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Indigenous Groups Lead Struggle Against Canada’s Tar Sands

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A group of lawmakers are calling on the Obama administration to take a closer look at the significant environmental impacts of a proposed massive pipeline that would carry Canadian tar sands oil 2,000 miles from northern Alberta all the way down to refineries in Texas and tankers off the Gulf Coast. Tar sands mining emits three times more greenhouse gas pollution than traditional oil and has come under heavy criticism from environmental and indigenous groups. Democracy Now!’s Mike Burke speaks to Clayton Thomas-Müller, a Canadian indigenous activist with the Indigenous Environmental Network. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to the issue of the tar sands. In Washington, a group of lawmakers are calling on the Obama administration to take a closer look at the significant environmental impacts of a proposed massive pipeline that would carry Canadian tar sands oil 2,000 miles from northern Alberta all the way down to refineries in Texas and tankers off the Gulf Coast. In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, nearly fifty members of the House said the State Department, quote, “must determine whether the project is in the national interest” in terms of “clean energy and climate change priorities.” Tar sands mining emits three times more greenhouse gas pollution than traditional oil and has come under heavy criticism from environmental and indigenous groups.

On Wednesday, indigenous leaders attending the US Social Forum, where we just came from in Detroit, held a group dinner to discuss various issues affecting their communities. Democracy Now's Mike Burke was at the scene. He spoke with a Canadian indigenous activist and asked him about Canada's tar sands.

    CLAYTON THOMAS-MÜLLER: My name is Clayton Thomas-Müller. I’m a Cree man from northern Manitoba, Canada, from the community of Pukatawagan First Nation. And I’m the tar sands campaign organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

    IEN, in partnership with the Defenders of the Land network, as well as the Toronto Mobilization Network, are converging with many allies from all across North America and internationally in the streets of Toronto, in community centers and different venues, to highlight, you know, the gross human rights violations that are being perpetuated by the neoliberal agenda that the so-called world leaders are converging to discuss in a very highly militarized downtown Toronto metro region.

    For us at IEN, you know, we’re using this as an opportunity to highlight Canada and the United States’s gross failure in regards to their energy and climate policy and the ongoing oppression of indigenous peoples and the destruction of our land and water resources, and of course, you know, catastrophic climate change, of which our people suffer from disproportionately, you know, which is essentially what they’re going to be talking about. You know, ways to expand on energy development and, of course, tar sands development, which is Canada’s greatest climate crime, you know, will definitely be one of the things that they’re talking about. So, you know, we will be in the streets of Toronto tomorrow.

    We’ve sent out an international call to action for June 24th, which is part of four themed days of action, including environmental justice and a couple of other themes. But this theme is specifically to highlight Canada’s failure to ratify — to recognize and ratify the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Canada’s ongoing policy of termination of Indian rights and title, of course, to highlight the horrific missing and murdered women situation going on in Canada and a failure of the government to look into it and to address it. You know, there are over 500 missing and murdered aboriginal women in the country, with virtually no response from the government nor its police apparatus. And of course, you know, our primary issue that we’re elevating as the Indigenous Environmental Network is, you know, the whole situation going on with the world’s largest and most destructive development ever in the history of mankind, known as the tar sands in northern Alberta.

    MIKE BURKE: And who are the companies that are profiting in the tar sands? And where is the oil going that’s recovered there?

    CLAYTON THOMAS-MÜLLER: Well, you know, I think if you really draw up a list of every single major oil corporation on the planet, you’ll find them in northern Alberta. Last on the list, of course, is the extremely controversial, not that all of them aren’t, but extremely controversial BP, who just this year has aggressively been trying to enter into the tar sands. And, of course, they’re the last major global oil company to come into the tar sands patch. However, you know, we’ve been campaigning against them very aggressively on the lead-up to their shareholder meeting last month in London to pressure them to stay out of the tar sands. And then, of course, you know, the situation in the Gulf of Mexico has happened, so, you know, we’ll see if BP will come — will become prey to its own predatorial culture.

    MIKE BURKE: How dependent is the United States on oil from the tar sands?

    CLAYTON THOMAS-MÜLLER: Well, you know, it’s interesting. You know, if you look at a lot of the viral media, there’s a lot of folks who ask people in America, where does America get their oil, and everybody says the Middle East. But the number one provider of oil and gas to the United States is, of course, Canada. And, you know, right now, within the tar sands, there’s approximately 1.8 million barrels produced every single day, with 68 percent of that going to the United States directly.

    MIKE BURKE: And what makes tar sands exploration so much more destructive than typical oil exploration?

    CLAYTON THOMAS-MÜLLER: Well, this is essentially your bottom of the barrel. You know, there is no greater representation of both just the desperateness of Big Oil to, you know, hard-wire itself into the global economy for the next 150 years through scraping that bottom of the barrel. You know, this is peak oil. Tar sands, you know, really shouldn’t even be referred to as oil. It’s an entirely different classification of fossil fuel. It’s about ten percent fossil fuel mixed with 90 percent clay and sand.

    And they have to remove vast tracts of the boreal forest, which, of course, is a critical carbon sink, second-biggest on the planet next to the Amazon rainforest. And as a result of the mining and in-situ SAGD operations in the tar sands to extract this oil from under the boreal rainforest — the boreal forest, it is also the place that is experiencing the second-fastest rate of deforestation. And of course, all of this is exacerbated by climate-related forest catastrophes like the spruce pine beetle, which are devastating, you know, literally millions of hectares of boreal forest.

    And so, you know, the process itself of separating the oil from the sand, of mining it out of the earth, you know, they’re using the biggest trucks on the planet to move this stuff twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 300 tons per truck carrying capacity. The biggest earth movers on the planet, ten stories high, 300 tons per scoop, are operating twenty-four/seven in Canada’s tar sands. They have a workforce of 77,000 workers to drive this massive, massive development. And so, you know, to provide a scale for the viewers, they move enough earth every single day in Canada’s tar sands to fill up the Toronto SkyDome. They burn enough natural gas every day to superheat water to remove the oil from the sand and clay, 600 million cubic feet per day, and that’s enough to heat 2.4 million Canadian homes.

    So, you know, the impact is absolutely catastrophic, particularly to local Dene, Cree and Metis peoples, who have subsisted and relied on those sacred lands in northern Alberta for time immemorial. And these communities have been put on the sacrificial block of American and Canadian energy and climate policy, you know. And our campaign with the Indigenous Environmental Network is really to highlight and magnify the issues that frontline communities are facing to the world, to internationalize their struggle, and to amplify their voices to the world, because we believe that our communities must speak for themselves on these issues of energy and climate justice, that we must be the ones leading the charge, if we’re going to truly, you know, get to a place where we can build an economic paradigm that does not sacrifice one community for the benefit of communities thousands of miles away.

    MIKE BURKE: And can you talk more about the boreal forest? I understand there’s a controversial agreement that was recently reached regarding the future of the forest.

    CLAYTON THOMAS-MÜLLER: Yeah, the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, you know, is a partnership between eight mainstream ENGOs, including Greenpeace and Forest Ethics, and twenty huge forestry companies. The controversy surrounding this agreement, which, you know, theoretically was designed to create the largest conservation area on the planet, is that, you know, there’s a lot of hype there, that essentially what the agreement right now is, is a good-faith moratorium self-imposed by the forestry sector on areas where the woodland caribou exists, which is an endangered species in Canada.

    However, you know, one of the challenges is that neither the forestry sector or the ENGO sector consulted with First Nations on this agreement. And in Canada, it is constitutionally enshrined, the duty to consult First Nations on all matters pertaining to developments or agreements that impact traditional treaty territories, they must be consulted at the earliest stage of the conception of that idea. And, you know, obviously there was no consultation, and so it’s created great division and caused a lot of mistrust in all sectors, in all social movements. And so, there’s a lot of discussion and debate right now, you know, and organizations that have longstanding agreements with First Nations in Canada have a lot of explaining to do in terms of, you know, rectifying the situation.

    One of the intentions of the international indigenous call to action for June 24th is to — you know, that day is meant to act as one of the days that will provide that kind of catalyst moment to continue to build solidarity amongst, you know, frontline indigenous communities that are fighting, in many cases, the same corporations that are working in partnership with the federal government of Canada and with provincial governments within Canada, you know, to continue to push unsustainable development that’s causing human and ecological health crises in our territories and violating our fundamental human rights. You know, for us, this is part of a long-term strategic plan in Canada to mobilize First Nations and other aboriginal groups to redefine, you know, our movement for this generation. We’ve had many, many successes over the last hundred years, and I think that, you know, as we see great polarity in terms of wealth and power and the oppressed and the poor, you know, we have to come up with complex multi-pronged approaches that empower communities that have been historically marginalized, including our own indigenous nations. And so, the G20 mobilization is part of an ongoing strategy that’s being brought forward by grassroots people through the Defenders of the Land network, which IEN supports, to call out world leaders and to call out Canada on the world stage, to say that indigenous peoples in Canada will not stand for these neoliberal economic and trade policies that, you know, say it’s OK to sacrifice our way of life and our fundamental human rights just so that Canada can continue to expand its GDP and continue to, you know, essentially be a resource colony to the military superpower, the United States of America. And so, you know, we’re going to continue to mobilize through the G20, after the G20, and call out the Harper minority government, you know, and their failure to protect their own citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: Clayton Thomas-Müller is with the Indigenous Environmental Network. He was speaking to Democracy Now!'s Mike Burke at the Social Forum, the US Social Forum, in Detroit. This is Democracy Now!, and we're broadcasting from Toronto, Canada, where the G8 and the G20 summit meetings are happening. World leaders are coming in. When we come back, we’re going to look at the crackdown, unprecedented regulations on speech. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

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