Despite the wealth of data that suggests climate change will disrupt our ecosystems, key political actors have declined to take action to mitigate the anticipated effects. Further, we have seen deeper investment into the fossil fuel industry, an industry that has been a substantial contributor to climate change. Community-led movements have proven more successful in engaging with these issues on the ground. Creative legal strategies could aid in this movement and allow for strengthened enforcement of rights that are closely dependent on the health of the environment.
The Salish Sea is a body of water that reaches from Western Canada down into the Northwestern United States. The ecosystem faces a number of threats, but one in particular is the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion in Canada. This is just one of many recent projects that seeks to increase fossil fuel reliance in the midst of protests for climate change action. First Nations tribes have been resisting the expansion but given the potential impact to Native tribes in the United States, it seems that all of the Coast Salish tribes should be able to participate in this resistance.
Although the pipeline expansion will infringe on treaty rights, it is unclear how they might be enforced against the Canadian government. U.S. Courts have held that the government has a responsibility to protect treaty rights, but this may not be recognized by Canadian courts
Recent developments in the Rights of Nature movement have created private rights of action for individuals to act on behalf of bodies of water and other natural resources. By securing rights for the Salish Sea, Coast Salish tribes could enhance their treaty rights and protect this ecosystem in an international context. To succeed, this movement must utilize creative legal strategies while centering indigenous interests to achieve environmental justice.
Chapman, Cloie M.
"FIGHTING ON BEHALF OF THE SALISH SEA,"
American Indian Law Journal: Vol. 8:
1, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.seattleu.edu/ailj/vol8/iss1/3