Canada | Environment | Opinion

Winona LaDuke: Taking treaty advice from indigenous nations

Tribal leaders attend the signing of the Buffalo Treaty on the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. Photo from Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council / Twitter

Activist Winona LaDuke, the executive director of Honor The Earth, calls on Canada to take advice from Native nations when it comes to making treaties:
This fall, three treaties were signed spanning massive geographic areas. The treaties exhibit diametrically opposed views of the direction of our societies and economies. Some may say that one view brings the economy and countries forward, the other backwards; but I have a feeling that not all are equal for the continent. And I think it’s time that Canada take some advice from Indigenous peoples.

The Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty was signed between eleven first nations, crossing an international border in the northern plains. The second treaty, between Canada and China, is essentially the Canadian version of the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement. A third treaty regarding the protection of the Salish Sea includes nine First Nations also straddling the U.S.-Canada border.

Signed September 23, the Buffalo treaty encompasses 6.3 million acres of land held by the Blackfeet Nation ( in the US and Canada), Blood Tribe, Siksika Nation, Piikani Nation, Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of Fort Belknap Reservation, the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck Reservation, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and the Tsuu T’ina Nation. Those first nations are largely in the Montana and Alberta region. These nations have come together to restore the buffalo, or “ iiniwaa” the Blackfeet word, to its natural territory.

In contrast, Canadian Premier Stephen Harper ratified an “Agreement Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the People's Republic of China for the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments” (known as “FIPPA” or the “Canadian/Chinese Treaty”). The Treaty went into effect on October 1 and will last for 31 years, until 2045. According to Canadian Newsweek, the Treaty, “allows China to challenge Canadian laws it deems harmful to Chinese assets, and only requires the lawsuit be made public once an award is issued by a tribunal.” Treaty law expert Gus Van Harten warns this could be problematic. “The (Canadian/Chinese) Treaty makes no limits on the damages that can be awarded”.

The Hupacasath First Nation filed an action in federal court last year seeking to enjoin the Canadian/Chinese Treaty, to no avail, but illustrating the concern.

Get the Story:
Winona LaDuke: Treaties of the New Millennium: Two Steps Forward, One Giant Step Back (Indian Country Today 10/28)

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Al Jazeera: Tribes working together to restore bison to their land (09/29)
Tribes from US and Canada sign historic treaty to protect bison (9/24)