Indigenous groups continue to battle over the contentious issue of investing in the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
Last March, an Indigenous group called Project Reconciliation proposed buying a 51% stake in the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The group, composed of Indigenous communities from B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan, said buying a majority stake will help to alleviate poverty and gain control of possible environmental risks of the pipeline.
In an op/ed for The Province, they said neither Indigenous people nor Canadian taxpayers will have to procure the money. They offer to raise the $7.6 billion required through a bond issue underwritten by shipper contracts
They also make assurances that Indigenous people will hold no liability, quoting that the Trans Mountain Pipeline will cover that with their own insurance. The group stresses that buying a majority stake will provide a voice for Indigenous communities in pipeline decisions.
“It is critical that we as Indigenous leaders and communities play a significant role in ensuring that this work is carried out responsibly and sustainably,” the group said in the article. “We are asking Indigenous communities to carefully consider how a majority ownership of, and full participation in, a major Canadian resource development project could improve their people’s current and future prospects.”
In strong opposition is the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), who critiqued the buyout in a response letter. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, alongside secretary-treasurer Chief Judy Wilson, argue several points. They write that the pipeline is not as profitable as is promised, the oil economy is unstable, and many First Nations still oppose the pipeline, which can cause more delays and more investment.
“We urge you to … carefully consider the enormous environmental, social, legal, and political ramifications before committing to this project,” they wrote.
Another group led by Chief Michael LeBourdais of the Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band wants more First Nations to get on board. His band is one of the 43 First Nations that have signed mutual benefits agreements with Trans Mountain, totalling around $400 million.
He says First Nations have no power or oversight in the current climate.
“The old way of thinking is dependency, looking to Ottawa or somebody else for your livelihood,” he explains of his letter. “I want my own people looking after themselves. I want my children, my grandchildren looking after themselves. That’s who we’re doing this for.”
LeBourdais would like to see the proposal in front of Ottawa by the end of June.
The Squamish Nation has long been a strong and vocal opponent to the pipeline. Khelsilem, elected councillor and spokesperson for the Squamish Nation, says his nation is worried about the potential for Indigenous involvement.
“We continue to have great concerns around the pipeline and its impact to our territory, water, economy, and community, both in terms of safety and long term risk to the environment,” he says.
He says every First Nation should have the self-determining right to control what happens in their own territory.
“We respect the right of other First Nations to make their own decisions and they have to respect ours when we state our opposition,” he says. “They’re possibly entering into a very risky deal, given the future of the industry and the advancement of technology in green industries.”
Trades programs are coming to Indigenous people in unique ways, from unions and workers associations, to mobile schools and government outreach.
Alternative education to postsecondary institutions can be vital to gaining employment. According to Statistics Canada, Aboriginal people who completed postsecondary education had an employment rate of over 75%, but those with less than high school were at a rate of just over 40%.
The Indigenous population is the fastest growing in Canada – and that translates into more need of representation in the workforce. Over the next decade, of those aged 25-64, the Indigenous labour force will grow four times more than those who aren’t Indigenous.
Skilled trades and apprenticeships are becoming more tailored to Indigenous communities. Some outreach programs are literally coming to their doorsteps.
The Nicola Valley Institute of Technology has two campuses in Merritt and Vancouver, but it offers a third option for learning. Their Bridging to Trades program brings two 53’ mobile trailers around the province for a 12-week, pre-foundational training in one of four trades.
The idea is to introduce skills in electrical work, plumbing/pipefitting, machining, and welding before a student decides if they want to continue on that path and go to a trade school.
Dr. John Chenoweth, Associate Vice-President, says the program has been going strong for 10 years. They’ve visited around 45 to 50 communities around the province and complete 60 hours in each trade, plus 60 hours of employment readiness.
“The biggest things we want to achieve out of this, is a lot of these students probably haven’t graduated from high school,” he says. “They probably don’t have a thought in their mind that they have the ability to do those things.”
Chenoweth says one of the neat things about the program is that some of their instructors also haven’t finished high school, but they have 30 to 40 years in successful careers as tradespeople.
He says even the students who don’t end up going into the trades still come out of the program with skills and a confidence they didn’t have before.
“One of the most positive things we see is students say, yeah, I’ve learned that I don’t want to be a tradesperson, but I didn’t realize I was such a good student at math. Maybe I want to go into business, or get my grade 12 and become a teacher,” he says. “It’s almost like an awakening program for students who feel like, I can do anything. That’s what that program does, ultimately.”
WOMEN ENTER THE WORKFORCE
In 2016, Canadore College in North Bay, Ontario announced its Aboriginal Women in the Trades program. Women will participate for 12 weeks and learn on of four trades: electrical, plumbing, construction, or carpentry.
The program is unique: tuition is free. The Ontario Poverty Reduction Fund partnered with community members so women receive training, materials, and bus passes to remove any barriers to participating.
The certificate program has a cultural foundation, using holistic approaches to learning and academic support.
Judy Manitowabi, Manager of the First Peoples’ Centre at Canadore, said that increasing these women’s capacity for skilled labour lays a positive foundation for growth in Indigenous communities
“This is intended to be an introduction to help women find the path best suited to them,” she said in a school statement. “Upon completion, they will have basic skills to rely upon, but they will also be qualified to further their education in the skilled trades at the postsecondary or apprenticeship level.”
FEDERAL PROGRAMS LEND A HAND
The Government of Canada has also invested in making trades programs more accessible to Indigenous people. Last month, the government announced funding for Indigenous apprenticeships in New Brunswick. More than one million dollars will be provided to MAP Strategic Workforce Services (MAPSWS) for its First in Trades Program.
MAPSWS will open up 18 to 20 Indigenous apprenticeships positions within 14 unions of the New Brunswick Building Trades Unions.
In Alberta, the Flexibility and Innovation in Apprenticeship Technical Training (FIATT) program funded a welding program in partnership with Red Deer College and the Montana First Nation. Starting in 2018, it will teach 50 Indigenous apprentices from rural communities to become certified welders.
Rhonda Stangeland, Project Coordinator of FIATT at Red Deer College, said the partnership has allowed students to explore new career pathways.
“The project combined the use of a redesigned curriculum delivery model and learning technologies to prepare 50 Aboriginal learners for a career in welding,” she said in a press statement. “Now many of them have completed their technical training and are on their way to finding jobs in their chosen trades.”
The Indigenous Guardians Pilot Program began in the summer of 2018 as a means of funding environmental initiatives for Indigenous peoples. The program was brought to fruition by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and helps organizations protect and preserve the environment and important ecosystems on Indigenous lands.
Marilyne Lavoie, spokesperson for ECCC, says funding is allocated on an individual level. Each each Indigenous group works with ECCC to co-develop a personalized plan determining the governance and priorities of their program. Lavoie says this strengthens the role Indigenous people have in conservation of their own lands and helps develop better partnerships.
“By working together with Indigenous peoples, other governments, and all Canadians, we will strengthen networks of protected and conserved areas, the cornerstone of biodiversity, and support reconciliation and the sustainability of local communities,” Lavoie says. “The insights and contributions of Indigenous peoples are essential to understanding and protecting our ecosystems.”
Twenty-eight programs received funding as part of the pilot program in all but three of Canada’s provinces and territories.
RESOURCE PROTECTION PROGRAM, WALPOLE ISLAND, ONTARIO
Walpole Island First Nation (Bkejwanong) in Ontario first received funding in 2019 for its Natural Heritage Program, particularly the Bkejwanong Eco-Keepers youth program. Clint Jacobs, of the Walpole Island First Nation, says they’re also submitting a proposal to extend the funding into a multi-year project.
The current funding helped to purchase, protect, and restore natural habitats on Walpole Island. Jacobs says it protects, maps, and asses various at-risk species, develops education and outreach programs, and advised university research projects, among many other initiatives.
Walpole Island has one of the country’s most biologically diverse ecosystems, Jacob says. It includes large wetlands, tallgrass prairies, oak savannas, and large forested areas.
The Bkejwanong Eco-Keepers monitor local wildlife, participate in habitat restoration projects, maintenance of trails, and environmental education.
Jacobs says youth can work in the summer, providing them with many opportunities such as CPR and canoeing certification, survival skills, and flora and fauna surveying and monitoring.
“They also roll up their sleeves to carry out fieldwork to help doncut reptile inventories, species at risk surveys and monitoring, freshwater mussel monitoring, and removal of invasive plant species,” Jacobs says. “They connect with knowledge holders to learn about our history, traditional teachings, medicine plants, and roles in Anishnaabeg culture. These activities empower the youth to be positive role models and give back to the community.”
COMMUNITY BASED MONITORING PROGRAM, FORT CHIPEWYAN, ALBERTA
The Community Based Monitoring (CBM) program is an initiative run by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta.
The two first nations invest in both traditional knowledge and scientific monitoring. They monitor water quality and quantity, climate changes during winter, and tracking of wild foods.
The Mikisew Cree First Nation has four guardians (environmental technicians) and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has one full-time staff member with more members assisting as needed.
Bruce Maclean, environmental consultant with the CBM program, says the guardians received funding in fall of 2018. The guardians trek out weekly to monitor the water and lands and work alongside the government, universities, and foundations.
“We are leaders in protecting the Peace Athabasca Delta, the traditional territory of the Mikisew Cree (also known as Wood Buffalo National Park) which is also designated as a UNESCO site,” Maclean says.
He says the funding made it possible to hire students, engage with elders, collect more data and increase storage collection. He stresses this funding helped to eliminates barriers to their success due to the remoteness of the community.
PIMACHIOWIN AKI WORLD HERITAGE SITE LAND GUARDIANS, WINNIPEG, MANITOBA
The Pimachiowin Aki is Canada’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site that was chosen for the Indigenous Guardians program for both its cultural and natural attributes. The land became a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its wild and varied landscape including lakes, rivers, wetlands, and boreal forest.
It encompasses the traditional lands of four Anishanaabeg communities: the Bloodvein River, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi, and Poplar River First Nations. These nations work together with provincial governments to form the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation, which employs Land Guardians who help to conserve, monitor, and protect the lands and waters in Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan, or “keeping the land”.
Executive Director Alison Haugh says as a World Heritage site, they are required to fulfill obligations to observe, record, and report on the state of conservation. She says it’s created stable and meaningful employment for First Nations.
“We’re working to contribute to the world’s understanding of nature, culture, and connections in protected areas,” Haugh says.
She says the funding was integral to keeping the guardians working in year round. In its previous iteration, the First Nations had to lay them off due to lack of money. It also enabled them to bring in technology for the guardians, such as cameras with built-in GPS, social media channels, and a new site.
UNAMA’KI INSTITUTE OF NATURAL RESOURCES (UINR) AND CONFEDERACY OF MAINLAND MI’KMAQ PARKS GUARDIAN PROGRAM, TRURO, NOVA SCOTIA
The Guardian Program and Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources (UINR) work to encourage Mi’kmaq participation in natural resources management and in providing employment. They are represented by the five Mi’kmaq communities of Unama’ki–Eskasoni, Wagmatcook, and We’koqma’q, Membertou, and Potlotek.
This includes their forestry division, which creates employment for Mi’kmaq people and strengthens local industry relationships. They also partner with graduate students to follow movements of aquatic species.
Moose have additionally proved to be an important resource for the Mi’kmaq peoples, including a spiritual significance. In response, UINR developed a Moose Management Plan. The Mi’kmaq Grand Council and Unama’ki Council of Elders work together to maintain a long-term plan for moose management that follows Mi’kmaq treaty rights.
Funding from the pilot program helps the parks guardian program, as well as UINR, to maintain traditional ways in combination with science in its research and natural resource management.
Jerilynn Webster, also known by her hip-hop name JB the First Lady, wanted to be an activist since she was five years old when she experienced the Oka Crisis. Now 34, she’s been working every since to better the lives of Indigenous women and girls across the country.
She’s released seven albums in seven years. Her newest album is titled Righteous Empowered Daughter (RED) for which she was nominated for best music video and best hip hop/rap album of the year from the Indigenous Music Awards.
Understanding the complexities of gender was also an important message for her.
“[This album] speaks a lot about clean water, missing and murdered Indigenous women, but also protecting and respecting our Two-Spirit people. That’s very important to me,” she says. “I feel like Two-Spirit people don’t get the honor and respect that they need. So I wanted that reflected in the album.”
She works at the grassroots level, planning rallies and holding candlelight vigils for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. She says the album explores how young Indigenous women are interacting with the world.
“It’s not just our most vulnerable, but it can also be our women who are going to school to those active as community leaders,” she says. “And that’s because we’re being targeted as Indigenous women and we need to protect each other.”
Webster also works at a federal and legislative level. She occupied the INAC office in Vancouver in 2016, along with other mothers and their children. They wanted the federal government to provide for Indigenous communities, prioritizing funds for language programs, as well as reinstating youth programming that had been cut.
She currently works a lot with youth and wants to see the world change for girls. She worked with Vancouver dance troupe Butterflies in Spirit, whose mission is to raise awareness of violence against Indigenous women and girls. She also created a comic with young Indigenous girls that was later adapted into a theatre piece.
“It was about experiential youth who have experienced sex trade work,” she says. “It’s a preventative interactive theatre piece with stories of how people were trying to recruit young women into sex work.”
Webster says she wants the future to bring a safe space for Indigenous women.
“I want to see a world that’s a safe space with no more missing posters,” she says. “A place where we can live freely, practice our culture, celebrate, give birth, and be proud of who we are, to be loved and respected.”
Jody Wilson-Raybould has been a woman of power in Canada. In 2015, she became the first Indigenous person to become Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, later transferring to the Minister of Veteran Affairs in 2019. She currently holds the position of the Liberal Member of Parliament for the riding of Vancouver Granville in Vancouver, B.C.
A member of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples, she not only served in federal Canadian politics, but has held her ground in many important positions within her province and the Indigenous community. She was a Crown Prosecutor for B.C. and served as B.C.’s Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations.
As Justice Minister, Wilson-Raybould was adamant that one of her focuses would be in reducing violence against women. In 2017, she held a forum discussing how Canada’s criminal justice system disproportionately affects sexual assault survivors.
“This crime has a gendered impact, and unfortunately myths and stereotypes continue to surface at all stages of the criminal justice system,” she said at an event in Quebec. In her role as Justice Minister, she promised the the government would be “unwavering” in committing to giving victims the justice they deserve.
Back in 2015, she defied the Conservative government and promised to review Harper’s negative laws on sex work, whose new legislation made it illegal to purchase sex work. Testimonies from sex workers strongly urged this legislation not to pass, as it endangered those working and pushed them further into dangerous situations.
A strong contrast to the presiding government, Wilson-Raybould also promised to sit down and listen to sex workers and those impacted by the regulations.
She also fought for gender rights across the spectrum and was an open supporter of Bill C-16, which later passed in June 2017. The bill gave protections to transgender and gender diverse Canadians, making it illegal for employers to discriminate based on gender identity or expression.
“In Canada, we must celebrate inclusion and diversity, and all Canadians should feel safe to be themselves,” she said in a statement. “Trans and gender diverse person must be granted equal status in Canadian society.”
After the launch of the Canadian government’s inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women in 2016, Wilson-Raybould spoke to the importance of getting to the root causes of the national crisis. She spoke out against how colonization has negatively affected the high rates of violence perpetrated against Indigenous women.
She stressed that it was important to unpack “the colonial legacy, looking at communities on reserve and off reserve, looking at institutions … and understanding the realities, the truths, that will be expressed through the living experiences of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”
Douglas Sanderson | University of Toronto Faculty of Law
The recent internal struggles between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and elected council has many wondering: what powers rest with whom?
The Wet’suwet’en nation is made up of five clans, and within those, 13 houses. The five hereditary chiefs representing the clans are all opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline running through their territory, while the elected council gave their go-ahead.
Elected chiefs and council generally hold authority over reserve lands and their infrastructure. Traditional chiefs oversee the territories and hold ceremonial and historical importance to First Nations.
Electoral systems are a result of the section 74 of the Indian Act, imposed upon First Nations by Canada. It was designed to eradicate the hereditary system and create something more recognizable for the western government.
Gina Starblanket, who is Cree and Saulteaux and a member of the Star Blanket Cree Nation in Treaty 4 territory in Saskatchewan, is an assistant professor in Indigenous Politics at the University of Calgary.
She says that hereditary chiefs hold a symbolic role as well as a practical one. She acknowledges that it becomes particularly complicated when the question arises of who represents the nation’s voice in external relations, as in the Wet’suwet’en case.
“Hereditary chiefs are often recognized as traditional knowledge keepers, and in some contexts are recognized as having greater authority and rights relative to things like traditional territory or cultural knowledge and tradition,” she says. “But again, this varies from community to community and is also contested within communities.”
When it comes to where the authority lies, the answer is complex. The pipeline has just magnified the continual question of who controls what.
In a media release from the Wet’sewet’en, Chief Na’moks emphasized their rights to protection of their lands.
“The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have maintained their use and occupancy of their lands and hereditary governance system for thousands of years. Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs are the Title Holders and maintain authority and jurisdiction to make decisions on unceded lands,” it said.
Chief Kloum Kuhn said the hereditary chiefs will never support the Coastal GasLink project.
“Under ‘Anuc niwh’it’en, Wet’suwet’en rule of law, all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en have unanimously opposed all pipeline proposals and given no authority to Coastal Gaslink/TransCanada to do work on Wet’suwet’en lands,” he said.
BRINGING THEM TOGETHER
Douglas Sanderson (Amo Binashii), a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, is a professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto.
He says the answer is more an amalgamation of the hereditary and the elected systems, especially when it comes to working with those outside the community.
“I think what we need to do is find a way to bring these two things together, so that you just have a decision making body,” Sanderson says. “The problem is created because outsiders don’t understand our communities. They’ve never been there, they don’t know how to operate.”
He says it’s integral that companies like the Coastal GasLink pipeline know the communities they’re working with, and that the confrontation should have been obvious if they had met with the Wet’suwet’en.
“They obviously didn’t spend any time there,” Sanderson says. “So they shouldn’t be surprised that this is unraveling in the way that it is.”
AN ASSIMILATORY PROCESS
The proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline will run through 20 First Nations’ territories and the company received approval from all of them, although they sought assent only from elected officials. Some hereditary leaders also gave the thumbs up, but ultimately the go-ahead came from signed agreements with elected officials.
The reactions were mixed, but public opinion seemed to strongly sway toward supporting the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Protests and rallies were held across Canada. Celebrities and musicians across North America voiced their support. Hereditary chiefs and elected council members from other bands wrote letters of encouragement.
Starblanket says this example of the clash between elected and hereditary leadership illustrates the problematic nature of electoral process.
“In many instances where those electoral systems were imposed, that was in an assimilatory process that was intended to undermine traditional leadership,” she says. “It also allowed for the imposition of patriarchal processes because it denied women’s jurisdiction and participation in selecting leaders.”
She emphasizes that she is from the prairie communities and doesn’t want to speak on behalf of the coastal communities.
“These electoral processes were imposed on all of us,” Starblanket says. “But also traditionally, they looked very different.”
Gordon Christie agrees on the fluctuations within Indigenous groups. He’s Inuvialuit and a professor at the Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, who studies Aboriginal rights.
“It can be variable, depending on the community or nation,” Christie says. “You’re talking about many First Nations communities that have resisted the imposition of band councils since day one, and they continue to today. Others resisted in the early stages, but then became comfortable with the band council system.”
He says there are First Nations that are comfortable with the band council system because that’s what they have known for generations.
“You’ve got a whole range of different histories. You have to go to each nation and find out what their story is,” he says.
A HISTORY OF RESISTANCE
Christie say the 1920s were a turning point for First Nations communities in Canada, when the country put its foot down, making it illegal to litigate and shut down a lot of legal outlets for Indigenous communities.
“That was a time of strong resistance,” Christie says. “Canada’s response was to get more harsh in its position, and in some communities, it moved in and physically removed the old hereditary system and put in place the band council system.”
For now, he agrees with the hereditary chiefs.
“For the Wet’suwet’en, you have the houses and the clans,” he says. “It makes complete sense to say that they have legal authority over their house territories.”
Melissa West Morrison | UBC Aboriginal Student Affairs
Receiving a college acceptance letter in the mail is a watershed moment for many young adults, but stepping into that empty dorm room is another experience altogether.
More and more universities in Canada are building comprehensive Indigenous resource systems on campus and providing holistic opportunities for education.
While those supports are integral to ensure healthy and equal opportunities for Indigenous students, there’s another resource that most students away from home already have: social media.
It may get a bad rap these days, but now there is research showing that it provides more opportunities to sustain relationships with family and friends. Those students who move away from home especially benefit when logging on.
Far from Home
A study out of the University of Kansas examining international students found that adjusting to college life was made easier when they went online. The study found that interacting online provided a unique connection to people back home who shared the same culture.
While no research has yet been done on the the social media usage of Indigenous students, they share similar experiences with those international students who may be leaving a distinct cultural support system behind.
Adjusting to major life changes is challenging at any age, but it’s a two-for-one shock for students who both move away from home and are immersed in a completely new environment.
Adapting to college life, from sudden absolute freedom to the terrifying task of self management, is one of the most challenging times that young adults will face. There is pressure to not only succeed academically but to fit in socially.
A study published in 2016 looked at all of these components and found that particularly for college students, social media helped them adjust and cope to that exotic landscape.
It’s not just friends that students are reconnecting with: relationships with family also dramatically alter when kids move away. Researchers at Kent State University looked at how they interacted online with their nuclear family.
They found that when parents and children interact on social networks like Facebook, they are also more likely to talk in person: these online connections directly translated to more face-to-face time.
Longhouses, Gardens, and Podcasts
While social media plays a large role in how students cope with a new life away from home, the resources that universities provide also make a difference.
The University of British Columbia offers a First Nation and Indigenous Studies (FNIS) program that incorporates the Indigenous Health Research and Education Garden. The garden gives chances for students to learn about traditional plants and medicines, while also hosting a program that invites urban youth to come and learn.
The FNIS program spoke to several students about their experiences on campus. Melissa West Morrison, who is Kwakwaka’wakw, Namgis First Nation, and Chinese, was an intern at the Xʷc̓ic̓əsəm Garden. This internship not only introduced her to other students, but built up relationships with elders, an opportunity that many Indigenous students may miss.
“During my time at the Garden, I was the lead intern working with the Medicine Collective. I was really fortunate to be able to learn from Indigenous Elders and Knowledge-Keepers sharing traditional teachings and supporting workshops to reconnect and restore our relationships to lands and peoples that live on Turtle Island,” she told the FNIS program.
UBC also has its student-ran radio station, CiTR. It hosts Unceded Airwaves, a radio program hosted by the Indigenous Collective.
Nikita Day, who was getting her minor in First Nations and Indigenous Studies, said although she helped with Unceded Airwaves, she wished she had taken more advantage of the school-run programs.
“It wasn’t really until my third year that I started going to the longhouse and collaborating with the other Indigenous students, and that has turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences that I’ll take away from my time here,” she told the program.
“I know how difficult it can be attending an institution like UBC for the first time especially if, like me, you come from a much smaller place. My advice for other Indigenous students would be to try getting involved.”
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the federal government has no obligation to consult First Nations when drafting legislation.
Seven out of nine judges came to the conclusion on Thursday, in a long battle originally set forth by the Mikisew Cree First Nation’s lawsuit in 2013.
The Mikisew say their struggle is not over and they expect Canada to continue to consult with First Nations in all decisions.
“Mikisew and other First Nations have valuable knowledge, laws and experience to contribute,” said Mikisew Chief Archie Waquan in a statement on Thursday. “We should be at the table with the government, not reacting after the fact through litigation. The Crown has said they could and would consult and we will hold them to that promise.”
Some point to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which says the government has a duty to consult with Indigenous peoples. However, this only applies to treaty rights, and the Mikisew want that applied to legislation.
Some of the Supreme Court judges agree that consultation is still important. Five of the judges from Thursday’s ruling said the government must still act honourably when consulting with Indigenous people, but when it comes down to enacting legislation, the waters become muddier.
Minister of Justice Jody Wilson Raybould issued a statement on Thursday echoing that sentiment, saying the government wants to work with First Nations but how that plays out is more intricate.
“While the court has been clear that the duty to consult is not triggered in the legislative process, it also makes clear that Indigenous rights must be respected, upheld and protected,” the statement read. “Our Government remains wholly committed to respecting our Constitution and respecting and upholding Indigenous rights, and will continue to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples on matters that directly and significantly affect them.”
The court case began when the Mikisew challenged the Harper government’s introduction of two 2012 omnibus bills that drastically altered several environmental acts, including the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
They brought their argument in a lawsuit against the government in 2013.
“The lack on consultation on these bills led to bad laws, which resulted in failures like the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project and weaker environmental protection for all Canadians,” said Robert Janes, Mikisew’s legal counsel, in a statement on Thursday.
The Mikisew say they passed these laws without consultation with affected First Nations. The bills reduced government oversight, which the Mikisew says overstepped boundaries guaranteed under Treaty 8, which guaranteed the First Nations the right to hunt, trap and fish in exchange for their land.
However, in 2016, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned their argument that the government has a legally binding duty to consult with First Nations. The Mikisew then took their case to the Supreme Court of Canada, which resulted in Thursday’s decision.
First Nations Response
Marlene Poitras, Assembly of First Nations’ Regional Chief of Alberta, says she was deeply disappointed and frustrated with the decision.
“[This is] a missed opportunity for meaningful involvement of First Nations in the legislative process, a process that can have deep and lasting impacts on our peoples, our lands, our waters, and our Treaty and Inherent Rights,” she said in a statement released on Thursday.
Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde also expressed disappointment on the decision but says he wants to continue to lift up the Mikisew Cree First Nation for their diligence.
“FIrst Nations maintain that Canada must engage with First Nations on any initiatives that could impact our rights,” he said on social media. “The honour of the Crown must be ensured and maintained.”
After the federal decision on May 29 to purchase Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project, Indigenous people have weighed in on every side of the pronouncement.
Currently, over a dozen lawsuits are filed against the Crown by Indigenous and environmental groups who oppose the pipeline expansion.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Squamish Nation, and Tsleil-Waututh Nation are some of the most vocal opposition to the pipeline, while outspoken supporters have included those such as the Cheam First Nation, Simpcw First Nation, and Whispering Pines Clinton Indian Band.
Kinder Morgan had previously listed signed benefits agreements with 43 First Nations, 33 of which were in B.C., however, in a recent report, two B.C. chiefs said they only signed the agreements because they felt their future was futile and not because of support for the project.
Trudeau visits pipeline committee
Prime Minister Trudeau recently met with the Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee (IAMC), on June 5 at the Cheam First Nation reserve.
The committee advises regulators and monitors the expansion project. It’s constituted of 13 Indigenous representatives and six senior federal representatives. The committee states that participation by a community doesn’t indicate support nor approval but instead a “shared goal of safety and protection of environmental and Indigenous interests in the lands and waters.”
Cheam Chief Ernie Crey sits as co-chair on the committee.
Crey said the Prime Minister’s office reached out to the IAMC and requested an opportunity to meet. The Indigenous caucus raised five central issues to the Prime Minister.
Some of those involved transforming the IAMC from an advisory to a co-management role, building with respect to Indigenous rights and consultation, and minimizing the impact of the pipeline.
Crey said the committee was “very satisfied” with Trudeau’s responses. He said they stressed the importance of taking the IAMC from an advisory to a co-management role and that Trudeau’s response was reassuring.
“We were able to put across to him that that’s the direction we want to take things in. It was complementary to what the government has already said they’re prepared to do,” Crey said. “He was basically saying, that’s the direction we’re going in. There’s work to be done and we understand that.”
As for any promises, Crey said Trudeau’s response was that “his government is committed to continue to work with them.”
“Everyone was happy with that,” Crey said.
Squamish Nation sits determined
The Squamish Nation didn’t hide their contempt after news of the buyout, issuing a scalding May 29 news release saying the Prime Minister betrayed the Indigenous people.
The nation had recently suffered a defeat as their case dismissed was by the B.C. Supreme Court, where the judge found pipeline consultation with the nation to be sufficient.
Their mindset toward the pipeline has not changed since the ruling, stating they are “appalled” by the purchase.
“This is a continued betrayal of promises made to us by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He told Canada’s Indigenous people that our Rights would be respected and upheld. He has broken that promise. He promised us he would put the pipeline expansion through a brand new review. He has broken that promise as well,” said Khelsilem, their elected councilor and spokesperson, in the press release.
Their statement goes on to proclaim that the Prime Minister’s move now forces all Canadians to take on the “risky” project as taxpayer dollars are funding the pipeline.
Khelsilem said further in the statement that “the Squamish Nation will continue to fight to protect our inlet, our communities and our economy … We have a Right to practice our culture, our way of life, and to continue our Right to self-determination in our territories. This is a Right that we have never surrendered, and it is a Right we will continue to defend.”
They state a bitumen marine spill would be “catastrophic” and a reminder that tankers pass by three Squamish Nation communities on the Burrard Inlet.
The new parallel pipeline will run alongside the existing 65-year-old pipe, increasing bitumen (unrefined oil), to 890,000 from 300,000 barrels per day, nearly tripling capacity. The Burnaby export terminal, in Tsleil-Waututh’s traditional territory, will see an increase of tankers to 34 from five, every month.
Simplifying the conversation
Chief Michael LeBourdais of the Whispering Pines Clinton Indian Band never had a problem with the pipeline. What bothered him was the jurisdiction. He said when Ian Anderson, President of Kinder Morgan Canada, initially came to Whispering Pines, it began as a fight. He said they fought for five years, from 2007 to 2012, over taxes and jurisdictions.
Once they finished negotiating the deal wherein Kinder Morgan would pay taxes and respect their environmental jurisdiction, he was okay with it.
“We were never opposed to any pipe or any project in our territory,” he said. “A good percentage of my population, including myself, have worked in the oil patch so we understand the safety protocols, safety redundancy, and oil spill response when it comes to oil pipes and drill sites.”
And they are fine with the government purchasing the pipeline, he said, and that ha actually simplified the conversation.
“We already know them, they know us,” LeBourdais said. “Sometimes you need the federal government to step in to get through a rough patch.”
He said this can also be a good start for reconciliation. “Reconciliation is a huge, huge undertaking by the federal government. This can be a part of it,” LeBourdais said. There are only probably 50 bands affected by this project and we have over 600 in Canada. So this is a good start on how to work and get along with those communities.”
One thing all First Nations have in common, he said, is a desire for jurisdiction. “We all want tax money and all want environmental oversight. I want to get along, share in the resources, and share in the wealth of the community. We want our fair share,” LeBourdais said.
He said he doesn’t understand the demonization of the pipeline. LeBourdais said the responsibility lies with operators, captains, and tug boats for example, and not to use the pipeline as a catch-all.
“That’s the message we’re trying to get out to Canadians who oppose the pipeline in general. To demonize oil is crazy – it’s just a resource and it’s one that Canada has in abundance,” LeBourdais said.