Guided by Justice: Indigenous Land Protectors’ Not-So-Secret Strategy for Success
Sometimes, it can feel like the tide of history is turning. We live in a time when Indigenous ways of knowing and being are increasingly understood and celebrated. Indigenous authors’ works regularly grace the bestseller lists and win coveted literary prizes. People across the country wear orange every Truth and Reconciliation Day, and kids in classrooms learn about First Nations culture, residential schools and UNDRIP. It’s all part of a societal shift that— after generations of erasure—is centring and uplifting powerful Indigenous voices.
With season after season of sun-blocking wildfires, erratic temperatures and record-smashing storms, it is undeniable that we are living with the reality of a changing climate. It is clear to many that we can’t continue to carve up greenbelts, allow unfettered fossil fuel expansion, or sacrifice precious wetlands if we want to leave our grandchildren a world where they can thrive.
And it is Indigenous People, overwhelmingly, who are showing us a way forward.
One of those people is Crystal Lameman. She is among a new generation of Indigenous leaders who, grounded in her Cree traditions and way of life, is pushing back against reckless fossil fuel development in her territory. With more than 21,000 oil and gas permits issued in her northern Alberta homelands, Lameman has led marches, spoken at United Nations conferences, and campaigned tirelessly to call on Canada to respect her people’s Treaty rights. Now, after 10 years of pushing for justice, Beaver Lake Cree Nation are going to court to demand that Canada and Alberta uphold the right to hunt, fish, and practice culture ‘as long as the grass grows, and the sun shines.’
Said Lameman, "This [case] is about Beaver Lake Cree Nation having a say in what development looks like in their territory and on their lands. This is about a treaty relationship that is grounded in peace and sharing. A win for Beaver Lake is a win for all, no matter race, colour, or creed…If you breathe air and you drink water, this is about you."
That’s where RAVEN comes in. RAVEN—Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs—is weaving a web of supporters to fundraise and organize in support of game-changing legal challenges led by Indigenous Nations. Like the mythical trickster bird that is its namesake, RAVEN takes on challenges that are thorny and seemingly impossible— and, by doing so, reshapes and transforms the world.
Thanks to thousands of monthly supporters and donors committed to providing access to justice for Indigenous Nations, RAVEN has raised millions of dollars to back cases that have stopped pipelines, protected millions of hectares of lands and waters, and created better laws.
Together with other Nations in Canada, the Beaver Lake Cree have some of the most powerful constitutional rights in the world, but only if they can afford to uphold them in court. The reality in Canada is that when they go to court to defend their rights and lands against corporations and governments, Indigenous Nations are vastly outspent. This often results in Nations who experience serious economic hardship due to ongoing colonialism having to abandon worthy cases because they can’t afford to keep litigating.
We can’t let that happen. Everywhere in the climate movement—from divestment campaigns to funding legal challenges—it’s clear that if alienation and discrimination are what is driving the problem, then solidarity and building better relationships can help make it right.
This is the opportunity within RAVEN’s Breathing Lands campaign, a legal challenge that seeks to protect the vast carbonstoring peatlands in northern Ontario. Brought by an alliance of 10 Nations, the case aims to usher an Indigenous interpretation of Treaty rights into law. The vision? That Indigenous Nations’ caretaker values become enshrined in decision-making for the benefit of future generations.
RAVEN is also involved in cases aiming to extend Indigenous jurisdiction over marine ecosystems (Heiltsuk), protect lands and rights in the face of reckless mining (Neskantaga, Gitxaała), and uphold frameworks challenging the cumulative impacts of industrial development (Beaver Lake Cree Nation). What RAVEN’s partners are involved in is no less than a paradigm shift away from looking at projects piecemeal and instead evaluating decisions based on the needs of entire ecosystems.
Such an approach, led by Indigenous Nations whose laws contain such holistic understandings, can bring about the type of deep, systemic change that this country needs for our mutual flourishing. But, to get there, it’s going to take ordinary people donating, organizing, and holding bake sales and bike rides to sustain court cases that are focused on the well-being of the more-than-human world and of future generations.
When settlers and Indigenous Peoples come together in this way, it’s a braiding of ways of being that heals not only the land, but our relationships with one another.
John Borrows said “We are the legal agents in this world; we all have the opportunity to practice law. Sometimes that's done by standing with Indigenous Peoples and working with them in direct ways, but also it means, in some instances, providing resources to help Indigenous Peoples as they're raising their voice. So, providing resources is actually a practice of law. It's a custom that can be used to put us in relationship with one another.”
Join RAVEN to support inspiring Indigenous leaders as they take to the courts to uphold a world in balance. raventrust.com/donate
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited