trinity River flow into its natural bed, rather than allow its diversion hundreds of miles south to Central Valley mega-farms.

If it sounds like a no-brainer, consider what Hasselman, the tribes and the fishing industry were actually up against. The courtroom in Fresno is right in the heart of corporate farming territory. Those business interests, which are politically powerful in California and pretty omnipotent in that particular part of the state, are what Hasselman faced off against. They wanted that Trinity water to ultimately flow through Fresno County into their back pockets–and initially the judge sided with them last week by granting a temporary restraining order on releasing water.

But here’s the real bottom line…Hasselman et al prevailed, and because of that, in the next few weeks one of the biggest chinook salmon runs on record will race up the re-invigorated Trinity/Klamath rivers with a much-better chance of giving life to the next generation.

The case will continue to wind its way through the courts, with important implications for the government’s authority to protect salmon in other years and in other places. Nor are this year’s salmon assured of success. So stay tuned as we follow the fish home.

P.S. Read our press release for quotes from the court and our allies on this great day for Pacific Northwest salmon: http://action.earthjustice.org/site/R?i=DwHxMw48m3ikK_RDBz8MzA

Feds give away fish water to same growers suing over Trinity releases

Post by by Dan Bacher cross-posted from fishsniffer.com. Over 60 members of the Hoopa Valley Tribe rallied in front of the federal courthouse in Fresno on August 21 as U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill held a hearing regarding the temporary restraining order obtained.  by Westlands Water District and the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority to block a plan to increase flows on the Trinity River.

They and members of the Klamath Justice Coalition held signs proclaiming, “Westlands Sucks the Trinity Dry,” “Remember the Fish Kill 2002,” “Save the Trinity,” Save the Fish – Release the Dam Water,” and “Un Dam the Klamath.” Wearing bright green shirts stating, “Save the Trinity River,” the Tribal members traced chalk outlines of salmon and people on the pavement showing what would happen to fish and people if the flows aren’t released.

“When the fish are gone, we will be gone too,” explained Dania Rose Colegrove, Klamath Justice Coalition organizer and member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe. Continue reading

NEB bars citizens from hearing

OIL PIPELINE: Protesters disrupt proceedings in London, Ontario

May 23, 2012  by Jonathan Sher


“We’re fed up with this,” said one native woman. She said her name is Yagotala and that she’s part of the Mohawk Nation. “The government isn’t listening.”

Members of Six Nations and Occupy London voiced their concerns about a request by Enbridge to reverse the flow of oil in a London area pipeline so it travels west to east, from Sarnia to Westover, near Hamilton.

Spooked by native and Occupy protests, the National Energy Board has barred citizens from a hearing that could remove obstacles to bringing oil to Southwestern Ontario from Alberta’s oil sands.

“It is unfortunate today that we have to take this step,” board chair Roland George said Wednesday. “(Protesters) have not shown respect and caused serious concerns about the safety of those in attendance.”

Only media and groups that applied earlier to intervene in the issue will be allowed in the hearing room Thursday at Hilton London — others can only tune in to a live webcast.

Earlier Wednesday, moments before pipeline giant Enbridge was to speak to the board, protesters brought the hearing to a halt, rising to their feet, a leader bellowing out at the injustices and others repeating phrases as if at a revival.

Board members fled the room as members of the Haudenosaunee First Nation decried what they called an intrusion on their lands and treaty rights.


“Mic check!
The people here
believe the NEB hearings
are illegitimate,
and undemocratic.
Although we respect the efforts
of organizations at this hearing
that are raising concerns
about environmental threats
and Indigenous treaty violations.
We are here to challenge Enbridge,
the National Energy Board,
and the Conservative government.
The federal government
can completely overrule
the decision made here.
You are also failing to consider
the impacts of tar sands expansion
and all the treaties being breached
by this proposed pipeline reversal.
This project cannot go forward
without the free,
and informed consent
of the Haudenosaunee,
who would be directly
impacted by a pipeline rupture.
So, the official hearing is now over
until your request
has been approved by HDI
The Haudenosaunee Development Institute
and we would now like to commence
The People’s Hearing
with statements from the Haudenosaunee themselves.”

“We’re fed up with this,” said one native woman. She said her name is Yagotala and that she’s part of the Mohawk Nation. “The government isn’t listening.”

A board official, with police backing him, ordered the room cleared and nearly all left without incident — one woman was arrested.

The hearing resumed later with police monitoring who could enter the room.

First to speak was Enbridge, which wants to reverse the flow of oil in a pipeline in London’s backyard so it moves from west to east, from Sarnia to Westover near Hamilton.

Less reliable oil from overseas can be replaced by Alberta crude, said Enbridge lawyer Douglas Crowther. “This will benefit shippers, producers and the broader Canadian public interest,” he told the energy board.

He disputes claims by environmentalists, who point to a rupture of an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan two years ago and say Londoners should be alarmed because the pipeline crosses under the Thames River just north of the city.

The Aamjiwnaang First Nation argued Enbridge had done far too little to establish the changes it plans are safe for the environment or respectful of treaty rights.

There’s been no oil in the pipeline this year and a trickle last year, so Enbridge must show if increased flow will denigrate the air, water and soil, Aamjiwnaang lawyer Scott Smith told the board.

Then the company must share findings with, and seek input from, Aamjiwnaang First Nation, he said.

Instead, Enbridge has only studied some of the changes and addition to its infrastructure, he said.

Environmentalists fear Enbridge’s push to reverse the flow of oil near London is the first step toward moving oil to the U.S. east coast, a move that could speed oilsands production and degrade the global environment.

Some environmental groups will make their case Thursday.

Margaret Vance, president of the Ontario Pipeline Landowners Association, has immediate concerns: the pipeline is within two kilometres of her farm north of Woodstock. “I don’t want to walk out on our backyard and see a field of oil.”

Native protesters shut down Enbridge hearing in Ontario

Led by Six Nations community members, Enbridge Line 9 hearings disrupted, shut down for half a day.

May 23, 2012


LONDON, Ontario — Dozens of environmental justice activists led by Indigenous activists from Haudenosaunee successfully “mic checked” a stop to Enbridge Line 9 hearings in London early Wednesday morning. Members of the National Energy Board had traveled to London to hear presentations from major oil conglomerates as well as environmental NGOs. After successfully disrupting meeting, Haudenosaunee representatives explained that they had not been consulted about the pipeline plans, which would negatively impact their lands.


“We are not only fighting for our rights but yours too,” said grandmother and long time Indigenous activist Ruby Montour, after members of the board and lawyers from the oil companies left the presentation room. “They need to be fair with our people, with you, your ancestors and your children. The environment is going to pay big time if these pipelines rupture and they need to listen to our concerns. They need to speak to us, the real people who need to be spoken to, whose treaties have been broken. They forced us to go to school, they forced us to learn, and we learned so now we know when they are lying or cheating. Well, they can’t anymore. They can’t force things on our lands.”

Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Inc. is proposing the Line 9 Trailbreaker Pipeline to transport tar sands oil through some of the most important natural and cultural landscapes in eastern Canada.  Under the plan, Enbridge would pump corrosive tar sands oil – the dirtiest oil on the planet – through a pipeline that was built in 1975. Enbridge has taken the first step to implement this plan by recently filing a permit application with Canada’s National Energy Board.

“This project cannot go forward without the free, prior and informed consent of the Haudenosaunee who would be directly impacted by a pipeline rupture,” said Metis activist Sakihitowin Awasis who led the mic check that was repeated by over two dozen activists in the room. The Mic Check continued: “The people believe the NEB hearings are illegitimate, inaccessible and undemocratic”

“Pipelines have been stalled or stopped going westward through British Columbia, southwards through Texas (the Keystone XL) and are now being pushed eastward through Ontario. It will be met with similar resistance,” said organizer Toban Black outside the five star Hilton Hotel after the meeting was recessed.

Awasis was arrested by London police, held for over an hour and released with a trespass ticket.

The National Energy Board public hearing was shut down for half the day, after which only the press and the official intervenors were allowed to re-enter. After submissions from intervenors inside the room, the Board ruled that members of the public could re-enter if the intervenors vouched that the people coming in would not be disruptive.

Activists stayed outside and organized a People’s Hearing where statements were read by those gathered and others who had submitted their statements online http://peopleshearing2012.wordpress.com/line9/ .

It’s Official

Leaked documents reveal Harper government’s active targeting of anti-oil sands organizations.

Posted on February 24, 2012   by Adam Kostrich


Expanding oil sands production at the expense of Canada’s international reputation and the natural environment is an issue of respect. Respect for Indigenous rights, the democratic process, and the natural environment are losing the battle against the reverence of the almighty dollar.

It’s Official: A story about environment and governance.

Documents obtained by the Climate Action Network via access to information legislation reveal that the Harper government drew up lists of “adversaries” and “allies” to the Athabasca oil sands in March of last year.

The document, entitled the Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy, states that it was produced in order to “refram[e] the European debate on oil sands in a manner that protects and advances Canadian interests related to the oil sands and broader Canadian interests in Europe.” It was created in response to EU sensitivities about the emissions-intensive nature of the Alberta oil sands project around the time of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference of December 2009.

In a list of principal actors, the document labels environmental NGOs and Aboriginal groups as adversaries of government economic interests, and lists the National Energy Review Board and energy associations such as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and the Consumer Energy Alliance as allies.

Shortly after its release, the leaked report was supplemented by Greenpeace’s release of a copy of minutes from a meeting of government and oil representatives, obtained under the same legislation. Attendees of the March 2010 meeting included the deputy ministers of Alberta Environment and Alberta Energy, and David Collyer, the President of CAPP.

Stated goals of the meeting included CAPP “upping their game on oil sands outreach” and “turn[ing] up the volume on the existing approach,” denoting an effort to both expand and intensify attempts to gain public support.

Environment Minister Peter Kent stated that the documents are not indicative of the government’s approach to defending the reputation of the oil sands. But the government’s rhetoric is not well received by those who oppose oil sands expansion, the same individuals who have long been implicitly labeled “anti-Canadian” by government communiqués.

“While not surprising, Harper’s ongoing criminalization of Indigenous people is extremely disturbing,” Indigenous and environmental activist Clayton Thomas-Muller told theLeveller.

“The blanket labeling of Aboriginal groups as adversaries of Canada’s economic agenda is another instance of the two-faced bold lies that the Harper government is so comfortable operating in,” he said, referencing the fact that the Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy papers were exposed on the eve of a Crown meeting between the Harper government and Aboriginal leaders.

Commenting on the influence of the oil industry in shaping public opinion through the media, Thomas-Muller said, “it’s a disproportionate playing field,” citing a $24 million public relations campaign undertaken by public relations firms such as Ethical Oil and CAPP. Both the Harper government’s duplicity and its relationship to Canadian oil companies, Thomas-Muller says, “tears at the very fabric of democracy.” In his view, this is not an accident.

“What there is right now is a skewed and polarized portrayal of these issues, and as long as it is so polarized there is no debate.”

On the issue of polarization, journalists and academics have drawn parallels between the Harper government’s list and the infamous lists drawn up by US Senator Joseph McCarthy, who worked feverishly to associate political dissent with disloyalty during the 1950s, and the “with us or against us” approach of former US President George W. Bush.

The report gives some context to the Harper government’s recent behaviour, which blurs the line between the economic interests of big business and Canadian interests.

At the Durban Conference in December 2011, Canada walked tenderly around commitments to reduce or limit carbon emissions before backing out of the Kyoto Protocol altogether after the conference had ended. All this in the name of ensuring economic stability – which in this case means continued profit growth for business.

Last month, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver memorably accused “radical” groups – his loose definition of which seemed to include any coherent opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and whom he claims are sponsored by “foreign money” – of attempting to “hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” He claimed that these groups were receiving funding from “foreign special interest groups” to undermine the Canadian economy, “no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth.”

Minister Oliver’s comments about foreign money and hijacked regulatory systems seem more applicable to the government of Alberta than to political dissidents.

At a speech given during September 2011’s Canada-Asia Co-operation Energy Conference, Minister of Alberta Energy Ron Leipert said that Chinese industry had invested some $15 billion in the oil sands in 2010, in part because more than half of the world’s oil reserves accessible to private investment are in Alberta. In addition, China has pledged $2 billion towards the construction of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline to the Pacific coast, which is being met with staunch opposition from environmental and Indigenous groups. Foreign money indeed.

As for “attempts to hijack the regulatory system,” the CAPP delegation stressed to Alberta government representatives in a 2010 meeting the “opportunity cost” for intensifying public relations campaigns. They explained their “desire for coordination between industry and the federal and provincial governments on this issue.” This begs the question – who desires this coordination if it takes place outside the democratic process, and who is primed to benefit from it?

Increasingly transparent cases of the Canadian oil industry and the Harper government working in tandem to puppeteer public opinion on economic and environmental issues show that the Harper government prefers a welcoming business climate to a habitable environmental climate. Expanding oil sands production at the expense of Canada’s international reputation and the natural environment is an issue of respect. Respect for Indigenous rights, the democratic process, and the natural environment are losing the battle against the reverence of the almighty dollar.

A Difficult Choice on Water

By LESLIE MACMILLAN | April 6, 2012, 3:39 PM


Arizona’s two senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, traveled to the Navajo reservation this week to meet with Navajo and Hopi tribal leaders about a proposed water rights accord that would settle the two tribes’ claims to the Little Colorado River system.

John McCainAssociated PressJohn McCain

Mr. Kyl and Mr. McCain have introduced a bill known as the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement, which would require the tribes to waive their water rights for “time immemorial” in exchange for groundwater delivery projects to three remote communities.

The tribes must sign off on the settlement, along with 30 other entities including Congress and the president, before the bill becomes law.

Mr. Kyl said the bill was on a “fast track” and he would like to see it pushed through Congress before this session ends. But the outcome is uncertain, as there is a disagreement within the Navajo and Hopi governments over whether or not to endorse the bill, as well as disapproval within the communities, which are pushing for more public hearings.

The settlement would benefit the two tribes by providing clean drinking water piped directly into their homes, Mr. Kyl said. There is very little surface water on the two reservations, he said, adding that most of the water that does exist is in aquifers and the tribes can’t afford to build the infrastructure necessary to gain access to it.

What the tribes would lose by settling is a crucial bargaining chip. Other parties, including Peabody Coal and two other corporations, want the water for ranching, farming and coal mining operations. Coal mining in particular uses copious amounts of water for its slurries.

The tiny Hopi reservation is completely surrounded by the much larger Navajo reservation, which covers 27,000 square miles of land over sections of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Many homes lack indoor plumbing, and one out of three families on the Navajo reservation does not have access to a public drinking water system, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Some wells and springs are still contaminated with uranium and other toxic heavy metals, a legacy of 40 years of mining.

In an arid region where water is scarce, some tribal leaders are in favor of settling their claims in exchange for running water. But the bill has also stirred some controversy among environmental groups and tribe members, who say that their leaders didn’t inform them about the details.

“Water is life, and when you take away our water, you take away our lives,” said Ed Becenti, a Navajo grass-roots organizer. He said that after the meeting, which took place behind closed doors, a crowd of about 200 milling outside followed the senators to their cars chanting “Kill bill 2109″ and “Leave our water alone.”

He said that Senator Kyl should “meet with the Navajo and Hopi grass-roots representation on the settlement agreement and go over it in detail.” He added, “Our tribal leaders have evidently dropped the ball on this one.”

Several environmental groups also oppose the bill. The Grand Canyon Trust, which was recently successful in halting new mining claims on federal land around the Grand Canyon, characterized the bill on its Web site as containing “several dangerous provisions that require a permanent waiver” of water rights.

Mr. Kyl acknowledges that the bill has aroused some deep-seated emotions but says that it has been widely misunderstood. “There are a lot of very smart people of good will who are trying to get these people wet water,” he said. The water the tribes have now, he said, exists mainly on paper in the form of rights to water that they cannot use.

Mr. Kyl and Mr. McCain, both Republicans, met privately with leaders of the two tribes in Tuba City on Thursday. Navajo leaders said they were working on scheduling a public meeting with the senators in Window Rock, Ariz., the capital of their reservation.