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 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’sewet’ten 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.