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Blocking pipelines, unsettling environmental justice: from rights of nature to responsibility to territory



Indigenous peoples are among the most affected by environmental injustices globally, however environmental justice theory has not yet meaningfully addressed decolonisation and the resistance of Indigenous communities against extractivism in the settler-colonial context. This paper suggests that informing environmental justice through decolonial analysis and decolonising practices can help transcend the Western ontological roots of environmental justice theories and inform a more radical and emancipatory environmental justice. The Unist’ot’en clan Resistance and Action Camp blocking pipelines in northwestern British Columbia, Canada, their “Reimagined Free Prior and Informed Consent protocol” and the Delgamuukw case are described to discuss limitations of the state and legal framework for accommodating a decolonial and transformative environmental justice. A decolonial analysis informed by these two moments of Wet’suwet’en history suggests limits and adaptations to the trivalent EJ framework based on recognition, participation and distribution. It is argued that a decolonising and transformative approach to environmental justice must be based on self-governing authority, relational ontologies of nature and epistemic justice and the unsettling of power through the assertion of responsibility and care through direct action. This discussion is placed in the context of the expansion of the concept of ecological rights, for example through the enshrining of the “Rights of Nature” in the constitutions of countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador, to highlight the Inherent tensions in the translation of Indigenous cosmo-visions into legal systems based on universalist values.
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Local Environment
The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability
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Blocking pipelines, unsettling environmental
justice: from rights of nature to responsibility to
Leah Temper
To cite this article: Leah Temper (2018): Blocking pipelines, unsettling environmental
justice: from rights of nature to responsibility to territory, Local Environment, DOI:
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Blocking pipelines, unsettling environmental justice: from rights
of nature to responsibility to territory
Leah Temper
Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada;
Universitat Autonoma de
Barcelona ICTA, Ballaterra, Spain
Indigenous peoples are among the most aected by environmental
injustices globally, however environmental justice theory has not yet
meaningfully addressed decolonisation and the resistance of Indigenous
communities against extractivism in the settler-colonial context. This
paper suggests that informing environmental justice through decolonial
analysis and decolonising practices can help transcend the Western
ontological roots of environmental justice theories and inform a more
radical and emancipatory environmental justice. The Unistoten
Resistance and Action Camp blocking pipelines in northwestern British
Columbia, Canada, their Reimagined Free Prior and Informed Consent
protocoland the Delgamuukw case are described to discuss limitations
of the state and legal framework for accommodating a decolonial and
transformative environmental justice. A decolonial analysis informed by
these two moments of Wetsewetten history suggests limits and
adaptations to the trivalent EJ framework based on recognition,
participation and distribution. It is argued that a decolonising and
transformative approach to environmental justice must be based on self-
governing authority, relational ontologies of nature and epistemic justice
and the unsettling of power through the assertion of responsibility and
care through direct action. This discussion is placed in the context of the
expansion of the concept of ecological rights, for example through the
enshrining of the Rights of Naturein the constitutions of countries
such as Bolivia and Ecuador, to highlight the Inherent tensions in the
translation of Indigenous cosmo-visions into legal systems based on
universalist values.
Received 10 October 2016
Accepted 4 October 2018
Resistance; epistemic justice;
decolonisation; climate
politics; relational ontologies;
fossil fuel infrastructure;
relational ontologies; fossil
fuel infrastructure
1. Introduction
The Wetsuweten First Nation territory spans for over 22,000 km in North-West British Columbia (BC),
Canada, and lies directly in the path of several proposed gas and oil pipelines. Since 2010, the Uni-
stoten clan, members of the Wetsuweten Nation, have been reoccupying and re-establishing them-
selves on their ancestral lands in opposition to these projects. They have set up a camp on the GPS
coordinates of the pipeline route as a way to impede the construction of any pipelines from crossing
their territory, which is occupied and un-ceded as the tribe has never signed a treaty with the Gov-
ernment of Canada.
This resistance is part of a long history of struggles for territorial self-determination. In 1984, the
Wetsuweten, together with the Gitksan, went to Court to assert their sovereignty, legal jurisdiction
and aboriginal rights over the 58,000 square kilometres of their combined territory in BC. The case
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Leah Temper
eventually made it to the Supreme Court of Canada (Delgamuukw v. British Columbia,1997) and was a
landmark in several respects. It established that the Tribes territorial sovereignty, pending proof of a
surrender, by treaty, is a legitimate and outstanding constitutional question that still remains to be
resolved by the Court. It was also signicant as the rst case that admitted oral histories as principal
These two moments can best be understood by drawing on Indigenous scholars of resurgence
theory such as Alfred (2005), Coulthard (2014) Simpson (2011), who view settler colonialism not as
a past historical event to be reconciled but as an ongoing structure of relations predicated upon
the elimination of Indigenous life and culture. They thus attack politics of recognitionand reconci-
liation as a remedy for colonial injustices and call for the revitalization of Indigenous values, practices
and relationships as pathways towards self-determination and decolonisation. In this paper I aim to
bring this literature into conversation with that on environmental justice, employing the struggle of
the Wetsuwetten tribe for self-determination and the transformative signicance of the Unistoten
camp resistance as an informative case to probe some of the limits of EJ and social justice theory for a
decolonial environmental justice. Through an analysis of the historical and current struggle of the
Wetsuweten I examine what happens when Western law clashes with Indigenous law and
cosmo-visions in the courtroom and in the territory and asks, what if environmental justice was to
take decolonisation seriously? In doing so, I aim to advance both multidimensional theories of
justice and the environmental justice literature.
The potentialities and the limits to decolonising environmental justice will be explored in this
article through ve moves. Following this rst introductory section, the second section discusses
methods and positionality, the third section reviews the literature on EJ and Indigenous peoples
and engages with Nancy Frasers trivalent theory of justice and her distinction between armative
and transformative remedies in conversation with other social justice theorists (Young 2011) and
gives some background on the Wetseweten and Indigenous territorial perspectives. The fourth
section introduces the two case studies, initially examining the deployment of spatial tactics,
direct action and performance in the Unistoten camp as an example that transcends a state-cen-
tered and rights-based approach and secondly, the legal battle for recognition of territorial authority
through the Delgamuukw court case as a means to trace the limits and potential of Western legal and
political institutions to meeting Indigenous demands.
In the discussion, I propose three dimensions that can inform a decolonising environmental
justice. I suggest that beyond distribution, participation and recognition, EJ must consider relational
ontologies of nature, self-governing authority, and epistemic justice. The ideas developed here con-
tribute to the thorny questions of overlapping sovereignties, as well as broader questions over how
relationships, ontologies and worldviews on nature can inform an ongoing transformation towards
ecological and environmental justice (Temper et al. 2018a).
2. Methods and positionality
This work is part of a long history of scholar-activism on environmental justice issues, which includes
the production of social justice documentary lms, the creation of an online global atlas document-
ing resistance struggles globally and other journalistic and academic work within a praxis that com-
bines engaged scholarship and activism. As an expatriate settler-Canadian, this project also
represented a re-encounter for me with my own role as a settler and a renewed engagement with
Indigenous solidarity work in Canada after many years living abroad, and thus entailed a process
of resettling and unsettlingmyself within a space of solidarity described by Tuck and Wang
(2012)asan uneasy, reserved and unsettled matter that neither reconciles present grievances nor
forecloses future conict.
Fieldwork at the camp was carried out in the summer of 2014 while lming a social justice docu-
mentary lm as a support and testimony for the camp. Five in-depth interviews were conducted with
camp members and Indigenous and settler activists at the camp. The resulting 20-minute lm,
Corridors of Resistance,
entailed minimal mediation so as to let the community speak for themselves.
It has been circulated, used at solidarity events and translated to Spanish. Publications, documents
and declarations from the camp were analysed, as well as documents and legal articles on the Del-
gamuukw case and this material and the interviews were later coded and analysed for key themes
and concepts including territory, justice, rights, and nature.
Protocols followed included the reclaimed free prior and informed consent protocol designed by
the Unistoten as described in section four. This entailed an iterative process of questioning inten-
tions, contributions and methods, repeated several times, rst by email, upon arrival at the camp,
and again during the process of drafting and reworking the text. The work has been further informed
by work on the decolonisation of methodologies (Smith 2013) and by guidelines for political rigour
and radical reexivity being developed by a collective of scholars within the auspices of the ACKnowl-
EJ (Activist Academic Co-Production of Knowledge for Environmental Justice) project (www. (Temper et al. 2018a). Drafts of this article were shared and discussed with the
camp members who provided critiques and feedback that were integrated into the text. This led
to further questions from the camp and a process of reexivity on the use of the work, intentions
behind it, the perceived audience and how it would benet their struggle. Beyond benet to the
camp, it is hoped that the documentation of this transformative praxis will serves to inform and
inspire other struggles and that this paper and accompanying video and materials can contribute
to networking and sharing knowledge between marginalised communities engaged in similar
battles for environmental and social justice.
3. Literature review
This work aims to disturb EJ literature by bringing it into conversation with epistemologies of the
south, Indigenous theorists and critical and Indigenous legal studies. Scholarship on environmental
justice has expanded from its initial U.S. roots and emphasis on the spatial distribution of toxics, to
increasingly recognise multiple spatialities and dimensions of environmental justice (Walker 2009;
Holield, Porter, and Walker 2009; Newell 2005).The literature has also expanded geographically
and thematically to examine a range of issues and justice claims within trans-national and interge-
nerational perspectives (Sikor and Newell 2014; Chatterton, Featherstone, and Routledge 2013;
Schlosberg 2013). However, we may explore whether environmental justice theories are able to
respond to the subordination of Indigenous normativities and whether they are compatible with a
decolonising politics of justice.
This is important because Indigenous communities are at the forefront of struggles against land
dispossession and environmental degradation globally. For example, in the Global Atlas of Environ-
mental Justice ( which documents 2500 cases of ecological conicts, Indigenous
populations are present in 40% of cases (Temper, del Bene, and Martinez-Alier 2015; Temper et al.
2018b). An emerging body of literature in EJ research grapples with the unique political and cultural
dynamics of Indigenous communities (Warner 2015. Whyte 2016; Westra 2012; Vermeylen and
Walker 2011) addressing issues such as collective claims to sovereignty; the need for new under-
standings of communal health and spiritual well-being related to the loss of sacred and cultural
resources (Ranco et al. 2011); and the need for a community-based, capabilities-centered conception
of environmental justice (Schlosberg and Carruthers 2010).
Scholars from a Latin American perspective have put forward the need for a decolonial environ-
mental justice, often focusing on the need for intercultural communication (Rodríguez and Inturias
2018, Escobar 2011), ontological politics (Blaser 2013; Escobar 2012) and the decolonisation of knowl-
edge and social relations. However, environmental justice literature in the Global North has engaged
less with the colonial and epistemic roots of injustices, with some exceptions (Keeling and Sandlos
2009; Whyte 2016). Whyte (2016, 192) for example, describes Indigenous environmental injustice
as occurring when one society robs another society of the institutional and ecological conditions
required for members of another society to experience the world in ways that motivate their
engagement in the operation of systems of responsibilities. He suggests that such an Indigenous
conception of EJ serves to suggest very dierent solutions for remedying environmental injustices
but does not clearly lay out what these are. This paper contributes to moving beyond colonial con-
structs in proposing remedies for environmental justice as experienced by Indigenous communities.
This paper thus explores the opportunities and limitations of environmental justice theories for
transformative politics and decolonising practice in the settler-colonial context. To do so we
engage with the trivalent framework of justice (distribution, recognition and participation) rst devel-
oped by Fraser (1995) and extended to EJ by Schlosberg (2007), which has become canonical in the
literature. It provides a useful framework for examining how these dimensions address or fail to
address the demands put forward by a decolonising environmental justice perspective and what
dimensions need to be included or adapted to lead to transformative change.
3.1. Beyond distribution, recognition and participation
Fraser (1995) initially put forward a bivalent theory of justice, pointing out that claims for recognition
of cultural dierence and group identity was supplanting class interest and calls for socio-economic
redistribution as the chief medium of political mobilisation. She argued that cultural domination and
material inequality should be seen as analytically distinct yet imbricated paradigms of injustice, with a
dialectical relationship between them. Later, Fraser (2008) acknowledged the inadequacy of the
binary recognition/distribution paradigm and added a third pillar –“representation, arguing that
representation-related injustices driven by political voice-lessness, were becoming increasingly
important in struggles for justice and democracy in a globalising world and represent, through par-
ticipation, the eld of action upon which the other claims play out on.
In Frasers view, the three types of injustices may be resolved in one of two ways: armatively or
transformatively. Transformative remedies are associated with correcting inequitable outcomes pre-
cisely by restructuring the underlying generative framework(Fraser 1995, 82), while armative
remedies try to reduce inequalities without challenging the underlying social relations.
For example, armative redistributive remedies correct income inequality by transferring material
resources to the maligned groups, for example through the social welfare state. However, these
remedies tend to leave intact the conditions, such as the capitalist mode of production, that were
responsible for generating income inequality in the rst place. In contrast, transformative redistribu-
tive remedies are aimed at eradicating the origins of economic injustice and eliminating the root
causes of economic inequality. They would include the transformation of basic economic structures
and reorganisation of the division of labour (Fraser 1995).
In terms of ecological distribution (Martinez-Alier et al. 2010), an EJ which aims for equal rights
and exposure to risk and pollutionsuch as the perspective advocated by the Environmental Protec-
tion Agency in the U.S. is armative because it fails to explicitly demand a radical improvement in
everyones treatment and to address the social, political, economic, and cultural forces that
produce environmental pollution (Pellow 2009). In contrast, the 17 principles of Environmental
Justice declared by the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit which
demands, among other things, the cessation of the production of all toxins, hazardous wastes,
and radioactive materials, and that all past and current producers be held strictly accountable to
the people for detoxication and the containment at the point of production( rep-
resents a transformative remedy.
Recognition is concerned with who is given respect and who is and is not valued, as well as ques-
tions such as Who has standing? On what concerns? What are the legitimation processes by which
social and symbolic meaning are attributed to these questions? What constitutes power, and what
are the contexts with respect to those with power and those without?(Agyeman et al. 2010, 8). Scho-
lars have often highlighted the importance of the recognition paradigm as a way to understand the
cultural impacts of Indigenous environmental injustices (McGregor in Agyeman et al. 2010; Figueroa
2005; Porto and Pacheco 2009). However, recognition as an EJ issue is complicated as there are a
range of claims regarding what should be recognised (Young 2011) as well as the contested meaning
of recognition itself in practice, and the need for subjective experience therefore in dening it (Kom-
pridis 2007).
Recognition can refer to the need for the injustice or form of violence itself to be recognised as
such, by both those who experience it, as well as by others (Young 2011). Claims for recognition
have also been made for territorial sovereignty, for ecological integrity (Pimentel, Westra, and
Noss 2000; Neimanis, Castleden, and Rainham 2012) and the recognition that all aspects of Creation
are interrelated(McGregor 2009, 36). While some argue for the need to extend recognition and par-
ticipation to nature itself (Schlosberg 2007), it has not been clearly delineated how this would operate
in practice and how liberal conceptions of justice can be transcended to incorporate such broader
understandings of recognition.
A major gap in EJ literature on recognition concerns dominant conceptions of knowledge. This
points to the absence of shared understandings of the grammar of justice (the what, who and
how) and acts as a fundamental impediment to operationalizing justice. This has been referred to
as epistemic justice”–which entails making visible and politically relevant ways of knowing that
have been marginalised as a result of the imposition of a dominant knowledge system over others
(Widenhorn 2013, 380).
Epistemic justice thus goes beyond procedural justice or participation as it entails dening the
concepts and problems themselves and reminds us that knowledge itself is not neutral or objective
but connected to power and must be seen through a historically distinct analysis to be understood.
For example, liberal notions of justice and the legal system, are founded on universal accessto
rights grounded in a western knowledge system based on objectiveknowledge. However, these
rights are linked to a specic understanding of the good life, freedom and happiness, and can
close oother understandings and related emancipatory possibilities.
The epistemic and ontological violence perpetrated against non-occidental cultures operates
such that even where the physical control of territories has ended, the cultural logic of colonialism
still operates, and silences other ways of doing, being and knowing (Mignolo 2007; Escobar 2016;
Maldonado-Torres 2007). Santos et al. (2007) call this the coloniality of knowledge: the hegemonic
conception of modern scientic knowledge. Epistemic justice thus takes two main forms: testimo-
nial and hermeneutical (Fricker 2007). Testimonial injustice occurs when a hearer discounts the
credibility of a persons testimony on account of their social identity. More relevant here is herme-
neutical injustice which arises when society lacks the interpretative resources to make sense of a
speakers experience, because that speaker has been marginalised in meaning-making activities.
As Vermeylen (2013) highlights, stories and narrative are dialectic processes, imparted in a
context of a transforming relationship between the elicitor and the narrator, the success of
which will depend on the hearers capacity and willingness to understand and respond to the val-
idity claims raised.
As regards recognition, Fraser (1995)associates armative remedies with mainstream multi-cul-
turalism [ ] which aims to redress disrespect while leaving intact both the contents of those iden-
tities and the group dierentiations that underlie them. In contrast she associates transformative
remedies with deconstruction and redressing disrespect by transforming the underlying cultural-
valuational structure. For example, she uses the example of queer politicsto explain how by desta-
bilising existing group identities and dierentiations, such as the homo/hetero binary, such remedies
not only raise the self-esteem of members of currently disrespected groups, they change everyones
sense of self.
Finally, for Fraser, the normative foundation of justice is participation equality. According to this
norm, justice requires a social arrangement that permit all (adult) members of society to interact
with one another as peers (Fraser 2000, 113). Fraser advocates for a politics aimed at overcoming
subordination by establishing the mis-recognized party as a full member of society, capable of parti-
cipating on a par with the rest. This entails representation so as to overcome barriers to political
Potentially more relevant to Indigenous peoples claiming sovereignty is what Fraser refers to mis-
framing, or meta-political injustice which result due to issues with the (geographical) scales which
delimit the bounds of justice and to the division of political space into bounded polities that are
drawn in such a way as to wrongly deny some people the chance to participate at all in its authorised
contests over justice(Fraser 2008, 408). Yet her focus here remains on the global poor and those who
are stateless. She does not address specically the case of those who oppression is tied to the exist-
ence of the state itself.
This brief review, by bringing EJ into conversation with Indigenous scholarship and perspectives
on nature and territory, suggests the need to revise several widely held tenets within environmental
justice theories and test their adequacy for settler-colonial contexts. The rst is that the rights para-
digm (and the legal arena) is the appropriate mechanism for seeking remedy for environmental
justice. Another is the assumption that a politics of recognition (directed towards the state) is a
necessary and sometimes sucient pre-condition to participatory and distributive environmental
injustice (Turner 2006; Whyte 2011). Third is the universalist assumptions that inform political philos-
ophy on environmental justice.
The following sections present the ontologies of nature and territory of the Wetseweten and their
engagements with the state and the legal regime to inform the discussion on how EJ can more mean-
ingfully address these issues.
3.2. Background visions of territory and governance of the Wetseweten
The Wetseweten are an Athapaskan culture related to inland Carrier groups, and the name Wetse-
weten (Witsuwiten) means the people of the lower drainagereferring to their occupation on the
tributaries of the Skeena River in the Bulkley Morice Watershed (Mills 1994, 37). The Wetsuweten
people are governed by two primary systems: a hereditary system (represented by the Oce of
the Wetsuweten) composed of ve clans: Gilseyhu (Big Frog), Laksilyu (Small Frog), Gitdumden
(Wolf/Bear), Laksamshu (Fireweed) and Tsayu (Beaver clan). As well as a band-level system which con-
sists of six bands (Moricetown Band, Burns Lake Band, Hagwilget Village Council, Nee Thai Buhn Band,
Skin Tyee Nation, and Wetsuweten First Nation). The Unistoten are members of the Gilseyhu (Big
Frog Clan) and Moricetown band.
The Wetsuweten are a matrilineal society whereby clans are further divided into kin-based groups
known as Yikhs, often referred to as house groups, which function autonomously and have jurisdic-
tion over their house territory. For the Wetsuweten, this jurisdiction is considered a responsibility
rather than a right, with the hereditary chiefs entrusted with stewarding and caretaking the territory
to ensure it will continue to produce game, sh, berries, and medicines to support the subsistence,
trade, and customary needs of house members (Mills 1994). The responsibilities of the chief to
manage and harvest resources are validated through the feast system, the central governance insti-
tution of the Wetsuweten (Mills 1994). It is in the feast that people are given their titles, their robes
and their crests and the authority over the territory associated with those titles.
Similar to many First Nations in BC, the Wetsuweten have never signed a treaty with Canada and
this means their territory remains unceded. In the Royal Proclamation of 1763, King George III
declared that title to Indian territory was not to be considered extinguished or transferred merely
by conquest or occupation but only through voluntary cession. This Proclamation retains the
status of constitutional law in Canada and means that the land title question for First Nations in
BC remains to be settled.
However, the territorial question brings to the fore the profound dierence in vision between Indi-
genous territorial relations and state forms of property (Thom 2014). Indigenous notions of territori-
ality unsettle the concept of territory in geography, which has recently been a focus of analysis
(Painter 2010) and has been conceptualised as a political technologyfor the occupation and
control of space and exercise of state power (Elden 2010). Such a conception does not account for
the diversity of Indigenous relationships between people and place. The disruption of Indigenous
relationships to land and the epistemic, ontological, cosmological violencecontinually re-asserted
through colonisation as land is remade into property (Tuck and Wang 2012, 5) is the cornerstone of
the ongoing processes and structure of settler-colonialism.
Conversely, decolonisation entails the reclamation of such relationships and the actual repatria-
tion/unsettling of land. As Simpson (2014) asserts for the Mohawk Their own object was and is ter-
ritory in a material sense, their land but also ideas, the past, the present, the future, their
membership within the polity itself. Similarly, political ecologists in Latin America describe how
the territorial questionis being debated and inscribed in a tense political process as the confronta-
tion of power strategies for the appropriation of nature
(Porto-Gonçalves 2004). They point to how
cultural rights guide these processes of re-territorialisation, leading to new material and symbolic
forms of appropriation of nature and new meanings that stem from the local cosmogonies and
socio-economic practices. Under this light, the territory is redened as the summa of nature/
culture power relations. Such contrasting ontological understandings of territory raise considerable
challenges on how territorial jurisdiction with the state can be negotiated, without abstracting and
articulating Indigenous perspectives in a way that erases them, as we shall address in the next
4. The politics of Indigenous pipeline resistance
4.1. The Unistoten checkpoint
We will not remove our Gateway (not a blockade). A gateway into understanding truth and meaningful decolo-
nization. (Unistoten Camp)
The rst confrontation of the Unistoten Clan with the Pacic Trails Pipeline (PTP) natural gas pipeline
dates from November 2011 when camp members escorted drillers and other PTP employees otheir
territories. Hereditary Chief Toghestiy again evicted surveyors from their territory on 20 November
2012, by presenting them with an eagle feather, the rst and only traditional notice of trespass.
The surveyors were ordered to leave the territory and the road entering into the territory was
closed to all industry activities.
On 27 November 2012, solidarity protests for the camp and against fracking were held in 13 cities,
from California to Toronto and across BC, and representatives of the Wetsuweten delivered eviction
notices to Apache Oil and Enbridge stating that the companies
are not permitted onto unceded lands of the Wetsuweten; are not permitted to place their greed ahead of Indi-
genous self-determination; are not permitted to destroy and exploit the lands; are not permitted to disregard the
safety and health of communities;[and] are not permitted to disregard [our] Law! (Statement from Laura Holland
Freda Huson, spokeswoman for the clan, had written a letter to the illegitimate colonial governments
of Canada and BC, and to all parties involved in the proposed PTP project that stated
This letter is to issue a warning of trespass to those companies associated with the PTP industrial extraction
project and against any aliates and contractors infringing upon traditional Wetsuweten territory any
further incursion into their territory [will be interpreted] as an act of aggression against their sovereignty and
that violators will be held accountable.
Following this, the rst cabin of the camp, home of Freda Huson, a member of the Unistoten house
of the Gilseyhu, (Big Frog) clan, and her husband Toghestiy, of the nearby Likhtsamisyu (Fireweed)
clan, was built directly on the GPS coordinates of the proposed route of the PTP, which they refer to as
the trailblazer of the prospective energy corridor.
The struggle of the Unistoten must be seen in a broader context of politics of resistance against
pipeline projects in Canada and in BC led by First Nations (Scott 2013; McCreary and Milligan 2014).
The Unistoten are one node in a networked resistance movement opposing these pipelines, petro-
infrastructure and fossil capitalismin Canada composed of environmental organisations, aected
citizens and First Nations (Scott 2013). These struggles, fought on many fronts, including in the courts,
through legislative means, in the streets and on the land, are claiming victories. The most recent
being the cancellation of the Enbridge pipeline after the courts ruled that the government failed
in upholding its constitutional duty to consult First Nations who would be aected by the pipeline.
Considerable geo-political stakes and multi-billion dollar investments are at play here, as pipeline
infrastructure is key to Canadian Government and industry plans to unlock the vast energy resources
in the Alberta tar sands and the fracking elds in North Eastern BC and deliver them to global markets
through ports in Kitimat and Prince Rupert on BCs West coast. This is part of plans on the part of the
province of BC to become a major exporter of shale gas from Hydraulic Fracturing elds in the Horn
area of BC through a liquied natural gas (LNG) economic strategy estimated to be worth some
U.S.$78 billion. On the line are billions of dollars and 19 LNG projects, including ve natural gas pipe-
lines, and three LNG facilities planned to be in operation by 2020. These projects make up what has
been termed a planned energy corridor, designed ultimately to unlock the tar sands and allow them
to be marketed globally without rst passing through the U.S. (McCreary and Milligan 2014).
While the Enbridge oil pipeline has generated heated opposition from many of the 50 Indigenous
territories whose lands it would cross, opposition to naturalgas pipelines has generally been more
muted. This may be partly because their concerns regarding the distribution of risk have been
assuaged as many communities are told that in case of a spill the gas would simply evaporate. In con-
trast, the position of the Unistoten camp is counter to a NIMBY approach that transcends concerns
for distributive impacts on their territory alone (Neville and Weinthal 2016). According to them, their
resistance is in solidarity with communities in the North-East of the province where the extraction
would take place, coastal communities impacted by export terminals, as well as communities from
the tar sands, as well as other marginalised communities impacted by climate change. Further,
they see the defense of territory within a broader process of healing the trauma of colonisation
for Indigenous peoples within Canada and within a broader global perspective, as described
further in Section 5. This positioning and their complete opposition to all pipelines existing, pro-
posed or approved to expand means the camp has wide support, and has become a symbol
against extractivism (Acosta 2013).
The camps presence seems to have contributed to several signicant victories in terms of dis-
couraging investment with up to ve of seven proposed pipeline projects being cancelled or on
hold as of October 2017. The PTP project was initially shared by EOG Resources, Encana Corp., and
majority owner Apache corp. of Houston, Texas. In 2013, EOG and Encana sold their shares in the
project to Chevron Canada, a subsidiary of Chevron Corporation, which moved into a 50% ownership
position along with Apache. In 2014, Apache also pulled out and PTP is currently on hold as Chevron
does not have a new partner and the project does not have Asian buyers lined up. This recent with-
drawal of Apache was heralded as their victory on the Unistoten website, feting that all of the orig-
inal investors (Encana, EOG and now Apache) have now bailed on the project. Several competing
projects are still in the pipelineand trying to gain access to the territory foremost among
these is Coastal Gaslink, a 650 km natural gas pipeline that TransCanada is building connected to
the CA$12 billion LNG Canadaterminal in Kitimat, in parntnership with Shell, PetroChina, Korea
Gas and Mitsubishi.
4.2. Reimagined free prior and informed consent
The checkpoint in the Unistoten camp is controlled via a wooden bridge across the Wedzin Kwah
(Morice River), 66 kilometres up a logging road from Houston, BC. This river serves as a border
between Canada and the traditional territory of the Unistoten. The blockade is marked by a large,
painted-plywood sign that reads STOP. No access without prior consent.
To cross the bridge and enter the camp, every person who enters must go through a Reimagined
Free Prior and Informed Consent (RFPIC)protocol that has been established by the Unistoten camp
collective. According to the Unistoten website
In ancient times and even today in community resistance building gatherings, there exists Protocols where vis-
iting peoples have shown who they are in relation to asking permission to enter the Traditional Lands from the
Traditional Chiefs and Matriarchs of the hosting lands. (Unistoten ND)
The protocol entails ve questions that are sent to visitors when they give advance notice of their
(1) Who are you?
(2) Where are you from?
(3) What is your purpose in coming here?
(4) Do you work for Industry or Government that is destroying our lands.
(5) How will your visit benet the Unistoten people?
According to the camp members, the RFPIC should be seen as an act of reclamation of the FPIC
process that has been taken strangle hold by the Corporations, NGOs, Governments and other
Colonial Bodies(Unistoten ND). This is because FPIC is increasingly used as a mechanism to facilitate
and legitimate development projects where the Cin FPIC is increasingly redened as consultation,
precisely because the principle of consent, if taken seriously, does imply the right to say noand the
power to veto(Franco 2014). Counter to this appropriation, the Unistoten claim that it is not a new
process but based on Traditional Laws that were asserted via protocols like this on the lands for thou-
sands of years.
The Wetsuweten also had to present themselves as such when travelling to neighbouring peopleslands to
conduct trade, protocols, build and maintain peace, assist with alliesbattles, and attain resources or trade
work. Visiting nations would be required to dance their stories to show to the host nations that they truly are
who they say they are (as the dance would have been seen through historical trade relations). (Unistoten ND)
In this way, the RFPIC is a living breathing (re)assertion of the Traditional Laws of the Wetsuweten.
According to their website (Unistoten ND):
Free Prior and Informed Consent is not gone, lost or eroded. It has been asleep. The knowledge of conducting
them is still active. It must be asserted by the Indigenous Peoplesof these lands. It is not a mere document at
the UN oce awaiting to be implemented by statism. It is living breathing protocols that must be asserted by
peoples who live othe land, connecting to the spirit of the ancestors and upholding Natural Laws.
The RFPIC protocol is part of a long history of land defence through physical means, through the use
of checkpoints and controls, which has been a feature of cultural norms and values for First Nations in
Canada for a long time (Borrows 2005). The checkpoint or blockade is a spatial tactic of direct action
resistance, that is both instrumental as well as symbolic. Instrumentally, The blockade is used to
regulate movement where movement itself is in dispute.Blockade is frequently seen as a means of
physically halting the massive and unsustainable out-movement of capital and commodities from
traditional territories(Blomley 1996, 14). Blockades are particularly eective in this regard in
Canada (Wilkes, Corrigall-Brown, and Myers 2010) due to the particular geography of colonisation
in Canada, whereby its low-density population and rugged terrain mean that pockets of unprocessed
resources such as timber or metals are hauled out long distances over few transport connections
(Blomley 1996). First Nations territories maintain privileged access to these arteries of economic
ows and exercise incredible leverage to put at risk the critical infrastructurethat transports
natural resources and manufactured goods from mines, oil elds, hydro-electric facilities and factories
to international markets (Pasternak and Dafnos 2018). The assertion of territorial control that disrupts
capitalist extractivist activities should also be seen as a struggle against the extractivist model itself.
Blomley (14) argues, that blocking the ow of resources is what invests the blockade with its tre-
mendous strategic power and that the blockade also holds a symbolic eect to the extent that it
marks out two spaces …” (mapping) out a boundary and, in so doing, distinguishes an Indian
space from a Euro-Canadianspace. This demarcation is an act of deance, yet beyond the
disruption of the ows of capitalism and the denial of the movement of resources out of the territory,
the blockade can (temporarily in most cases but in some cases for extended periods) create a space
for the control and practice of Indigenous economic and political authority in the face of the cultural
and economic dislocation forced upon them. In the case of the Unistoten it has enabled the creation
of a safe haven(Anguelovski 2013) where they may enact their shared aspirations and identity, and
assert their sovereignty over their lands.
The process of RFPIC as enacted in the camp should also be considered what Kennedy (2002), a
legal scholar critical of rights-based approaches, has described as the disruption of the oppressive
exercise of legal power through engaging in a series of small scale, ad hoc transgressive perform-
ances, in an attempt to subvert or dismantle existing social structures (Kennedy 2002). This form
of tactical guerrilla warfareat the same time opens pathways to Indigenous armation and
self-recognition. It forecloses the continual expansion of state authority to designate specically
bounded forms of Indigeneity, opening up new Indigenous ways of becoming.
Moreover, the assertion of unilateral sovereignty that the RFPIC entails redraws the frames of rep-
resentation in this case shifting the whois granting recognition/access to the territory and acting
as a sovereign. By establishing consensual relations on their own terms, the RFPIC stakes out a space
for political sovereignty dened by their own legal interpretations and authority. This process of
assertion of sovereignty thus oers a more transformative remedy to the marginalisation of Indigen-
ous peoples and perspectives than the participatory parity oered by Fraser. We return to this in the
Finally, the RFPIC questions the ontology of what consent is and posits it as a process that each
community must construct. In this way, they address the procedural questions of justice what
consent is and what it means and the need for the community itself to dene consent.
4.3. Delgamuukw and the legal approach
We are not interested in asserting aboriginal rights. We are here to discuss territory and authority. When this case
ends and the package has been unwrapped, it will have to be our ownership and our jurisdiction under our law
that is on the table. (Delgam Uukw)
The resistance of the Unistoten needs to be seen within a long history of creative resistance of the
Wetsuweten against colonialism. Along with the Gitxsan First Nation they blockaded logging in their
traditional territory in the late 1980s, an action which culminated in the groundbreaking Delga-
muukw court case whereby in 1984, the Gitksan-Wetsuweten went to Court to assert their sover-
eignty, legal jurisdiction and aboriginal rights over some 58,000 square kilometres of their territory
in BC (Borrows 1999).
In Delgamuukw, the Gitxsan and Wetsuweten demanded recognition of their unextinguished jur-
isdiction over the land. This claim was based on the fact that they had never signed any land treaties
with the governments of Canada and therefore that they had never ceded title to their traditional
territories as per the Royal Proclamation of 1763.
In the absence of a ratied treaty and having
never been conquered in war, the Gitxsan and Wetsuweten thus retained title and jurisdiction
over their land, according to Canadian law.
Begun in 1984, the case rst went before the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 1987 (Del-
gamuukw v. British Columbia 1991), where it was dismissed by Chief Justice Allan McEachern in
1991. The ruling was then appealed in the British Columbia Court of Appeal (Delgamuukw v.
British Columbia 1993) and eventually went to the Supreme Court of Canada (Delgamuukw v.
British Columbia 1997). The nal decision was handed down by Supreme Court Chief Justice
Antonio Lamer in 1997 and is considered a landmark ruling for Indigenous land claims. Despite
its very qualied armation and diverging views on what was accomplished (Borrows 1999; Paster-
nak 2014; Napoleon 2005), it established that the Tribes territorial sovereignty, pending proof of
surrender, by treaty, is a legitimate and outstanding constitutional question that still remains to
be resolved by the court.
Perhaps the most signicant outcome of the case was that after initial objections, the Gitksan and
Wetsuweten were able to use their oral histories as principal evidence in the case. In order to demon-
strate their long-time use, occupation, possession and administrationof the contested land, they
relied on tremendous quantities of intensely detailed evidence of their languages, genealogies,
customs and oral histories, which demonstrated their deep and enduring social, cultural and histori-
cal connections to their territory (Daly 2007; Vermeylen 2013).
In the case of the Wetsuweten, the oral history is transmitted through the Kungax, a spiritual
song or dance or performance where the recital[s] of the most important laws, history, traditions
and traditional territory of a House is repeated, performed and authenticated at important
feasts. In the case of the Gitxsan, it is through the adaawk. It was in the feast hall where for millennia
they would tell and retell their stories, pass on important histories, songs, crests, lands, ranks, and
properties from one generation to the next, and identify their territories to remind themselves of
the sacred connection that they have with their lands (Napoleon 2013; Borrows 1999).
Richard Overstall (2004) explains how in the case of the Gitsxan, these histories serve as an
embedded law that evolved as the result of people observing the consequences of their behaviour
over time. Behaviour that was disrespectful of spirits, animals, and the others, and the consequences
of it were recorded in adaawk, especially if the behaviour alters a lineages relationship with its ter-
ritory. The adaawk thus served as legal precedents to inform later conduct.
The plaintis argued that understanding the Gitxsan and Wetsuweten argument for jurisdiction
requires an understanding of their culturesviews of the world through these oral histories. While
property does exist in Gitxsan and Wetsuweten culture, it is expressed in terms that may be lost
in translation for an observer not intimate with the territory. These histories lay out a series of relation-
ships with the territory, rather that one of simple ownership as understood by Western property
rights. Aboriginal property rights concern use, not exploitation or extraction (Mills 2010). As she
explains: The Witsuwiten believe that people may kill the animals as long as they treat them with
respect. If they do not, the animals will not reincarnate or allow people to take them(Mills 1994,
157). Laws laid down in the Kungax and the Adaawk also record when houses can pick berries,
sh, among others. (Morden 2015)
By creating a space within the courtroom where Indigenous narratives were able to gain equal
legitimacy to settler narratives, through the use of their traditional spellings, regalia and songs, the
Delgamuukw trial served to deconstruct the courtroom in a performative way, recreating and redraw-
ing the boundaries of the colonial system that is the courtroom (Napoleon 2013; Borrows 1999). While
on one hand, the Delgamuukw trial served as a transformative vehicle for cultural politics and opened
up a space for decolonising practices (Mills 1994). On the other, it also revealed some of the limit-
ations of the formal justice system as regards the recognition of Indigenous sovereignty as well as
the recognition of a relational ontology with nature as the next section argues.
5. Discussion unsettling environmental justice
This paper aims to contribute to a disturbance of Western ontologies and epistemologies of Environ-
mental Justice. While the theories of EJ proposed by Schlosberg and Fraser have made tremendous
contributions towards a more pluralist understanding of justice; such frameworks in their attempt to
be inclusive and universal can also lead to foreclosing other understandings of what justice is, who
the subjects of justice should be and how it should be delivered.
A decolonial analysis informed by the two moments of Wetsewetten history explored here
suggest limits and adaptations to the trivalent framework based on recognition, participation and dis-
tribution. I propose three pillars of a de-colonial environmental justice. I argue that rather than simply
participation, justice must include self-governing authority; that rather than distribution (of nature),
environmental justice calls for breaking down the dualism between humans and nature, and beyond
recognition, what is needed is epistemic justice and self-armation. I question the capacity of the
state and legal framework for accommodating such a decolonial and transformative environmental
justice and instead propose that direct action, and assertion of responsibility and care may serve as
more eective tools of resistance.
These insights are not only relevant for an environmental justice that takes decolonisation and the
claims of Indigenous peoples seriously but can also contribute towards a more radical and potentially
emancipatory environmental justice that can inform struggles, help hone tools of resistance and
transformatively rethink humannature relationships (Temper 2017).
5.1. Beyond participation self-governing authority
The standard narrative in EJ is that justice requires fair and meaningful participation by those
aected. For Fraser (2008) this entails the need for participatory parity”–which entails inclusion
of all subjects of justiceunderstood as those jointly subjected to a structure of governance,
which sets the ground rules that govern their interaction (Fraser 2008, 65).
Participatory parity therefore primarily concerns itself with how to build inclusion within exist-
ing governance structures. Frasers theory contains important elements of reexive openness
which allows discussion around who the subjects of justice are in each context. However the fra-
mework is still rooted in Western thought and experience and is designed to deal primarily with
claims of exclusion those where the denial of participation is the main complaint. It is a less
appropriate t for the settler-colonial context, whereby the problem is precisely that Indigenous
peoples have to address their claims within a sovereignty they do not recognise. Rather than
participation, what they are seeking is political and social exemption. They are not seeking par-
ticipation but recognition of their sovereignty and their self-governing authority. Westra (1999)
illustrates this by pointing to the distinction between black communities in the U.S. who
demanded an end to segregation as a result of being forcibly excluded from society to be
treated as equals and aboriginal peoples in Canada who have been forcibly included and
assimilated into society through discriminatory laws. In this case, she argues, granting rights is
not only insucient, but simply wrong.
The limits to participatory parity are well demonstrated by the Delgamuukw case where the state
framework was unable to provide a mechanism for resolving the demand for Indigenous self-deter-
mination. As Coulthard (2014, 36) argues, the settler state does not constitute a legitimate framework
within which Indigenous peoples may be more justly included. Instead, the Delgamuukw case
brought into question the courts very authority. Borrows (1999) refers to this as Sovereigntys
Alchemy, asking What alchemy transmutes the basis of Aboriginal possession into the golden
bedrock of Crown title?(558), referring to the fact that the underlying injustice is the assumption
of the sovereign power as the foundation of the legal order itself (Muldoon 2008). As Coulthard
(2014, 36) argues; participation within the Canadian legal system leaves intact two primary features
of colonial domination that Indigenous assertions of nationhood call into question: the legitimacy of
the settler states claim to sovereignty over their territories and the normative status of the state-form
as an appropriate mode of governance on the other.
Instead of participation and inclusion, justice for occupied and Indigenous peoples calls for inter-
rogating the mapping of political space and inclusion within the frame of the territorial state itself.
The terms of participation, and the subjects of justice are mis-framed. This implies the need to deco-
lonise law and to deconstruct the states grounds to inaugurate law on lands acquired through colo-
nial settlement (Pasternak 2014). It also calls for decolonising participatory parity, which entails
reframing and questioning the authority of the state itself as the governance framework and
looking beyond standard liberal frames of justice to acknowledge that the existing international
system of nation-states cannot meet Indigenous demands for self-determination, and that a commit-
ment to justice for Indigenous peoples may entail calling those state-systems into question (Young
2000). Because the state is often the key actor pushing extractive projects, decentring the state and
envisioning governance beyond its connes is an important contribution from Indigenous thought
that can productively unsettle EJ.
5.2. Beyond distribution destabilisation of the human/nature dualism
Environmental justice from the outset was concerned with the distribution of environmental
resources and burdens. This perspective relies on a conception of nature as a passive object that
can be more justly and equitatively distributed among human populations through dierent prop-
erty rights, allocations, etc. Such a perspective on distribution is incompatible with Indigenous con-
ceptions of nature and on human-ecological relationships that call into question the view of the
environment as a commodity that can be owned or traded.
The Wetsuweten and Gitxsan cosmology views humans as being fundamentally interconnected
with their ecology. The plaintis, Gisday Wa and Delgam Uukw, describe in their opening address a
view that understands the world to be a dierentiated unity, of which humans are only one part.
There is no strict human/nature dualism in this view (Wa and Uukw 1992). They wrote:
The Western world-view sees the essential and primary interactions as being those between human beings. To
the Gitksan and Wetsuweten, human beings are part of an interacting continuum, which includes animals and
spirits. Animals and sh are viewed as members of societies, which have intelligence and power, and can
inuence the course of events in terms of their interrelationship with human beings.
This relational perspective on nature sees human and non-human living beings as well as inanimate
objects, within a matrix of relations, backward and forward in time, laterally in the present(Kneen
2015, 33). A relational ontology, summed up by the Indigenous prayer phrase All my relationsrestores
agency and subjectivity to nature. In Indigenous legal tradition it is often expressed as natural law:
laws that are in keeping with the laws of the natural world (Westra 2012). According to natural law,
relationships with nature are what dene ones responsibilities to them. Thus instead of distribution
of nature, the emphasis is on mutual relations based on reciprocity and care.
Such an understanding of nature is extremely dicult to integrate into Western legal institutions
charged with delivering environmental justice. The natural law of Indigenous legal tradition, as well
as Western law, are both based on a worldview and an understanding of how humans are (e.g. indi-
vidual, competitive, communal, etc.) and how they relate to the larger world, as well as to non-human
life forms (Napoleon 2013). The testimony of Delga Uukw and Nisgay Wa Uukw in the Delgamuukw
case aimed to unsettle the Western idea of ownership and jurisdiction over land and resources (Bryan
2000) and demanded a destabilising of the nature/culture binary that Western law is built on. This
destabilisation ts closely to the deconstructive cultural politics as described by Fraser (1995). It con-
tributed to transforming the underlying cultural-valuational structure by destabilising identities and
our own understanding of what it means to be human.
However, the court was not able to recognize nature and the Otherin the relational perspective
that the plaintis asked underscoring how the legal liberal tradition is unable to recognise Indigenous
relationship to land and nature other than through its own conceptions. This point is underlined by
Indigenous legal scholar Val Napoleon (2005) who explains that
The Court was not able to hear or accept the adaawk as presented a legal and political institution rather than a
simple cultural artefact or chronological history record. The forms of expression, symbolism, and inter-connec-
tions between the worlds of spirits, humans, and animals proved to be beyond the grasp of the trial judge.
Yet, beyond this, it may call into question western notions of property and distribution altogether. As
Smith (2011,6162) argues, Indigenous peoples are forced to argue in courts that it is theirland.
What they cannot question within this system is the presumed relationship between peoples and
land. That is, should land be a commodity to be controlled and owned by peoples?
5.3. Epistemic justice
Epistemic justice entails overcoming barriers for alternative forms of being and seeing the world to be
recognised as valid and valuable knowledge and includes the even greater challenge of translating
this into real policy and practice and social justice.
For example, relational ontologies and a destabilisation and reconceptualisation of the nature-
culture binary (Plumwood 2004) are increasingly nding a place in initiatives to imbue Mother
Nature with rights such as in the Bolivian and Ecuadorean constitutions. Yet there remain consider-
able challenges in theory, policy and law to dissolving this ontological divide
and numerous ten-
sions emerge in the translation of Indigenous ethics of care into legal and policy frameworks, as
several authors have documented in the case of rights of nature (Arsel 2012; Fish 2013).
The integration of Indigenous philosophies into hegemonic institutions can often lead to distor-
tion, erasure and co-optation, a new form of epistemic extractivism and violence. For example,
Widenhorn (2013) examined the mobilisation of diverse actors of the concept of Buen Vivir,
nding that the political act of translation served to transform buen vivir into an object of knowledge
detached from the knowledge holder. Through this, the inherently relational character of Andean
cosmovision was lost whereas modern rationality was rearmed. She points to the gap between
concept and reality and the tension between the need to make marginalised knowledges politically
relevant, and the danger of erasing, co-opting and distorting these knowledge systems through the
very act of doing so.
On the other hand, Valladares and Boelens (2017) explore the rights of nature discourse as an
epistemic pactthat can serve as a tool for re-politicizing the environmental debate by challenging
the dominant mono-cultural, functionalist and extractivist notion of nature, dened by capitalism and
science. They suggest that the political radicalism implied by this act of intercultural translation can
lead to the creation of new alliances for territorial defense.
This leads to the question of how the recognition and participation of nature that some scholars
(Nussbaum 1997; Schlosberg 2007) have been claiming for can be done in an epistemically just way?
Can public policy translateconcepts such as rights of nature, Indigenous self-determination,
responsibility, into real justice? What are the limitations for these claims as tools of resistance and
how can epistemic justice be enacted by those claiming it?
These questions would require more space to treat in depth, yet the case study suggests that
moving towards epistemic justice requires on one hand, the opening up of concepts of nature
and meaningful intercultural communication. The challenge for transformative epistemic justice
here is not in translating Indigenous concepts into terms comprehensible to liberal legal traditions
but rather further developing through education, intercultural communication and listening, the
interpretative hermeneuticalresources to make sense of Indigenous experience and perspectives.
From here may emerge the possibility to transcend colonial and liberal constructs and open other
worlds and other relationships with land, territory and nature.
The Unistoten enactment of epistemic justice rests on questioning the knowledge structures
through which decisions are made themselves; and creating and asserting their own processes
and practices relying on their own knowledge, language and ways of seeing and being the world.
This includes both politics of refusal (Simpson 2014) as well as healing and sharing to transform
the capacity of others to hear. Most importantly beyond discourse it involves action and lived
5.4. Beyond recognition: rights v. geographies of responsibility
These are not resources these are life-forms that we have access to. Our laws are our responsibilities. The way we
harvest salmon is our living law. (Unistoten Camp)
The Unistoten checkpoint demonstrates a very dierent approach to the politics of recognition.
Instead of appealing outwards, its aim is to create a space for what Coulthard (2014) refers to as self-
recognitionand Indigenous re-armation. In this newly reclaimed space, the Unistoten camp
members have been able to assert their own legal understandings, and to live their concept of
justice through practice, through enactment and through antagonistic politics that disrupt the econ-
omic and social logic and production of settler-colonial power.
The Unistoten camp members reject a rights-based discourse that can only be accorded to them
by what they perceive as an occupying power, and actively assert their responsibilities to the territory
and their ancestral and natural law. According to the camp members, as warriors, they hold a sacred
responsibility for all life in their territories. This is based on the concept of stewardship, whereby the
warriors are managing the land because of their dependency on it, because of its intrinsic value as
well as on behalf of the unborn future generations. Rather than speak about rightsto sh they
refuse to let their responsibility to the river to be diminished.
This assertion of responsibility through active presence is premised on self-actualisation, direct
action and the resurgence of cultural practices through antagonistic politics. Environmental justice
has always been about resistance, about continual repolitisation of the environment, of redening
and expanding the concept of nature, and about reconnecting to place and territory. The space
created by resistance camps such as the Unistoten camp becomes a fervent space for transforming
the collective imaginary and the hermeneutical capacity of the many visitors.
6. Conclusion
This paper has drawn from the Delgamuukw case and the Unistoten camp to challenge hegemonic
theories of environmental justice and propose ones that can be mobilised for decolonisation prac-
tices. Through examination of the Delgamuukw case, the possibilities and limits to recognition
through the mechanisms of the state, as previously laid out by Indigenous scholars (Muldoon
2005; Borrows 1999; Coulthard 2014) were discussed in the light of EJ. In this paper a proposal for
a decolonising Environmental Justice in the settler-colonial context was put forward, based on the
pillars of self-governing authority, the undoing of the ontology of land as property, and epistemic
You may justly ask, as a white settler on stolen land, who are you to write about this? Or to return to the fth
question of the protocol how will my visit and this work benet the Unistoten? As a non-indigenous researcher,
can this work contribute to actual and meaningful decolonization?
The honest and somewhat uncomfortable answer is perhaps not much or not directly. Beyond the
theoretical, this paper argues for the need for direct action and endeavours to prompt readers to take
action. Camp members say that the camp is not a blockade, but instead a gateway to understanding
truth and meaningful decolonisation. This work aims to reect my own journey through this gateway
and my personal transformation, and the continuing unlearning and undoing of my own settler-colo-
nial mentality. At the Unistoten camp, I became more conscious of my own accountability as a settler
and cognizant of concrete actions I could take in solidarity and support of the political goal of deco-
lonisation. On the Wedzin Kwa with the Unistoten and their supporters, decolonisation moved from
the theoretical to a lived reality that appeared possible to achieve and actionable in the present. My
aim in this paper is to contribute to building this imaginary. Decolonisation calls for an abolition of
property relations as we know them and a renewal of our relationship with nature. It would be
uncomfortable and unsettling, but it is imperative. The question now is how to listen and how to
learn from Indigenous struggles such as the Unistoten to assert our own responsibility as Indigenous
and non-indigenous allies to make it happen.
2. The council system was set up with the Indian act of 1876 to govern the reserves. The Unistoten clan repudiates
their authority, and while Delgamuukw arms the traditional system of hereditary chiefs as those who can take
decisions over the Wetsuweten territories, energy companies often negotiate with band councils even though
they dont have the power to consent to development projects beyond the reserves. For example, Chevron has
formed The First Nations Limited Partnership ( with band councils as the basis for an agreement
on PTP. On 23 January 2015, the Moricetown band became the 16th band along the pipeline route to sign on to
the partnership. Touted as a $500 million + commercial partnership by and for First Nations, the 16 bands will
share 32 million Canadian dollars (U.S.$24.6 million) once construction begins, as well as CA$10 million ($7.7
million) per year while the pipeline is operating. Meanwhile on 6 August 2015, all ve Unistoten chiefs, along
with four other Wetsuweten chiefs, signed the Unistoten Declaration declaring that the land was unceded
and that their consent was needed for any project on their territory.
3. This is perhaps best expressed in the words of the seringeuros of Brazil, quoted bv Porto-Goncalves: nosotros no
queremos tierra, nosotros queremos territorio. We dont want the land we want the territory.
4. The force and legitimacy of the Royal Proclamation had just recently been re-armed by its incorporation into
section 35 the Canadian constitution in 1982.
5. See ONeill (2006) for a discussion on The question of who speaks for naturefor a discussion of the political
implications of representing natures interests as well as Castrees(2003) discussion on moving towards a politics
of politics of socionatural hybridity.
An earlier version of this article was presented at The Plurality and Politics of Environmental Justice workshop at the Uni-
versity of East Anglia. I would like to thank the Unist´ot´en for welcoming me, for their hospitality, knowledge, wisdom
and vision. I would also like to thank Saskia Vermeylen and two anonymous reviewers for comments which have signi-
cantly improved the text. I take full responsibility for any errors.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
This research is supported in part by the ACKnowl-EJ project, Transformations to Sustainability Programme [Grant
Number TKN150317115354] and International Social Science Council.
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... The three-dimensional EJ is promoted, applied and/or imposed in many post-colonial countries, where there are parallel legal, cultural and knowledge systems -traditional vs. state structures, and indigenous vs. scientific knowledges. As this EJ framework does not account for other than state authority and state legal system, and as it is not based on the traditional and Indigenous knowledge systems and philosophies of life, the utility of the framework in such contexts has been questioned (Álvarez and Coolsaet, 2020;Temper, 2019). Hence, the very tool that many EU and other international policies and projects use to promote justice can result in causing epistemic injustices and political denial for the more marginalized societal groups. ...
... Other approaches to justice have therefore been developed based on Indigenous knowledges and by Indigenous (McGregor, Whitaker, and Sritharan, 2020;Whyte, 2020a), and other scholars (Temper, 2019;Winter, 2021). In my recent work, drawing on the existing studies, I have tried to operationalize such justice approaches in the context of policies, such as bioeconomy (Ramcilovic-Suominen, 2022) and forest restoration (Ramcilovic-Suominen, Chomba, and Larson, 2023). ...
Technical Report
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The Bioeconomy is both an enabler and an end for the European Green Deal transformation: achieving the EGD transformation entails transforming the very meaning of sustainable bioeconomy. Among the deepest and most effective leverage points to transform a system are the worldviews driving our behaviours: they yield an enormous power to influence the framings which determine the solution space we explore. Transforming the bioeconomy, thus, requires reflecting on the stories we tell about ourselves, our place in nature, and our relationship with others. Scholars have highlighted how narratives surrounding the EU Bioeconomy have predominantly embraced a “Green Growth” perspective, centred around economic growth, technological innovation, and anthropocentric values, largely ignoring the social and justice dimensions, as well as not questioning the role, relations, and responsibilities of humans in the web of life. These dominant framings are increasingly contested, though, because they have failed to produce the social and ecological outcomes desired. This report introduces perspectives which have been under-represented in the Bioeconomy discourse and integrates them into an alternative vision for a “green, just and sufficient bioeconomy”. This vision places environmental sustainability and social equity at its core, regardless of economic growth; has an inclusive and participatory perspective; care, respect, and reciprocity for and with other humans and non-humans are core values; technology is important to deliver on the green and just objectives, but ethical considerations for new technologies are openly debated.
... A significant example of a school of thought associated with this bloc is pluriversal politics, an approach to transformative change which brings together a critique of 'modernity', which it links with a "one world 'world'" (Escobar 2020: 9) governed by common, universalist logics, a leftist commitment to universal emancipation. The focus is on the onto-epistemological aspects of politics and on opening space for a multiplicity of ways of being to cohabit the world, and a commitment to political autonomy as a fundamental requirement for marginalized groups (Escobar , 2020Kothari et al. 2019;Rajan et al. 2021 The methods associated with this bloc are linked to social movements and activism in both the Global North and South (Escobar 2015Akbulut et al. 2019;Kothari et al. 2019;Temper 2019;Dunlap 2021). Degrowth is also a central element in various social movements and many emphasize the importance of linking the theory of degrowth with praxis (Ziai 2014;Escobar 2015;Asara et al. 2015;Parrique et al. 2019) and it has become an influential framework amongst environmental movements such as extinction rebellion (Seaton 2020). ...
... Degrowth is also a central element in various social movements and many emphasize the importance of linking the theory of degrowth with praxis (Ziai 2014;Escobar 2015;Asara et al. 2015;Parrique et al. 2019) and it has become an influential framework amongst environmental movements such as extinction rebellion (Seaton 2020). Finally, examples of approaches in this bloc include a wide array of indigenous and grassroots movements, including but not limited to Rojava in Syria (Dirik et al. 2016), Buen Vivir in South America (Ziai 2014;Ranta 2018;Acosta 2020), the Wet'suwet'en anti-pipeline and sovereignty struggle in Canada (Temper 2019), and the Zapitistas in Mexico whose slogan of 'a world in which many worlds fit', has been a touchstone in the development of pluriversal theory (Escobar , 2020Mignolo and Walsh 2018). ...
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In the face of ever escalating global socioecological crises, the necessity of radical systemic transformations has gained increasing political and academic traction over the last decade, among others in the context of 'green' and bio-based economies. We draw on the works of political philosophers Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe and Judith Butler to develop a typology of transformational dynamics. In this typology, the word transformation implies political agendas, processes and outcomes that involve the total structural reordering of a social field, which we juxtapose with 'inclusion', which implies cases in which pre-existing logics are further entrenched or extended. Drawing on the theoretical framework of hegemony, inclusions and transformations, we develop an analytical lens that focuses on the relations between hegemony and transformative dynamics. This analytical lens is developed and exemplified by discussing the transformative potentials of multiple socioecological and political agendas, including those associated with eco-modernism, Marxism, decoloniality, eco-feminism, degrowth and eco-anarchism. Depending on the transformative dynamics in relation to hegemony and the dominant political logics, we distinguish between hegemony-reinforcing, hegemony-replacing, and hegemony-transcending transformations. The provided lens and the typologies of transformations should be useful to those seeking to conceptualize, differentiate, analyse, and tactically strategize the realization of an array of socio-ecological agendas.
... By linking to Wet'suwet'en resistance, therefore, hashtags not only establish Indigenous solidarity networks but also question colonial governance, which structurally undermines Indigenous sovereignty. These links take Secwepemc resistance beyond a NIMBY ("not in my backyard") approach to a broader Indigenous defense of territory against extractivism (see Temper, 2019). Within issue public pedagogy, therefore, this cluster shows how the hashtag -as a single tool -can pedagogically function both as a networking device and as a means of indexing individual cases within a robust evidence base articulating a structural issue. ...
... While the emphasis on health may indicate activist concerns for self care, it may also gesture towards the decolonial healing and resurgence that accompanies refusing colonial violence and asserting Indigenous sovereignty, knowledges, and practices (Alfred & Corntassel, 2005;Corntassel, 2012;Lane, 2018;L. B. Simpson, 2014;Temper, 2019). In fact, in examining the text of the tweets, these hashtags are largely affiliated with a multiply "regrammed" post, originally by @wemightywomen, which creates a portrait of Indigenous leadership: I have so much respect for Kanahus Manuel @kanahus.tattoos, ...
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In opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline, overlapping networks of concerned citizens, Indigenous land protectors, and environmental activists have used Instagram to document pipeline construction, policing, and land degradation; teach using infographics; and express solidarity through artwork and re-shared posts. These expressions constitute a form of “public pedagogy,” where social media takes on an educative force, influencing publics whether or not they set foot in the classroom. Working with digital methods, visual methodologies, and close reading practices, this dissertation draws on Instagram’s large-scale data to trace and analyze how publics reinforce and resist settler colonialism as they engage with the Trans Mountain pipeline controversy online. While much public pedagogy research focuses on the hegemonic functioning of culture, a study of the Trans Mountain issue provides a crucial analysis of social media’s anti-colonial possibilities. Instagram’s public pedagogy intersects in a social and ecological issue within and against the economies and cultures of digital media, racist and colonial representational regimes, and the broader ecology of relations under the settler state. Public pedagogy on Instagram indeed reveals a complex intermingling of user and platform agency in a pedagogy that takes on a connected, aesthetic, and situated force, according to the networked, image-based, and locative affordances available on the platform. While some visions and enactments are profoundly decolonial, mainstream colonial norms are unevenly reinforced, contested, subverted, and bypassed on a platform driven by corporate agendas and situated within colonial-capitalist processes. Considering the complexity of attending to these nuances from an anti-colonial perspective, this dissertation introduces an anti-colonial methodology for archiving, visualizing, and interpreting large-scale digital data in accountable ways that undermine colonial hierarchies and categorizations inherent to data structuring and use. This large-scale examination of the Trans Mountain issue public pedagogy contributes visions for Indigenous land protection and an anti-colonial approach to environmental justice emerging from participant publics, holding implications for more formal justice-based climate and environmental education, and opening spaces of possibility – along with the persistent restrictions – in working towards altered relations.
... Reproductive justice arises in the context in which the inequalities suffered by humanity and its environment have paved the way for new proposals driven by new actors claiming legitimacy to new rights. This is the case with structural racism [25], gender equity [26], environmental justice [27], displaced people's justice [28], LGTBQ + rights [29], and indigenous justice [30], among others. All of the above highlight that current inequities are the result of the intersection of multiple oppressions at multiple levels which manifest as a unique expression in the suffering of silenced and emerging individuals and collectives in their local contexts and communities. ...
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Despite the last few decades’ advances towards social and gender justice, reproductive decisions are still a source of oppression for many European Romani women and girls. This protocol aims to propose a model to empower Romani women and girls’ reproductive decisions, inspired by Reproductive Justice—the recognition of women and girls’ ability to make safe and free decisions about their bodies and reproduction. Through Participatory Action Research, 15–20 Romani girls and their families, two Romani platforms, and key agents from a rural and an urban context in Spain will participate. They will (1) contextualize Romani women and girls’ inequities, (2) build partnerships, (3) implement Photovoice and advocate for their gender rights, and (4) assess the initiative’s related changes, using self-evaluation techniques. Qualitative and quantitative indicators will be collected to assess impacts among participants, while tailoring and assuring the quality of the actions. Expected outcomes include the creation and consolidation of new social networks, and the promotion of Romani women and girls’ leadership. For this, Romani organizations must be transformed into empowering settings for their communities, spaces where Romani women and girls assume responsibility of the initiatives, being these tailored to their real needs and interests, and guaranteeing transformative social changes.
... The long-lasting history of colonial environmental extraction against communities' well-being is opposed by people who are at the core of social, environmental, and cultural injustices in different geographies and, who call for the decolonization Maldonado-Torres, 2008) of socio-ecological distribution conflicts Temper, 2019), with or without using those words. Their opposition to the continuous domination of modern, colonial, capitalist, and extractive tendencies (Escobar, 2001;Grosfoguel & Cervantes-Rodríguez, 2002;Svampa, 2015), which stem from racial/ethnic marginalization, poverty, gendered discrimination, ageism, rural/urban divides, and many other dynamics, are at the heart of many motivations for resistance against environmental injustices (Kojola & Pellow, 2020). ...
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Joan Martínez Alier has made relevant contributions to the agrarian question by treating the southwestern Spanish latifundio and Latin American hacienda systems as capitalist ways of exploiting land and labour, not as backward feudal remnants. He has also invoked the resistance of Latin American tenant-labourers and other smallholder peasants as an explanation for the limited extent of wage labour. To that end, he helped rescue Alexander Chayanov and the former Narodnik movement from oblivion. With José Manuel Naredo, he paid tribute to Sergei Podolinsky, another member of this peasant neo-populist current, for pioneering the first calculation of energy balances and returns from agricultural systems. As agricultural and environmental historians, we have followed both paths to develop new proposals for a form of agrarian metabolism that, while contributing to ecological economics, is also aligned with agroecology. We summarize our contributions to these topics, developed together with Eduardo Sevilla Guzmán, Victor Toledo and Gloria Guzmán, as well as some of the researchers at the Institute of Social Ecology in Vienna and many other participants in the international project on Sustainable Farm Systems (SFS). Our teams have also started using these socio-metabolic accounts to take up the agrarian question of labour and gender exploitation through the unequal appropriation of natural resources from a historical point of view, as well as contribute to the next agroecology transition to a fairer food regime within planetary boundaries.
... The long-lasting history of colonial environmental extraction against communities' well-being is opposed by people who are at the core of social, environmental, and cultural injustices in different geographies and, who call for the decolonization (Escobar, 2008;Maldonado-Torres, 2008) of socio-ecological distribution conflicts (Martinez-Alier, 2002;Temper, 2019), with or without using those words. Their opposition to the continuous domination of modern, colonial, capitalist, and extractive tendencies (Escobar, 2001;Grosfoguel & Cervantes-Rodríguez, 2002;Svampa, 2015), which stem from racial/ethnic marginalization, poverty, gendered discrimination, ageism, rural/urban divides, and many other dynamics, are at the heart of many motivations for resistance against environmental injustices (Kojola & Pellow, 2020). ...
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Drawing from the need for distinct approaches in environmental justice (EJ) research, in this chapter, we choose decolonial EJ both theoretically and methodologically. Extractive projects are rooted in colonial logic. To illustrate the complexity behind this colonial logic, we trace multiple marginalities and oppression across different historical and social contexts in two different regions, the Arctic and India. The long-lasting colonial rush for the resources at the expense of the Global “South” (including the South in the North) shape environmental injustices along multiple mutually constituted axes of racial marginalization, poverty, gendered issue, and nature–culture relationship neglect. Thus, these intersectional ties must be problematized by engaging deeper with decolonial, Indigenous, and feminist scholarship as well as by using methodological and pedagogical aspects for decolonial research. This is because both decolonial thought and methods allow intersectional socio-environmental issues and contexts being addressed not only for the South but from the South as well. We discuss in this chapter, how ongoing research at the Barcelona school engages with these aspects, and that future research agenda needs to be more explicit and reflexive.
... After Coastal Gaslink presented its interest and proposal for the construction of the hydrofracking gas pipeline in 2009, the C'ilhtsekhyu (Big Frog) clan and, years later, the Gitdimd'en (Wolf / Bear) clan decided in their feast halls to set up permanent surveillance camps at Unist'ot'en and Gidimt'en, respectively, to prevent Coastal Gaslink from entering the proposed territories to develop the pipeline 16 . The resistance of the Unist'ot'en and Gidimt'en camps "needs to be seen within a long history of creative resistance of the Wet'suwet'en against colonialism" (Temper, 2019). Among their historical struggle against the effects of the Indian Act, the Wet'suwet'en, together with the Gitxsans, blocked the access to logging companies into their territories in the 70s and 80s (Mills, 1994, p. 178). ...
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For almost two decades, Coastal GasLink, with the support of the State of British Columbia (B.C.), Canada, has sought to build a hydrofracking gas pipeline, which would cross a large part of Wet’suwet’en Nation’s territories. Faced with this, the different clans that make up the Nation, under the governance system of the Hereditary Chiefs, have expressed their disagreement, demonstrating that the environmental assessment and decision-making processes overlooked their deep relationship with the Yintakh (their territory). Drawing on a methodological approach that involved visual ethnography and combined content and narrative analysis, my research aims to analyze the role that emotions play in the territorial-ontological conflict between the State of B.C., Coastal GasLink, and the Wet’suwet’en. The combination of content and narrative analysis helped decipher and understand how people express everyday practices and construct and perform their identity amid the conflict. In facing COVID-19 pandemic limitations, visual ethnography provided an alternative to fieldwork. Using online available audiovisual material, through which I was able to keep a phenomenological approach, I used my senses (visual and auditory) to analyze body movements, tone of voice, and language. The theoretical approach to the conflict was from that of political ontology and emotional political ecologies (EmPEs). To answer my first research question: how is the conflict of interest an ontological conflict? I articulate a framework made up of Ingold’s phenomenology, Blaser’s ontological conflicts, and Escobar's studies of culture as a radical difference. To answer my second research question: what is the role that emotions play in the conflict? I build on the spiderweb, a metaphor developed by Ingold, to expand the scope of González-Hidalgo’s emotional political ecologies. I demonstrate that the processes of political inter-subjectivation sought at the Unist’ot’en Healing Center help understand, on the one hand, the worry, frustration, and stress of the Wet'suwet'ens facing the world-creating practices of Coastal GasLink and the State of B.C. On the other hand, the Healing Center reveals how the affections for the other-than-human and their relational world inform Wet’suwet’en resistance. Lastly, I unveil how Coastal GasLink and the Ministry of Aboriginal Rights and Reconciliation, through discourses and practices of inclusion and gender equality, seek to blur radical cultural differences, delegitimize the Wet’suwet’en pre-colonial governance system, and create affections for the Western-modern world.
Environmental justice (EJ) issues commonly include contestation over knowledge claims. EJ scholarship tends to theorize these as issues of participation or recognition. Drawing on a long-term ethnography of community-led air monitoring, I show that frontline communities experience distinctly epistemic injustices, even in situations characterized by participation and recognition. These epistemic injustices, which include exclusion from judgment, inadequate epistemic resources, and denial of status as knowers, point to the need to expand definitions of EJ to include an account of epistemic justice. Departing from virtue-based accounts, I propose ‘careful knowing,’ or practices of empirical investigation and meaning-making responsive to the needs of marginalized knowers, as a remedy for epistemic injustices that occur in EJ settings. Context-specific by definition, careful knowing may include grounding epistemic judgments in the need for community health protection, expanding epistemic resources, and bolstering the confidence and status of marginalized knowers.
We are in the midst of a global crisis of climate change and environmental degradation to which the healthcare sector directly contributes. Yet conceptions of health justice have little to say about the environment. They purport societies should ensure adequate health for their populations but fail to require doing so in ways that avoid environmental harm or injustice. We need to expand our understanding of health justice to consider the environment and do so without reinforcing the epistemic injustice inherent in the field of bioethics. This paper considers what work in philosophy related to the environment should be applied to help build that understanding and develops ideas about the healthcare sector’s responsibilities of justice to the environment. It first introduces the dominant multivalent environmental and ecological justice (EJ) concept in philosophy and each of its dimensions: distribution, participation, recognition and well-being. It then shows why applying that conception alone to broaden our understanding of health justice will reinforce epistemic injustice within bioethics. Drawing on EJ literature from the global South, the paper demonstrates that different ontological and experiential starting points identify additional EJ dimensions—power and harmony—and give rise to a nuanced understanding of the recognition dimension relative to the dominant EJ conception. The paper concludes by applying them to articulate healthcare sector responsibilities of justice to the environment, demonstrating they ground responsibilities beyond reducing its carbon emissions.
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One of the distinctive features of environmental justice theory in Latin America is its influence by decolonial thought, which explains social and environmental injustices as arising from the project of modernity and the ongoing expansion of a European cultural imaginary. The decolonization of knowledge and social relations is highlighted as one of the key challenges for overcoming the history of violent oppression and marginalization in development and conservation practice in the region. In this paper we discuss how conflict transformation theory and practice has a role to play in this process. In doing so, we draw on the Socio-environmental Conflict Transformation (SCT) framework elaborated by Grupo Confluencias, which puts a focus on building community capacity to impact different spheres of power: people and networks, structures and cultural power. We discuss this framework and its practical use in the light of ongoing experiences with indigenous peoples in Latin America. We propose that by strengthening the power of agency of indigenous peoples to impact each of these spheres it is possible to build constructive intra and intercultural relations that can help increase social and environmental justice in their territories and thus contribute to decolonizing structures, relations and ways of being.
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The environmental movement may be “the most comprehensive and influential movement of our time” (Castells 1997: 67), representing for the ‘post-industrial’ age what the workers’ movement was for the industrial period. Yet while strike statistics have been collected for many countries since the late nineteenth century (van der Velden 2007),1 until the present no administrative body tracks the occurrence and frequency of mobilizations or protests related to environmental issues at the global scale, in the way that the World Labour Organization tracks the occurrence of strike action.2 Thus until the present it has been impossible to properly document the prevalence and incidence of contentious activity related to environmental issues or to track the ebb and flow of protest activity. Such an exercise is necessary because if the twentieth century has been the one of workers struggles, the twenty-first century could well be the one of environmentalists. This Special Feature presents the results from such an exercise—The Global Atlas of Environmental Justice—a unique global inventory of cases of socio-environmental conflicts built through a collaborative process between academics and activist groups which includes both qualitative and quantitative data on thousands of conflictive projects as well as on the social response. This Special Feature applies the lenses of political ecology and ecological economics to unpack and understand these socio-environmental conflicts, otherwise known as ‘ecological distribution conflicts’, (hereafter EDCs, Martinez-Alier 1995, 2002). The contributions in this special feature explore the why, what, how and who of these contentious processes within a new comparative political ecology. The articles in this special issue underline the need for a politicization of socio-environmental debates, whereby political refers to the struggle over the kinds of worlds the people want to create and the types of ecologies they want to live in. We put the focus on who gains and who loses in ecological processes arguing that these issues need to be at the center of sustainability science. Secondly, we demonstrate how environmental justice groups and movements coming out of those conflicts play a fundamental role in redefining and promoting sustainability. We contend that protests are not disruptions to smooth governance that need to be managed and resolved, but that they express grievances as well as aspirations and demands and in this way may serve as potent forces that can lead to the transformation towards sustainability of our economies, societies and ecologies. The articles in this collection contribute to a core question of sustainability science—why and through what political, social and economic processes some are denied the right to a safe environment, and how to support the necessary social and political transformation to enact environmental justice.
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A transformation to sustainability calls for radical and systemic societal shifts. Yet what this entails in practice and who the agents of this radical transformation are require further elaboration. This article recenters the role of environmental justice movements in transformations, arguing that the systemic, multi-dimensional and intersectional approach inherent in EJ activism is uniquely placed to contribute to the realization of equitable sustainable futures. Based on a perspective of conflict as productive, and a “conflict transformation” approach that can address the root issues of ecological conflicts and promote the emergence of alternatives, we lay out a conceptual framework for understanding transformations through a power analysis that aims to confront and subvert hegemonic power relations; that is, multi-dimensional and intersectional; balancing ecological concerns with social, economic, cultural and democratic spheres; and is multi-scalar, and mindful of impacts across place and space. Such a framework can help analyze and recognize the contribution of grassroots EJ movements to societal transformations to sustainability and support and aid radical transformation processes. While transitions literature tends to focus on artifacts and technologies, we suggest that a resistance-centred perspective focuses on the creation of new subjectivities, power relations, values and institutions. This recenters the agency of those who are engaged in the creation and recuperation of ecological and new ways of being in the world in the needed transformation.
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This chapter contributes to clarifying the nature and shape of the global environmental movement, drawing on literature on the history of environmental protest as well as on the empirical evidence from the Global Environmental Justice Atlas. Through these narratives, as well as literatures from political ecology, environmental philosophy, eco-feminism, ecological economics, history, anthropology and sociology, this chapter aims to distill some of the core characteristics, unresolved tensions and relevant future lines of enquiry of an emerging radical and transformative global EJ movement. These include a focus on ecological justice that takes into account relations with nonhuman nature and navigates the tension between conservation and livelihoods, considered in the first section; a global materialist perspective that questions the structural basis of the economy, taken up in the second; and the increasing globalization and interconnectedness between struggles and their simultaneously oppositional and constructive politics, illustrated in the third. The article concludes with avenues for future research. By drawing on historical as well as current examples, I hope to demonstrate that EJ, while only recently defined as such, has a long and rich history around the world that far predates Western environmentalism as we know it. This brings attention to the need for diverse and situated understandings of environmentalism, and for going beyond northern theoretical understandings of environmental justice to one informed by non-Eurocentric epistemologies and ontologies.
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Ecuador’s recently adopted conflict resolution techniques have aggravated the always tense encounters between Amazonian indigenous communities, oil companies and the state. The state’s governmentality project portrays these socio-environmental conflicts as mere technical–managerial issues while societal coalitions re-politicize them through territorial defense struggles. The Cofán Dureno case highlights how the self-proclaimed ‘Citizen’s Revolution’ government seeks to redefine socio-natural relationships and territorial identities, devising ‘communities of convenience’. These correspond to the state’s own images, political structure and ideology, promoting ‘community participation’ to facilitate oil extraction. Ecuador’s constitutionally recognized Rights of Nature (paradoxically installed by the same government) are analyzed with a focus on their potential for resisting socio-environmental injustice. The internationally celebrated inclusion of these rights in the Constitution was advocated by nonindigenous intellectual activists but influenced and supported by the indigenous movement. Beyond legal implications, these rights might foster an epistemic pact between indigenous and nonindigenous society to defend territories from extractive industries.
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Indigenous peoples interrupt commodity flows by asserting jurisdiction and sovereignty over their lands and resources in places that form choke points to the circulation of capital. In today’s economy, the state has begun to redefine its “resilience” in terms of its relative success in the protection and expansion of critical infrastructure. We find that there has been a political re-organization of governing authority over Indigenous peoples in Canada as a result, which is driven by greater integration of the private sector as national security “partners.” The securitization of “critical infrastructure”—essentially, supply chains of capital, such as private pipelines and public transport routes—has become the priority in mitigating the potential threat of Indigenous jurisdiction. New political and socio-temporal imperatives have led to shifts in risk evaluation, management, and mitigation practices of state administration, in cooperation with the private sector, to neutralize Indigenous disruption to supply chain infrastructure. In this paper, we examine two forms of risk mitigation: first, the configuration of Indigenous jurisdiction as a “legal risk” by the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada; and second, the configuration of Indigenous jurisdiction as a source of potential “emergency.” Built on the literal ground of historical patterns of land grabs and migration, logistical space configures new networks of infrastructure into circuitries of production that cast into vivid relief the imperfections of settler sovereignty and the vital systems of Indigenous law.
A read of the critical geography literature on the concept of “networked infrastructures” generates two arguments in relation to the environmental justice implications of the new pipeline debates. First, the proposed coast-to-coast pipeline is likely to exacerbate existing environmental inequities in Canada. Conceiving of the crude oil in a pipeline as a material flow of commodified nature demonstrates that, at the end of the pipe, inputs of labour, technology and capital are required to convert the crude into useable forms of energy . This leads to a serious engagement with the communities at the ends of the proposed pipes. Here, I illustrate the type of analysis that is required with a preliminary examination of the expected environmental health impacts from increased refinery emissions in Sarnia, Montréal and Saint John. Second, the notion that pipelines, despite their vital effects, are fixed and durable installations of built infrastructure—lending a marked inertia to the routes they cement—produces intergenerational equity concerns in relation to fossil capitalism. These concerns are brought powerfully to the fore by activists under the banner of Idle No More. In fact, it is this growing indigenous resistance movement centered on lands and resources that best illustrates the obvious contradiction: the permanence of the pipelines on the landscape, once built, underscores the gravity of the choices we are weighing, just as the active resistance of indigenous people across the county reveals the inherent instability of the networked infrastructure.