Free, prior, and informed consent: FPIC
The Global Issues Forum is organized by the StFX Development Studies department and is held every year on campus. The forum facilitates a space for the voices of students from different faculties alongside Coady students and community members in conversations about different global issues and steps towards improving and overcoming such issues.
This year the Global Issues Forum was held on Tuesday October 3rd at the Coady Institute. Here, members of the campus and wider Antigonish community gathered to educate themselves and have open discussions about the issues surrounding Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Specifically, conversations were centered around FPIC and its role in the consultation of Indigenous communities in relation to development projects on Indigenous land.
The notion of free, prior and informed consent or FPIC as it is often referred to, is focused on allowing indigenous communities the right to have fully informed and ongoing consent of development projects that are proposed on their lands. Conversations surrounding these projects should begin while projects are being imagined and indigenous peoples should be consulted before any process is made. The communities should have as much time as they need to approve or disapprove any project and should be subject to honest and thorough understandings of what the project entails and the ways in which it will impact their livelihoods now and into the future. As of right now, having this consent is not a part of Canadian law. Although companies and governments are required to have conversations with Indigenous communities and inform them of upcoming projects, the consent of these communities is not mandatory and their concerns and objections are continuously overlooked.
The conversation that ensued on Tuesday afternoon gave room for the discussion of these issues and a chance to have a deeper look at how FPIC, or lack thereof, has affected Nova Scotia Indigenous communities. For example, there are many Mik’maq and non-indigenous allies who are continuing to oppose the completion of the Alton Gas Project that has begun to take place near Stewiake, Nova Scotia. This project has proposed to create two salt caverns to store natural gas underground with the intention of creating over a dozen more. The creation of these caverns will result in large quantities of highly concentrated salt brine that the company plans to dump in the Subenacadie river located on Mik’maq territory. The pollution of this river would not only have a hugely negative environmental impact on the river and surrounding ecosystems, but would tarnish the community’s relationship with this body of water on which they depend.
Alton Gas LP and the Nova Scotia Government has failed to adequately consult the local Mik’maq people, which demonstrates the inadequacies of the process of consultation that is currently in place. The project also contributes to the use of fossil fuels at a time when we need to be moving away from these resources to prevent further climate change. The Alton Gas website outlines their continued conversations with the Mik’maq community yet they continue their project as planned despite continued rejection and protest on the community’s behalf.
Large scale companies as well as the Canadian Government have been continuing to build large environmentally-threatening projects on sacred land even when they are publicly protested by Indigenous groups. As long as we do not have a system in place that requires full and continued consent of said projects by Indigenous communities, these projects will continue to overpower those who are on the ground. As a country that claims a need for reconciliation and the continued support and rights of Indigenous peoples, federal legislation of this nature is completely contradictory.
The legacies of colonialism will continue to thrive if we simply allow our government to fund projects on sacred land without proper consent. We, as a country, have spent hundreds of years marginalizing and disempowering Indigenous groups, ignoring treaties, disregarding rights and taking land that does not belong to us. We cannot claim to be a country that is working towards re-empowering our Indigenous citizens if we are only doing so when it is beneficial to the settler groups. Indigenous land is sacred and Indigenous peoples can teach those of us from settler-descent a lot about how to live peacefully with, and respect the natural world that surrounds us. FPIC should be mandatory if we wish to be nation truly dedicated to reconciliation and environmental sustainability.