OTTAWA –Indigenous people in Canada are keeping a close, careful eye on U.S. President Donald Trump and how his decisions could impact trade, the environment and the economy, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said Wednesday.
The new president signed executive orders Tuesday on two highly contentious pipelines: the cross-border Keystone XL and the Dakota Access line, a project which triggered months of protests in North Dakota last year.
Keystone, a project designed to ship Canadian crude to the United States, was halted in late 2015 by former president Barack Obama over environmental concerns, but Trump has invited TransCanada, the pipeline’s proponent, to resubmit its application to the State Department.
He also ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review and approve construction and easement requests for Dakota Access _ a pipeline that ignited pushback among indigenous people throughout North America.
Last December, Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant army secretary for civil works, declined to allow the pipeline to be built under Lake Oahe and said alternate routes need to be considered.
The $3.8 billion project would bring North Dakota crude through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Illinois.
Dakota Access could threaten the neighbouring Standing Rock Sioux’s drinking water supply, Bellegarde said Wednesday, noting his organization supported efforts last year to identify alternate routes for the line and provided support for the protests.
“We are watching and monitoring those decisions because they will have an impact on the inherent right to self-determination,” Bellegarde said in an interview. “We are going to take appropriate action as need be.”
Nearly 600 pipeline opponents have been arrested in North Dakota since last year.
Indigenous people have a right to free, prior and informed consent, meaning they must be involved in such projects from the outset, rather than treated as an afterthought, Bellegarde said, adding indigenous people are affected by decisions from both the prime minister of Canada or the president of the United States.
“As indigenous peoples, there were never borders.”