A David vs Goliath court case in Canada that has seen an indigenous community triumph in the country’s highest court to block oil exploration could have a ripple effect in New Zealand.

Greenpeace campaigner, Mike Smith (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu), says the unanimous decision today by the Supreme Court of Canada to rule in favour of the 1,000-people strong Inuit community of Clyde River has many parallels to the struggle between iwi and oil exploration here.

“This could set new precedents for the indigenous rights movement across the world,” he says. “In Aotearoa, it’s already creating ripples within the Māori communities who have been opposing seismic blasting and oil exploration in their tribal waters for years.”

Iwi opposition to oil exploration has a rich history in New Zealand.

Highlights include a 2013 victory that saw oil giant Petrobras leave New Zealand, following more than two years of protests and pressure by Te Whānau-ā-Apanui.  

The Government had signed off deep sea oil blasting in the Raukumara Basin without consent from the iwi, who have mana moana over those waters.

Most recently, public opposition to the Amazon Warrior, the world’s largest seismic ship which has been blasting off the Wairarapa Coast on behalf of Statoil and Chevron, saw protests in ports, petitions garnering tens of thousands of signatures, and significant iwi opposition.

In January, Greenpeace and East Coast group, Te Ikaroa, travelled nearly 50 nautical miles in small inflatables to confront the ship and deliver messages signed by almost 80,000 New Zealanders.

A few months later, Te Matau a Māui, a traditional double-hulled ocean voyaging waka belonging to the people of Ngāti Kahungunu (Hawkes Bay), intercepted the Amazon Warrior, with the crew delivering a powerful haka and the message that the oil ship was not welcome .

An ongoing Treaty of Waitangi case in Northland against Statoil claims the Crown failed to adequately consult iwi when granting Statoil permits and breached the principles of the Treaty.

“For years we’ve been outraged that these climate-killing oil machines are coming into our customary waters to blast our environment and threaten our marine life without any proper consultation with the appropriate Māori authorities,” Smith says.

“It’s incredibly valuable for us to see that our indigenous neighbours over in Canada, who have taken a similar defence and battled for three years all the way up to the highest court, have been successful. It’s a great victory for the indigenous movement.”

Clyde River’s case was supported by Greenpeace Canada and called on The Supreme Court of Canada to stop a five year seismic blasting project approved by the National Energy Board, citing the Government’s failure to meaningfully consult with impacted communities. The ruling strengthens respect for Indigenous rights.

Just shy of 440,000 people around the world signed petitions to stop seismic blasting and stand with Clyde River.