“As Long As the Rivers Flow: Coming Back to the Treaty Relationship In Our Time,” a conference held in Fort McMurray this weekend on Aboriginal treaty rights and the oil sands, has attracted a curious keynote speaker: Desmond Tutu.
This is a conference almost entirely built on name-dropping and prestige, and is filled with curiosities that cannot be tied to any single narrative thread other than a shameless publicity stunt. The event is co-sponsored by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Bob Rae’s law firm (Olthuis Kleer Townsend). Bob Rae, former NDP Premier of Ontario, will of course be giving a speech throughout the weekend as well.
However, the conference’s main goal is not to restart Rae’s public career, but to discuss treaty issues. That’s why speakers include Northwest Territories Premier Stephen Kakfwi, and former President and COO of Syncrude Canada, James Carter. A reminder, Syncrude is the one who takes the tar and turns it into crude oil, and makes quite a bit of money doing so. Sure.
Now we’re left with this motley crew assembling in Fort McMurray to talk about treaty obligations, a topic that’s tenuous at best amid the current self-destruction of the Assembly of First Nations. Enter South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Anglican leader, best known for his work opposing apartheid (for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize), has decided that it is God’s will to oppose the oilsands.
Tutu has advocated for boycotts against all forms of resource development, and has made the factually dubious claim that the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline expansion (which adds 327 miles to the already two million miles of pipelines that crisscross North America) would increase Canada’s carbon emissions by 30%.
So, if you were hoping for an unbiased, generally neutral conference on how to develop the sands while upholding Aboriginal treaty obligations, think again. This will be a conference on why the oil sands should not be developed at all. If that’s the type of thing that revs your engines, go for it. But it’s disappointing that instead of having a real conversation about the issues, we’re resorting to pandering and publicity stunts.