Native law expert: First Nations hold power to stop Enbridge
Read this June 18 story by Carlito Pablo in the Georgia Straight, interviewing leading native law expert Jack Woodward on the ways in which First Nations-led lawsuits hold real power to stop Northern Gateway.
The notion of aboriginal rights to hunt, trap, and fish may strike some as quaint.
As eminent Native-law practitioner Jack Woodward observes, they sound simple. But he also points out that these same rights could trump modern industrial projects such as the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline.
“That’s the surprising conclusion of Canadian law: that what sounds like a minor right, even an old-fashioned right, is sufficient,” Woodward told the Georgia Straight by phone on June 17.
The Victoria-based lawyer was interviewed just before the federal government announced the same day that it had approved Northern Gateway. Immediately, several aboriginal groups declared that they will go to court to stop the $7.9-billion, 1,177-kilometre-long twin-pipeline project.
Woodward noted that although Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government have the power under federal legislation to approve the pipeline, that power is not absolute.
“What is not within his [Harper’s] power is the Constitution,” the lawyer said. “The Constitution is over his head, and under the Constitution, one category of rights are aboriginal rights.”
Woodward explained that the right to hunt is “not just the right to go out into an empty field”. It embodies a “meaningful right to hunt, which means there has to be a harvestable surplus of animals.
“And to have a harvestable surplus of animals…you have to have enough healthy habitat to support that population of animals,” Woodward continued. “It can’t be fragmented; it can’t be chopped up by things like…highways, railroads, and pipelines.”
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