Indigenous lawyer to speak on fracking

Indigenous lawyer to speak on fracking by Jacqueline Ronson, January 11, 2013, Yukon News
“The four biggest shale gas plays in Canada, the most developed, just so happen to be in my mother and father’s traditional territory,” said Caleb Behn who is Eh-Cho Dene and Dunne Za. A young indigenous lawyer and activist plans to visit the Yukon to speak about his own experiences with hydraulic fracturing on his traditional territory. … In his mind, it’s often not a fair fight. “I don’t think that the dialogue, the debate or the regulations, the law regarding it, match the sophistication of the industry, the potential impacts, the potential benefits. To my mind this is a whole new ball game.”

Behn will soon graduate with a law degree from the University of Victoria. He grew up all over B.C. and beyond, but he will always call his family’s traditional territories in northeast B.C. home. … Behn has been on the front lines of oil and gas development in his territory through B.C.‘s most recent boom in natural gas development. After finishing an undergraduate degree in political science with a focus on indigenous-state relations, he was hired as the oil and gas officer for the West Moberly First Nations. He was the point person for dealing with government and industry on all oil and gas files, he said. “For about a year, I got thrown into the deep end of consultation, of issues in the community, of inadequate capacity for the nation to deal with literally thousands of files.” The province, at the time, was making billions of dollars a year by selling tenure for the massive oil and gas discoveries in the northeast. “It was a pretty intense education in how oil and gas is developed and regulated in this province, and in particular how it impacts indigenous people, especially my people, my mother’s people, the Dunne Za.”

He moved on to a job with the nearby Saulteau First Nations. There, his file became even more daunting. He was in charge of monitoring oil and gas projects, assessing potential and real impacts to the ability of First Nation members to access the land for fishing and hunting, and dealing with litigation when rights were trampled upon. “Frankly, we got railroaded,” said Behn. “We couldn’t stop anything. We had a hard time getting what I would perceive to be basic consultation. It felt like the Wild West from my perspective.” It was that experience that convinced Behn to pursue a law degree. He has met that goal, but he’s not done yet. He wants to get his master’s in law from Harvard and a PhD from Cambridge. The ultimate goal is to develop a regulatory framework for oil and gas development that is informed by indigenous legal traditions and better reflects the complexity of the technology and the potential long term impacts.

Behn’s visit to the Yukon will not come with a plea to ban fracking in the territory. “I’m not totally opposed to industry,” said Behn. “My family works in it, my mother has worked for the oil and gas majors for a long time. I’m not naive enough to believe that we can eliminate our reliance on hydrocarbons.”

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