Alberta Health Board Fires Doctor Who Raised Cancer Alarms
'I am stunned,' says Dr. John O'Connor, a veteran presence in First Nations community.

An Alberta health board has fired Dr. John O'Connor, the physician who came to national prominence after raising questions about rare cancers in the tarsands region.

The Nunee Health Board Society send O'Connor a letter last Friday saying it no longer required his professional services.

The letter gives no reason why. “I am stunned. It is indescribable. This severing of links, with no reason,” O'Connor told the Tyee.

Since 2000, O'Connor has served as the on-call physician for the remote community of Fort Chipewyan, as well as physician back-up for the community’s nursing station.

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“As a woman, I’m a waterkeeper…Being stewards of the earth, moving beyond fossil fuels, is [about more than] sustainability for us. It’s a cultural requirement.” ‪#‎LoveWaterNotOil‬ ‪#‎NoKXL‬ ‪#‎ProtectAndReject‬ ‪#‎OcetiRising‬

Correction: Due to a transcription error, an earlier version of this article misquoted Tara Houska as saying, “[Tribal leaders] ended up leading the meeting!” She said, “[Tribal leaders] ended up leaving the meeting,” referring to a consultation between tribes and federal authorities in Rapid City, SD, during which Sioux representatives walked out.

You can follow Jake on Twitter @jakeflanagin. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

On Feb. 24, president Obama vetoed a congressional bill that would have approved the Keystone XL pipeline expansion. Although the debate surrounding the project was widely seen as a conflict between environmentalists and industrialists, the case also raised important questions about one of America’s oldest bad habits: trampling on indigenous rights.

The Rosebud Sioux, also known as the Sicangu Lakota, reside on a reservation that includes all of Todd County, South Dakota, and additional lands in the four adjacent. That land, originally encompassing all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River, was entreatied to the greater Sioux nation in 1851 and 1868, but has been gradually reduced to its current boundaries by decades of territorial whittling by the federal government. Only in 1934 were the Rosebud Sioux officially recognized as a self-governing nation—see the Indian Reorganization Act (pdf)—and thus formally allotted ownership of land that, prior to the arrival of European colonists, had been their’s for centuries.

Today, life on the typical Native American reservation is far from perfect: Poverty, high unemployment, substandard education and healthcare are all major issues these communities face. Choosing to live on reservations, therefore, can be a powerful statement of sovereignty. To some, it is an act of self-determination intended to stand against centuries of forced-assimilation policies which stripped land, resources and even children from tribal communities.

Keystone XL brought this hard-won spirit of sovereignty under threat. The plan to expand an existing oil pipeline system, linking oil-rich tar sands in the Canadian province of Alberta with refineries and distributors across the US, would essentially bisect South Dakota, cutting straight through Rosebud Sioux tribal land. A longtime topic of concern for environmentalists, the Keystone XL pipeline raised hackles, being yet another instance in which the American government attempted to circumvent Native sovereignty in the pursuit of economic gain.

Passions boiled over in November following a vote in the US House of Representatives approving expansion. In a press release issued in response to the vote, Rosebud Sioux tribal president Cyril Scott said, “Authorizing Keystone XL is an act of war against our people.” It was a statement intended to stoke passions, and perhaps rightfully so.

Tara Houska, a tribal rights attorney in Washington, DC, and a founding member of NotYourMascots.org, is more measured in her wording, but generally agrees with Scott’s assessment of the situation. The risk for local tribes would have been huge. Keystone XL brings with it the risk that spilled diluted bitumen, or “dilbit,” might contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer, the only source of drinking water for tribes like the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux.

(photo by Ryan Redcorn)

In the event of a spill, “what does the federal government expect them to do?” Houska told Quartz, “Survive on bottled water? For years? Are they serious?”

Federal disregard for Native stakes in the pipeline expansion are part of a larger pattern of inattention, she added. Many area tribes, including the Oglala Sioux, feel they were inadequately consulted by authorities in Washington prior to congressional approval earlier in February. “When I got brought in, they had already had their quote unquote consultation,” Houska said. Washington’s envoys were apparently well out of their depth, seemingly unaware (or uninterested) in Keystone XL’s specific impact on Sioux reservations. “[Tribal representatives] ended up leaving the meeting!”

Even if a major industrial project, such as Keystone XL, skirts officially recognized tribal boundaries, sufficient consultation with area tribes is required by law, she explained. “There are often times when we have rights to treaty lands that were never officially ceded.” The lackluster meeting between Oglala Sioux representatives and federal authorities “did not meet the requirements of consultation,” she said.

In addition to potential environmental impacts, tribes require consultation on projects like Keystone XL for a number a reasons, chief among them issues pertaining to community safety. “It’s going to bring a large number of men into the area,” Houska said, citing concerns raised by South Dakota law enforcement and women’s rights advocacy-groups. The housing of about 1,000 pipeline laborers, mostly men, in TransCanada work camps placed close to reservations could cause an uptick in sexual assaults against area women. Native women are already 2.5 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence than women of any other race, reports Mary Annette Pember for Indian Country Today. “The perpetrators of this violence are overwhelmingly non-Native,” she noted.

Beyond the practicalities of community health and security, the potential impact of the pipeline on the earth is of course of great concern as well. But, for Natives, a commitment to environmentalist values extends far beyond the political. “As a woman, I’m a waterkeeper. That’s part of my culture,” Tara Houska explained. (She is Minnesota Anishinaabe and a citizen of the Couchiching First Nation in Ontario.) “Being stewards of the earth, moving beyond fossil fuels, is more than just about sustainability for us. It’s a cultural requirement.”

“The Lakota people have always been stewards of this land,” president Scott said in his statement, insisting that weaning society off of its fossil-fuel dependency is key to brighter futures both on and off reservations. “We feel it is imperative to to provide safe and responsible alternative energy resources not only to tribal members, but to non-tribal-members as well,” he added. “We need to start remembering that the earth is our mother and stop polluting her, and start taking steps to preserve the land, water, and our grandchildren’s future.”

“It’s the fourth-largest aquifer in the world,” Houska said of the Ogallala Aquifer. “The largest in the United States. It provides 30% of the irrigation water for the country.” Any future industrial projects in the region could have similarly devastating aftermaths. “This issue affects you, whether you live on a reservation or in a big city.”

Correction: Due to a transcription error, an earlier version of this article misquoted Tara Houska as saying, “[Tribal leaders] ended up leading the meeting!” She said, “[Tribal leaders] ended up leaving the meeting,” referring to a consultation between tribes and federal authorities in Rapid City, SD, during which Sioux representatives walked out.

You can follow Jake on Twitter @jakeflanagin. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

Won this round, now let’s finish this fight. Onwards.#NoKXL #TimeToReject

Sign the UNITY letter: http://350.org/unityletter/?source=IEN

Sign the UNITY letter: http://350.org/unityletter/?source=IEN


Michelle Rempel, Jason Kenney Tweet About Tim Hortons, Not TRC

Two federal cabinet ministers took to Twitter to share their thoughts on a Tim Hortons controversy this week, but not on a landmark report into Canada’s residential school system.

Alberta Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel and Jason Kenney, both voracious tweeters, jumped into the fray of the #BoycottTims campaign Thursday.

The social media movement began after the coffee giant announced ads for Enbridge would no longer be shown on screens at more than 1,500 locations.

Tim Hortons’ decision was evidently made in response to a petition launched by consumer advocacy group SumOfUs

The move ruffled plenty of feathers, particularly among those in Alberta’s energy sector.

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Today youth across the country stood up and told our political leaders that we need to leave oil in the ground and create sustainable jobs to have a good future. We demanded the world we want through bold action. Students staged sit-ins in MPs offices and got spectacular results: http://www.gofossilfree.ca/july In Calgary, Stephen Harper wouldn’t meet with us, so we took our message to him in the Stampede Parade!


When you think about fossil fuel infrastructure in this country, you probably picture Texas oil fields or Louisiana refineries or drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico–or increasingly, oil and gas rigs fracking away in shale-rich states like Colorado or Pennsylvania.

You probably don’t picture Minnesota.

And yet, this weekend, there I was in the Twin Cities, joining 5,000 Midwestern pipeline fighters for the Tar Sands Resistance March in St. Paul to stand up against dirty fossil fuels and for a clean energy future. The march, which was led by indigenous women and members of impacted communities, was an amazing show of resistance from a region that is currently under assault from the fossil fuel industry.

Just one day earlier, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission had unanimously approved one of two necessary permits necessary for a Canadian company called Enbridge to build its proposed Sandpiper pipeline, which would transport crude oil from North Dakota to refineries in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Enbridge - the same company whose ruptured tar sands pipeline polluted Michigan’s Kalamazoo River nearly five years ago, causing $1 billion in cleanup costs and destroying local livelihoods - also wants to double the capacity of a pipeline known as Alberta Clipper, which would bring more dirty tar sands oil from Canada. Tar sands oil is one of the world’s dirtiest and most environmentally destructive sources of fuel and brings full scale industrialization to otherwise pristine waterways and landscapes.

Enbridge is a competitor of TransCanada, whose own tar sands pipeline project, Keystone XL, has been delayed due to increased scrutiny over its climate and environmental risks. In an attempt to avoid TransCanada’s travails, Enbridge is reportedly attempting to bypass a required presidential permitting process and sidestep public review in order to expand Alberta Clipper’s transport capacity. Dozens of other projects are also proposed across the Midwestern region.

Saturday’s march demonstrated that youth, indigenous peoples, ranchers, scientists and everyone in between, are standing united to say that we will not allow the fossil fuel industry’s continued assault on communities and our climate. Local fights, whether against toxic pet coke piles in Detroit and Chicago, or for landowner rights in the Great Plains, or for treaty rights on tribal lands, are part of a battle against the deadly life cycle of fossil fuels.

People are beginning to realize that the atrocities that take place in our communities on a seemingly weekly basis, like the pipeline spills that pollute our waterways or the bomb trains that explode near our schools, are manifestations of our painful addiction to fossil fuels.

And perhaps most importantly, as was true of the Tar Sands Resistance March, front line community members who have direct experience and local knowledge are leading this fight. The march was a demonstration of solidarity with those being impacted right now. It gave voice and spirit to their struggle, and served to educate the broader public about how this country’s current energy strategy is sacrificing communities across North America.

As we marched, 5,000-strong in defense of our climate, our water and our communities, an omen came in the form of a bald eagle and a red-tailed hawk circling overhead. My heart soared with them, surrounded by 5,000 allies united for a cause we cannot lose - building a better future for us all.



Rally against pipelines hits Fort Langley, BC on April 11

“This is Our Home”, a peaceful march and rally to protect the natural environment against pipeline development, will be coming to the community of Fort Langley on April 11. The rally coincides with the Provincial Premier’s meeting in Quebec to discuss climate change.

Susan Davidson, one of the organizers from the PIPE UP Network said: “We are joining with the many people who are  marching in Quebec on that same day who are also concerned that the National Energy Board will not even let us talk about climate change when we discuss pipeline projects.”

The organizers, including artist and activist Brandon Gabriel, expect hundreds of participants in this family friendly rally beginning with a march from at the Kwantlen Sports Field to the Fort Langley Community Hall at 12:30. 


A paint-in to decorate and paint banners, flags and signs to be carried in the rally is happening this Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Fort Langley Community Hall.  For more details, please see the event page on Facebook.

#NOKXL - STOP #TarSands from Alberta Canada. According to Alberta’s department of health, First Nations living in the community of Fort Chipewyan, 200 kilometers downstream from the Alberta tar sands, have a higher than normal rate of rare and deadly cancers. 

Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, a tribe living downstream of the tar sands operations.

There is a lot at stake when it comes to tar sands companies living up to their commitments to decontaminate their toxic water. This latest report by the ERCB should serve as yet another string in a long line of wake up calls for the Alberta government. –

Proposed oil sands health study derailed after aboriginal band pulls support over cancer rate debate

Photo Essay: Fort Chipewyan lives in the shadow of Alberta’s oil sands


Its playing this Friday at the ROM!


Breaking Interview with Arrested Nez Perce Councilman Brooklyn Baptiste:

Nez Perce Tribal Council Members Arrested Blocking Tarsands Oil Shipment

The digisphere is abuzz with reports of elected Tribal officials taking to the streets to take direct action to block the road (highway 12 in Nez Perce Country), disallowing the passage of a massive “Mega-Load” of equipement destined for Alberta Tarsands Oil development (a most vile form of energy extraction).

LRI gives you an inside look at the happenings through the eyes of Brooklyn Baptiste (Nimiipuu Nation), a long-time Tribal Council member, Chairman, Vice-Chair of the Nez Perce Nation and leader of various trades who was arrested 48 hours ago along with fellow Tribal Council members.

[LRI] So Brooks (Councilman Baptiste), can you tell me what happened that day?

[Councilman Baptiste] Yes, we were all in frenzy because we had heard about the permit to pass through highway 12, which runs through territory we ceded to the U.S. while maintaining usufructuary rights (hunting, fishing, water, etc). Now this was on a Sunday so we all called an emergency meeting of the 9 Council members to discuss the situation. Turns out the State Court in Idaho had granted or recognized the authority of the United States Forest Service to weigh in on whether or not the State of Idaho should or should not issue the permit to move this MegaLoad through our country. Well, the USFS stated that the Nez Perce government had not been consulted (as they are required to do on all highways in our ceded territory) and that they could not support approval of the permit. We (Nez Perce) agree with this statement and even assert that it should be elevated to requiring our Free Prior and Informed Consent according to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; anyhow, Forest Service said no, State of Idaho didn’t care and issued the permit anyway. That left us with limited time, limited options. They backed us into a corner. We all agreed forming a blockade was a reasonable thing to do.

[LRI] How many people were at the blockade? Were the arrests peaceful?

[Councilman Baptiste] There were at least 150 people there, including spiritual leaders, youth, regional activists, environmental advocates and 8 of our 9 council members, it was powerful. We Council members all got arrested by our own cops; actually I was arrested by my 1st cousin! But we are not above the law and we felt the State of Idaho, the Federal Gov., the President of the USA, and anyone who would listen should know that we cannot allow these governments to disrespect us like this. We were not consulted, we did not give consent; these MegaLoads are humongous, they block all traffic, they create adverse economic impacts for us, long term environmental impacts, and safety issues. Additionally, we do not support Tarsands Oil development; we (Nez Perce Tribal Council) have a resolution in place supporting our 1st Nations relatives on the other side of this colonial border who are suffering because of Tarsands Oil extraction. It’s total destruction. We all felt we had to take a stand; they need to listen. Something has to change. We all got charged with disorderly conduct but that direct action is effective. Just think if everyone did that when it was time. As leaders, elected or not, we need to be able to meet our ancestors in the spirit world and hold our heads up strong and answer them when they ask if we did all we could do to protect the people and the land. This is about our inherent sovereignty. We are sovereign because of this land, this water, the animals. What is sovereignty without them. We’re all waking up.

See more here:  http://lastrealindians.com/breaking-interview-with-arrested-nez-perce-councilman-brooklyn-baptiste/

Most Canadians care more about the environment than pipelines and oilsands: poll

With efforts underway this morning to clean up an oil spill in English Bay, a new survey shines a light on exactly where Canadians stand when it comes to development of the oil and gas industry.

The poll from the Climate Action Network finds most of us see the environment as being a whole lot more important than pipeline projects and the oilsands — more than 60 per cent of us take that position, according to the Network.

Steven Guilbeault with Equiterre, which is a member of the Climate Action Network, adds 70 per cent believe Canadians should be global leaders in protecting our climate by reducing the amount of energy we consume.

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