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Indigenous sovereign nations and their role in cross-border oil and gas development

Photo credit: Howl Arts Collective - Flickr: tar sands, Alberta, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33395825

August 9, 2019

Patrick Christie, Professor, Jackson School of International Studies and School of Marine and Environmental Affairs

Many Indigenous people belong to sovereign nations and as oil and gas pipelines cross the Canada-U.S. border, this is a realm in which the international studies lens helps us understand what is at stake and to identify policy options.

In July, 2019 I took part in a writing workshop hosted by Orion Magazine—a online and print outlet that explores culture, the environment and justice (https://orionmagazine.org/). I have been an avid Orion reader for years and frequently use essays and poetry published in Orion in my Jackson School classes. One particularly powerful collection of poems focused on women of Standing Rock. The themes of women as cultural leaders and oil pipeline resistance leaders resonates with many UW students.

These are fraught times. As climate change comes online, UW students realize that their future is in the balance. And as international accords, such as the Paris Climate Accord, flounder, activists and the general public are taking to the streets, board rooms, and pipeline construction sites in an attempt to stop fossil fuel development projects and, ultimately, reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Indigenous people are at the forefront of many protest movements, especially those in response to plans by the Canadian government and large corporations to extract the tar sands oils found in Alberta, Canada (https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/all-about-oil/what-are-tar-sands). The tar sands are massive near-surface deposits of oil that require tremendous use of energy and chemicals to extract. Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org (https://350.org/) maintains that the world will experience run-away climate change if tar sands development plans are implemented. Most of the oil pipelines from Canada enter the US and its refineries.

Because many Indigenous people belong to sovereign nations and because the oil crosses the US-Canadian border, this is a realm in which the international studies lens helps us understand what is at stake and to identify policy options. I’m particularly interested in how and why oil pipeline resistance social movements arise, when they succeed, and who is leading them.  I’m particularly interested, and have taught with Professor Warren of the Jackson School, on how Indigenous and non-indigenous people form powerful coalitions.

The workshop (https://orionmagazine.org/workshops/) allowed me to learn for remarkable teachers and fellow students. We wrote, critiqued, read our work aloud. I hope, someday, to become a better non-academic writer to reach a broader audience.

Patrick Christie is a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs and Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. His scholarship focuses on the human dimensions of marine conservation and climate change social movements. In particular, he studies why citizens, fishers, and policy makers either accept or reject environmental policies. He believes, like many, that ‘we don’t manage the fish, we manage the people.’