by Duncan Hollis
Last week, a Ceremonial Grand Council was held on Ihanktonwan homelands (located within the boundaries of the U.S. State of South Dakota) which concluded and negotiated the "International Treaty to Protect the Sacred from Tar Sands Projects". I can't find a specific list of participants, but news reports suggest signatories included representatives from an array of U.S native American Tribes and Canadian First Nations. The treaty (see here for the text) is seven articles long, most of which involve establishing the authority of indigenous peoples' over their remaining land, including the authority to oppose tar sands oil projects (tar sands are unconventional oil deposits in sand and sandstone that are saturated with a particular form of petroleum; oil is produced from these deposits either by strip mining or using wells that inject steam, solvents and/or hot air into the sand). The treaty signatories oppose oil work on tar sands for manifold reasons, including their degradation of the "the soil, the waters, the air, sacred sites, and our ways of life". In Article VI, the signatories
[A]gree to mutually and collectively, as sovereign nations, call upon the Canadian and United States governments to respect our decision to reject tar sands projects that impact our sacred sites and homelands; to call upon the Canadian and United States governments to immediately halt and deny approval for pending tar sands projects because they threaten the soil, water, air, sacred sites, and our ways of life; and, confirm that any such approval would violate our ancestral laws, rights and responsibilities.
Article VII then goes on to establish a mutual defense commitment of sorts, wherein the signatories
[A]gree to the mutual, collective, and lawful enforcement of our responsibilities to protect our lands, waters, and air by all means necessary, and if called on to do so, we will exercise our peace and friendship by lawfully defending one another’s lands, waters, air, and sacred sites from the threat of tar sands projects, provided that each signatory Indigenous Nation reserves and does not cede their rights to act independently as the tribal governments see fit to protect their respective tribal interests, further provided that each signatory Indigenous Nation reserves its inherent sovereign right to take whatever governmental action and strategy that its governing body sees fit to best protect and advance tribal interests affected by the pipeline project consistent with the agreements made herein and subject to the laws and available resources of each respective nation.
I find this treaty enormously interesting from a constitutional and international law perspective. Of course, the treaty implicates other issues as well -- environmental degradation, indigenous peoples' rights, Canadian law, etc., but I'm not enough of an expert to opine on such questions. Whatever its merits, though, I wonder what legal authority U.S. Native American tribes had to consent to conclude this treaty, let alone consent to be bound by it in the future (which the treaty says will occur via ratification by the "governing bodies of the signatory nations").