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‘Failure to Consult’ Sparks Indigenous Backlash Against Fossils from Canada to Mexico

Mark Klotz/flickr

Indigenous resistance to energy infrastructure forced on traditional territories with inadequate consultation is frustrating high-handed fossils from one end of the North American energy trading market to the other, Bloomberg reports.

The cases of Indigenous resistance to the Kinder Morgan [1] and Dakota Access [2] pipelines are well known in Canada and the United States—more so, perhaps, than U.S. company Sempra Energy’s 800-kilometre gas pipeline from Arizona to the Pacific coast through northwest Mexico.

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In August, Bloomberg reports, “members of the Indigenous Yaqui tribe—enraged by what they viewed as an unauthorized trespass on their land—used a backhoe truck to puncture [the line] and extract a [seven-metre] segment.”

The action was taken by one of eight Yaqui communities along the pipeline route. Seven others gave Sempra permission to build the line; one did not.

“The Yaquis of Loma de Bacum say they were asked by authorities in 2015 if they wanted a [14.5-kilometre] tract of the pipeline running through their farmland—and said no,” the news agency reports. “Construction went ahead anyway.”

Since the Loma de Bacum Yaqui sabotaged the line, Bloomberg reports, “Arizona’s gas exports to Mexico have plunged 37%,” forcing the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), Mexico’s state power monopoly, “to burn fuel oil instead to generate power, raising costs.”

Sempra’s case is not alone. Citing Jesús Federico Reyes-Heroles, a former Mexican energy minister, Bloomberg asserts that at least four pipelines “have been stalled or temporarily suspended” in Mexico.

“I can’t quote the number, but it’s more than that,” Reyes Heroles told the outlet.

Nor is it only pipelines being affected. Indigenous protests in the southern state of Chiapas earlier this year forced the government to scrap an auction of offshore drilling rights. And “in neighbouring Oaxaca, communities have stalled development of wind energy projects [4], claiming a lack of consultation.”

More than 12 million people belong to some 70 recognized Indigenous groups in Mexico. As is the case in Canada and the U.S., many are made up of small, largely autonomous communities. Also shared with Indigenous groups in the north are traditional community decision-making processes—known in Mexico as “usos y costumbres”—which emphasize consensus over speed and are often opaque to outsiders.

Indigenous groups have increasingly joined hands [5] across borders, both within and beyond North America [6], to leverage their political clout to resist expansions of fossil infrastructure and extractive industries that many view as extensions of colonial exploitation.