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Old problem, new solution: protection of environments critical to indigenous cultures through international human rights law

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/ProceedingsConference contribution

Published

Publication date2012
Host publicationProceedings of the 11th Global Conference on Environmental Justice and Global Citizenship
PublisherInter-Disciplinary.net
Original languageEnglish

Conference

Conference11th Global Conference (2012) on Environmental Justice and Global Citizenship
CountryUnited Kingdom
CityOxford
Period3/07/125/07/12

Conference

Conference11th Global Conference (2012) on Environmental Justice and Global Citizenship
CountryUnited Kingdom
CityOxford
Period3/07/125/07/12

Abstract

The extraction of the so-called ‘tar sands’ of Alberta, Canada, to obtain crude oil have not only displaced the indigenous peoples of the province, decimating their constitutionally protected tribal lands, but have also threatened the continued existence of their culture. Environmental damage wrought by the extraction of bitumen, later refined into crude oil, has destroyed the unique habitat of fauna inextricably linked to the way of life of the indigenous communities of the province as a means of sustenance, livelihood, and cultural expression. Similarly, water consumption by such projects has the potential to reduce fish stocks of the province’s waterways below sustainable levels removing another traditional source of sustenance for the indigenous community. Much of the land exploited is made unviable for future recovery and reuse owing to its occupation by vast pools made up of the by-products of the extraction and refining processes. These take great lengths of time to become inert and reusable and have leaked into the natural water basins of the province. Despite attempts at reclamation of the land, current methods have succeeded only in restoring a radically different ecosystem to that which once occupied the land, and is therefore no longer appropriate for the established expressions of culture by indigenous peoples connected to those ecosystems. The piece will contend that irreparable damage to this unique environment, inextricably linked to the equally distinct and irreplaceable culture of the indigenous peoples of the region, constitutes a breach of their human rights to express that culture. Thus, whereas previous attempts to protect the environment through human rights provisions have focused on the rights to life and family, this case presents the potential to form a new basis, in Canada and globally, for environmental protection rooted in alternate established legal provisions at domestic, regional and international levels.