An Open Letter to Canada’s Freshwater Community regarding Standing Rock

We, members of Canada’s freshwater community, stand in support of the Standing Rock Sioux in their defense of water and traditional territories. We denounce the violence that has been incurred against the Standing Rock Sioux in their peaceful demonstration, and call on all levels of government in Canada and the United States to exercise the powers necessary to immediately halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and negotiate in good faith with the Standing Rock Sioux leadership and community members.


Although the conflict in Standing Rock is south of the border, it is of interest and importance to Canada’s freshwater community for many reasons. In Canada, as in the USA and in other countries, Indigenous communities have been disproportionately affected by environmental impacts associated with resource extraction and development. In Canada, this reality is particularly flagrant in communities where oil is extracted, transported and processed, as we have seen with the Mikisew Cree, and Athabasca Chipewyan in Northern Alberta; James Smith Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan; and Aamjiwnaang First Nation in southwestern Ontario, to name but a few. This trend is very concerning, as it not only undermines the social and physical well being of Indigenous peoples, but is also threatens the waters that we collectively depend on.


The protest at Standing Rock and the actions of the broader freshwater community in response to developments there and in other Indigenous communities is very much related to the topic of reconciliation. In the wake of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, the Canadian freshwater community has been doing a lot of thinking about reconciliation. At our Living Waters Rally in September, delegates from indigenous and non-indigenous communities had many conversations about the topic—what it means and how we can embody the actions necessary to advance reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous people and organizations.


At the rally, we collectively drafted a declaration of commitments and actions to advance the protection of our freshwater and the communities that depend on it. Of note, our declaration recognized the need for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada. It committed the freshwater community to educating ourselves and facilitating public discussion on Indigenous rights, laws and knowledge systems. It also called on the freshwater community to advocate for non-Indigenous governments to recognize and listen to Indigenous peoples and to advance and uphold Free, Prior and Informed Consent. The declaration recognized the rightful place of Indigenous peoples as equal partners on decisions that affect the health of waters in traditional territories.


It is clear that the decision to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation was not based on Free, Prior and Informed Consent (a process that differs from ‘consultation’, which does not necessarily require consent). Not only was consent not obtained, but the original proposed route of the pipeline was actually changed after the Army Corps of Engineers determined it could put the water supply of Bismarck, ND at risk. The current proposed route merely shifts the risk that was deemed intolerable for Bismarck’s water supply to the Standing Rock Sioux.


Requiring an Indigenous community to accept a risk that was unacceptable for a neighboring non-Indigenous community is fundamentally unjust. And while this is, as noted above, a long-standing pattern in the Americas and elsewhere, it is a pattern that we, the Canadian Freshwater community, contest and seek to rectify.


To stand with Standing Rock, we are inviting members of Canada’s freshwater organizations, as individuals and within their organizations to:


1.  Support Standing Rock’s calls to action;


2.  Sign-on to this open letter to show the weight of the call from Canada’s freshwater community.



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