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.