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Pipelines, Protests & Perspectives: Can Domestic Energy Development be Reconciled with Internationally-Recognized Indigenous Human Rights?

Monday, 16 October, 2017

Join the School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law at noon on Monday, Oct. 16, in Scott Hall room 1166, for a talk by the CICL Distinguished International Speaker, Jim Grijalva titled, "Pipelines, Protests and Perspectives: Can Domestic Energy Development be Reconciled with Internationally-Recognized Indigenous Environmental Human Rights?"

Lunch will be served; please RSVP by emailing Ira H. Trako at

Last fall, the northern plains witnessed an unprecedented show of tribal solidarity when some 10,000 indigenous peoples and their allies assembled in North Dakota in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The tribe objected to the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline that would carry Bakken shale crude oil across the Missouri River just upstream of the tribe’s reservation. The appearance of indigenous environmental injustice there was reminiscent of the controversy a year earlier over the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline, proposed for transporting Alberta’s tar sands crude oil to U.S. refineries. Canadian First Nations, and their Indian relations in the United States, objected that tar sands mining caused extensive local environmental damage, as well as global impacts from increased greenhouse gas emissions, threatening the cultural survival of many Canadian indigenous peoples. 

Indigenous objections to energy development projects like these are manifestations of what the United Nations recognizes as a fundamental human right: the ability of indigenous peoples to maintain their spiritual and cultural traditions, and their connections to traditional lands and resources. Unfortunately, domestic law in most nation-states falls far short of ensuring protection where economic gains are at stake. The Supreme Courts of the United States and Canada express noble aspirations: the U.S. government possesses “moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust” toward Indian tribes, and “the honour of the Crown is always at stake” in the Canadian government’s dealings with aboriginal peoples. Yet, actions speak louder than words. Almost immediately after his inauguration, President Trump fast-tracked approval of both pipeline projects, with no mention of or apparent concern for moral obligation, honor or reconciliation with the nation’s indigenous citizens.