Planet Watch

Court allows Dakota Access Pipeline to proceed

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Oct. 9 ruled (PDF) against Native American tribes, allowing construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline to move forward. The Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribes sought a permanent injunction to block construction of the 1,170-mile pipeline, which they say would be built on sacred burial grounds and would pose an environmental risk to the surrounding rivers. In its ruling, however, the court said the final decision will be up to the Army Corps of Engineers. The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said (PDF) the pipeline will endanger millions of lives, and that the tribe will continue to fight against it. The starement also noted that construction crews have already destroyed many historic burial sites and artifacts.

Mohawk band forms indigenous legal system

The Mohawk band council of Akwesasne in Canada has introduced its own legal system independent of the country's federal system. This marks the first instance of an indigenous people creating its own legal system in Canada. While First Nation band councils have passed and enforced legislation on reserves for years, the new court framework was drafted by the community and is not tied to the Indian Act or any agreement with the Canadian government. Under the proposed legal system, justices and prosecutors are asked to enforce a variety of civil laws, while criminal matters still remain within the purview of the federal or provincial courts. The civil matters range from sanitation to property and wildlife conservation. The new system is underpinned by concepts of restorative justice, as there are no jail terms and offending parties are to use their skills to benefit the community. Questions remain as to what extent Akwesasne law will be recognized by provincial and federal courts.

ICC to prosecute environmental crimes

The International Criminal Court released a policy document Sept. 15 calling for prosecution of individuals for atrocities committed by destroying the environment. The document, prepared by chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, sets out the types of cases that the court will now prioritize, including willful environmental destruction, illegal exploitation of natural resources, and "land grabbing." The ICC has already shown a willingness to apply its authority to situations involving environmental destruction. Between 2009 and 2010, then-prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo successfully obtained arrest warrants from the court against the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, for acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Among other acts, these alleged crimes involved the contamination of wells and destruction village pumps in Darfur to deprive targeted populations of water. Al-Bashir's trial has not yet commenced as he continues to evade arrest. (The Conversation, Sept. 23)

Lakota protesters block pipeline construction

Native Americans, ranchers and farmers on Aug. 10 launched a blockade of a highway in North Dakota to bar crews of contractor Energy Transfer Partners from reaching the construction site of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Some 250 Lakota Indians and their allies are still maintaining the blockade, despite several arrests. The $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, also known as the Bakken Pipeline, will extend from North Dakota to a market hub near Patoka, Ill., outside Chicago. The US Army Corps Engineers issued formal approval of the pipeline on July 26. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have started a protest camp to block its construction, where the Cannonball and Missouri rivers meet. Standing Rock Sioux chairman Dave Archambault III is among those arrested by North Dakota state troopers and Morton County deputies. At 1,172 miles, the Dakota Access Pipeline is only seven miles shorter than the proposed length of the stalled Keystone Pipeline. (TruthOut, Censored News, Aug. 13; Native News Online, Mother Jones, Aug. 12)

Canada: court blocks Northern Gateway pipeline

Canada's Federal Court of Appeal overturned approval of Enbridge energy company's controversial Northern Gateway pipeline that would link Alberta's oil sands to British Columbia's north coast. In the 2-1 ruling June 30, the three-judge panel found that Ottawa failed to properly consult the First Nations affected by the project. That the federal government's consultation efforts "fell well short of the mark," the ruling stated. "We find that Canada offered only a brief, hurried and inadequate exchange and discuss information and to dialogue." President of British Columbia's Haida Nation, Peter Lantin, said: "It's a great day for Haida Gwaii and the coast of BC. We're all celebrating a victory for the oceans and our way of life."

International direct action against fossil fuel

Police arrested 65 protesters who briefly shut down the port at Newcastle, NSW, Australia's biggest coal export terminal, on May 8. Hundreds of kayaks and boats blocked the entrance to Newcastle harbor to stop coal ships, while another group blocked rail lines on the city's northwest. Australia has seen numerous anti-mining direct action campaigns in recent years, but this was part of a coordinated global direct action campaign against fossil fuels. Actions are taking place in at least 12 countries under the Break Free From Fossil Fuels campaign. A similar flotilla action is planned for the Kinder Morgan pipeline terminal in Vancouver, BC. In Albany, NY, people from across the Northeast gathered May 14 to block oil trains along the banks of the Hudson River, while Denver saw a protest march against fracking in Colorado. Actions are also planned for Quito to protest the opening of Ecuador's Yasuni National Park to oil drilling. (The Guardian, May 8; Burnaby Now, 24 Hours, BC, May 4; BFFF)

A 'New Oil Order'?

Michael T. Klare has a piece on TruthDig about last month's OPEC meeting in Doha, Qatar, where high expectations of a boost to chronically depressed prices were dashed: "In anticipation of such a deal, oil prices had begun to creep inexorably upward, from $30 per barrel in mid-January to $43 on the eve of the gathering. But far from restoring the old oil order, the meeting ended in discord, driving prices down again and revealing deep cracks in the ranks of global energy producers." Klare acknowledges the geopolitical factor in keeping prices down: "Most analysts have since suggested that the Saudi royals simply considered punishing Iran more important than lowering oil prices. No matter the cost to them, in other words, they could not bring themselves to help Iran pursue its geopolitical objectives, including giving yet more support to Shiite forces in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon." But he sees market forces and the advent of post-petrol technologies as more fundamental...

De Beers pressured in First Nation suicide crisis

Crisis teams are being deployed to the Cree community of Attawapiskat in northern Ontario, where more than 100 residents have tried to take their own life in the past seven months. Attawapiskat Chief Bruce Shisheesh said a state of emergency has been declared in the community, and Canada's Health Minister Jane Philpott called the situation "one of the most serious and pressing tragedies" facing the country." Hundreds more adolescents have attempted suicide, and hundreds more than that have been placed on a "suicide watch"—in a community of only 2,000. (Winipeg Free Press, April 25; CBC, CBC, April 11) 

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