Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is hosting the As Long as the Rivers Flow conference on Aboriginal rights and resource development in Fort McMurray at the end of this month. For those who are serious about the issues of Aboriginal rights, decolonization, and climate change, this conference is a big deal.
With a stacked line-up of big name guest speakers, organizers are hoping the conference will open “a conversation with Canadians about the current state of treaty relationships, and how we can move forward together, understanding our respective obligations.”
As Long as the Rivers Flow: Coming Back to the Treaty Relationship in Our Time, is organized by the ACFN and Toronto law firm Olthuis Kleer Townshend. The conference is set to “feature moral and political leaders and experts from various disciplines and backgrounds addressing the human and environmental impacts of energy development.” Civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been tapped as the keynote speaker.
The two-day event will also feature former Ontario premier Bob Rae, NWT premier Stephen Kakfwi, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Ovide Mercredi, former Syncrude president James Carter, Chief Allan Adam, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jody Williams, David Schindler, Winona LaDuke, and more. The Master of Ceremonies is none other than Former Chief and Elder François Paulette.
“I’m a strong advocate of treaty rights,” Paulette told me in a phone conversation earlier this week. Paulette was at the heart of a major court case in the early 1970s around treaty rights in NWT. Since then, he has travelled the world speaking about treaty and Indigenous rights, and been involved in many grassroots initiatives.
Francois Paulette is the Master of Ceremony at the ‘As Long as the Rivers Flow’ conference in Fort McMurray this weekend.
Paulette said that conferences like this one are “by far more important than getting Indigenous people together to exploit mother earth through businesses and industry having big events and ventures.”
“I know more people attend the big business, big industry conferences,” he said. “The people who really protect mother Earth and stick up for treaty rights, those are the ones who attend conferences like the one we’re going to have in Fort McMurray. You have someone with huge profile in the area of protecting Indigenous rights and peoples rights in South Africa, a man who is known for opposing apartheid travelling all the way to Fort McMurray to talk about treaties. People should be here.”
Of course, Paulette is speaking about the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the conference’s keynote speaker. The Archbishop has long been outspoken on climate issues, as well as Indigenous rights and Apartheid issues going back decades. In April 2013, Tutu wrote a piece for the Guardian in which he called on activists around the world to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.
“Twenty-five years ago people could be excused for not knowing much, or doing much, about climate change,” Tutu wrote. “Today we have no excuse.”
In his rousing call to arms, the Archbishop continues…
It is clear that those countries and companies primarily responsible for emitting carbon and accelerating climate change are not simply going to give up; they stand to make too much money. They need a whole lot of gentle persuasion from the likes of us. And it need not necessarily involve trading in our cars and buying bicycles!
We cannot necessarily bankrupt the fossil fuel industry. But we can take steps to reduce its political clout, and hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up the mess.
“We are proud to host a moral leader like Archbishop Tutu, who has done such important work for people in his own country,” ACFN Chief Allan Adam said in a statement about the conference. “We hope he can guide us to open a conversation with Canadians about the current state of treaty relationships, and how we can move forward together, understanding our respective obligations.”
“More business people should [attend conferences like these],” Paulette continued. “They need to hear why Indigenous people speak up about protecting mother Earth, and why you should not be polluting the rivers. Why you should not be polluting the air.”
“I’m a decolonizing Indian,” Paulette said. “I live in the bush. I don’t live in town, I don’t live in the city. I travel around, but I live at home, on the land. I’m a strong advocate of protecting mother earth. And I’m not afraid, I have no fear to speak up.”
“You either remain colonized,” Paulette said, concluding our conversation, “or you start to decolonize. Don’t sit on the fence. It’s as simple as that.”
Here is a video of Desmond Tutu speaking out against Climate Change, and urging a boycott of corporations that are contributing to Climate Change. What do you think of his controversial stance? Sound out in the comments below.
Sheldon Birnie grew up in Dawson Creek, BC, and received a bachelor of environmental studies from the University of Manitoba in 2011. He lives in Winnipeg, MB, where he is a freelance writer, and the editor of the Manitoba Eco-Journal.