In 2010, two unequivocal Indigenous-law based declarations were signed by First Nations, definitively banning tar sands crude oil tankers, pipelines and infrastructure from their territories. Nine First Nations peoples of the Central and North Pacific Coast and Haida Gwaii (the “Coastal First Nations”) signed the Coastal First Nations Declaration (March 2010), and sixty-one First Nations centred in the Fraser Watershed signed the Save the Fraser Declaration (December 2010). Signatories of the Save the Fraser Declaration have since grown to over 100.
These Declarations were prompted by a tar sands megaproject proposed by Enbridge Inc.. The proposed 1,172 kilometre-long Enbridge Northern Gateway tankers and pipelines project would stretch from the Alberta tar sands through the headwaters of the Mackenzie, Fraser and Skeena rivers to a marine terminal at Kitimat and would result in an estimated 225 crude oil and condensate tankers a year travelling through the territories of Coastal First Nations. The majority of Enbridge’s proposed pipeline route is through the territories of First Nations that have banned the pipeline using their own laws. Opposed First Nations now form an unbroken wall from the U.S. border to the Arctic Ocean. The following commentary examines the legal significance of the Coastal First Nations Declaration and the Save the Fraser Declaration.