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Here Are the Next '20 Standing Rocks' According to Frontline Activists

In the wake of an unprecedented win in North Dakota, we asked Indigenous and environmental groups what they see as the next key energy battlegrounds.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of energy politics surely knows what a massive, unexpected victory it was for thousands of Standing Rock campers when the US Army announced its decision to block the Dakota Access pipeline from its planned route.

For months the Sioux people insisted the pipe would put their water supply at risk. Those demands were more or less met with arrests and rubber bullets. Without warning, powers-that-be appeared to listen and agree on Sunday afternoon. Though the victory may be temporary, the move ensures the pipeline will undergo environmental review.


Even before that surprise, Indigenous groups north of the border were already encouraged by what was happening in Standing Rock. Just last month, Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon made it clear that mass civil disobedience is on the table for Indigenous people opposing megaprojects. The Mohawk leader told APTN Canada could see "20 Standing Rocks" if projects go ahead without free, prior and informed consent.

As if to prove Simon wasn't kidding, Mohawk activists stopped a Canadian Pacific Railway line for 24-hours in solidarity with Dakota protesters last week. It was the second blockade of its kind in two weeks. Those actions were met with equally bold warnings from Canada's natural resource minister, who said defence forces and police would be used to deal with non-peaceful protest.

With rhetoric ratcheting up on both sides, VICE surveyed Indigenous and environmental activists to see where they think tensions could rise in the coming months and years. Though they may not come down to Standing Rock-style direct action, these projects seem to be the country's most divided battlegrounds.

Trans Mountain

Kinder Morgan's recently-approved Trans Mountain expansion, which will transport raw bitumen from Alberta through BC's lower mainland, is the most obviously heated pipeline fight in Canada, and one the major political players are already gesturing toward. "The Standing Rock Sioux won today, and we will win on Kinder Morgan," Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said in an email blast yesterday. Opponents say the project will increase tanker traffic in the area sevenfold and put Canada's climate targets in jeopardy.

Because the project goes through a major urban centre, activists say the capacity for large-scale blockades is greater than any other megaproject in Canada. But Dogwood Initiative's Kai Nagata told VICE that a number of legal challenges could stop the project before it comes to direct action. "I think we're a long way off from that scenario," he told VICE, naming the Tsleil-Waututh and Coldwater Indian Band cases. Burnaby Mountain was the site of over 100 arrests in 2014, when the company began preliminary drilling.


Lelu Island camper in 2015. Photo by KJ Dakin

Lelu Island

Because First Nations land west of the Rockies is largely unceded, British Columbia will see some of the most concentrated resistance to energy projects, say advocates, and that's already proven true on Lelu Island, along the province's northern coast. Pacific Northwest LNG's massive liquefied natural gas terminal proposal just got a green light from Trudeau's government in September, despite opposition from hereditary chiefs up the Skeena watershed. Opponents say the project endangers salmon habitat, have camped out on the site, and have also pledged to take legal action. Erica Ryan-Gagne of the Haida Nation said Trudeau's decision would lead to "the Standing Rock of the northwest."

Read More: Everything You Need to Know About the $36-Billion LNG Project That Has Turned Many First Nations Against Trudeau

Muskrat Falls dam

Inuk protesters already claimed victory after a month-long hunger strike in October, but there's still a chance the hydroelectric project could see more grassroots opposition. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador agreed to an independent review of Nalcor's engineering reports, and has already begun first-phase flooding of the reservoir. The Nunatsiavut, NuatuKavut and Innu governments are concerned with methylmercury levels in water and fish.

Energy East

While TransCanada's Energy East pipeline has generated a lot of headlines and put Rick Mercer at odds with lefties, the organizations working on this issue don't see this particular project becoming a battle that involves rubber bullets. Basically there is so much opposition in Quebec—over 300 municipalities, and in places where Trudeau made huge election gains—Steven Guilbeault of Equiterre told VICE the project will likely be killed long before it gets to that. "We see absolutely no appetite with this government for Energy East," he said. "And we're at least two and a half years away from a National Energy Board recommendation to the federal government."

Site C Dam

This BC hydroelectric project has flown under the national radar, but with farmers being told to leave by December 27, activists say the massive Peace River dam could be another (albeit smaller scale) site of upcoming protest. Opponents argue the power isn't needed, that upstream First Nations haven't been properly consulted, and that the $8.8 billion megaproject will flood farmland, destroy Indigenous hunting and fishing lines, and ruin archeological and cultural sites. Two nations are fighting it in court, on grounds it violates treaty rights.

Woodfibre LNG

Another LNG plant with a green light from the feds as of November, Howe Sound opposition has mostly been the hippy grandma variety. But with a new study that shows BC could miss its climate targets by 220 percent if all LNG plans go ahead, the first of Premier Christy Clark's promised moneymakers could become a climate flashpoint.

Police watch Standing Rock protesters Thanksgiving weekend. Photo by Hilary Beaumont


Read More: Here's How Energy Companies Woo First Nations on Controversial Energy Projects

Enbridge Line 3

With Northern Gateway now off the table, Line 3 has become the largest pipeline project in Enbridge's history. The company wants to double the capacity of the existing line, which cuts from Alberta through Saskatchewan and into Wisconsin. It's one of the five major projects named in an Indigenous anti-pipeline treaty between Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairie, BC and US First Nations in the fall.

Keystone XL

Probably a long shot, but Donald Trump's election last month has put TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline back on some climate campaigners' radar. The big question here is whether or not the application would have to start over from square one. Canada's side of the pipe is already approved at all levels, so any physical opposition would likely be happening in Nebraska, where a collection of First Nations, environmentalists, and ranchers have proven themselves as vocal, dedicated opposition.

Teck Frontier mine

"If there's one major fight on the horizon in Alberta it's the Teck Frontier mine," Cam Fenton of told VICE. "It's the next major open pit mine proposal… one of those things that starts to test the actual backbone of the Alberta climate strategy."

Etc. etc. etc.

Though BC seems to be the most likely setting for a potential Standing Rock-style standoff, there are plenty more battlegrounds east of the Rockies. Activists say water access on reserves, fracking in the Yukon, and plans to bring a new refinery to Ontario's Chemical Valley stand out as conflicts that could simmer and grow in 2017 and beyond. West Coast fish farms invited stand-offs with First Nations this summer, which could happen again in the spring. And two major Supreme Court challenges raise similar issues of consent and consultation: one against Arctic exploration in Clyde River, Nunavut, and a massive ski resort in the Kootenay mountains.

Over the next few years, Dene activist Caleb Behn sees the most heated conflicts happening where water and hydrocarbon development intersect with strong Indigenous alliances. He worries it's not just Indigenous leaders like Chief Simon who feel emboldened. "That language of 20 more Standing Rocks—that makes some racist cop's wet dream," Dene activist Caleb Behn told VICE. "They get to shoot rubber bullets at Indians and get paid for it."

Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter.