When challenging fossil fuel projects and confronting polluting industries, the international standard of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is a key process through which Indigenous peoples assert their sovereignty and self-determination.
This right is recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and when implemented properly by nation- states — allows Indigenous people to grant or withhold permission to projects that may affect them or their territories. 7
Free, Prior and Informed Consent is the manifestation of how traditional Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous Rights are protected and enforced within and beyond Indigenous territories.8 Consisting of the right to be consulted, the right to participate, and the right to their lands, territories, and resources, Free, Prior and Informed Consent is the aspirational standard that many Indigenous Peoples seek to enshrine within the federal policies of their respective colonial and settler- states. Canada and the United States acknowledge UNDRIP on premise alone, but both nation-states have refused to adopt its text without qualifications.
Due to this refusal, while these nations acknowledge the tenets of Indigenous Rights, they have consistently chosen to define these rights in a way that does not ultimately threaten control over lands, natural resources, and development plans that may affect Indigenous people and territories.
In both the United States and Canada, the current modus operandi to engage Indigenous Peoples on extractive projects is a process of consultation. Under this process, federal governments consult with Tribes and First Nations, seeking their input on planned projects.
Such input and consultation does not guarantee outcomes in line with the wishes of those Nations; this consultation is crucially distinct from consent.
Furthermore, there are many examples of projects well underway before this so-called ‘consultation’ even begins with Tribes — effectively nullifying the intention of the process and exposing its severe inadequacies.9 Free, Prior and Informed Consent constitutes a much more rigorous standard than consultation,10 and it is a bare minimum standard needed to uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Advocacy and direct action by Indigenous Peoples in opposition to threats to lands, waters, air, and future generations are not optional measures by those that adhere and live by traditional Indigenous knowledge. They are obligations. When Indigenous Peoples assert inherent rights under frameworks like the recognition of Tribal Sovereignty or Indigenous Sovereignty, it goes far beyond just those rights recognized under settler-state legal and political systems.
Asserting these rights is the practice of Indigenous Peoples self-determining their future, on their terms. These rights involve carrying out spiritually- and culturally-derived obligations to preserve inherent relationships to our ecosystems, to recognize the Original Instructions and natural laws of Mother Earth and Father Sky, and to protect future generations.
This grounding in Indigenous Sovereignty, Tribal Sovereignty, the inherent right to self-government and Self-Determination inspire and give strength to those fighting through lived values and principles to keep fossil fuels in the ground and protect Turtle Island.
Tribal Sovereignty is a legal doctrine serving as the foundation of U.S. law applied to Indians (Federal Indian Law). The scope and strength of this doctrine has been significantly eroded over the course of U.S. history. An aspirational goal for the advancement of Tribal Sovereignty is an equitable relationship between the United States and Indigenous Nations, allowing for exchange between same-status actors.11
Indigenous Sovereignty is distinguishable from Tribal Sovereignty in that it is not a nation-state recognition of inherent sovereignty under nation-state dominion. Rather, it arises from traditional Indigenous knowledge, belonging to each Indigenous Nation, Tribe, First Nation, and community.
Self-Determination is the understanding that peoples with common political and cultural organization have the right to self- government and territory. The has its origins in international human rights law, as applied to former colonies of Europe, primarily in Africa and the Pacific.
Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is a specific right pertaining to Indigenous Peoples that is recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It allows Indigenous Peoples to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories.12
Turtle Island is the land currently called “North America” by settler nation-states and their representatives.