First Nation determined to be heard on Trans Mountain pipeline

Tsleil-Waututh Chief Justin George.  - Outlook file photo
Tsleil-Waututh Chief Justin George.
— image credit: Outlook file photo

The government of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation is stepping up efforts to keep the band’s oil pipeline opposition front and centre in the national political arena.

On Nov. 5, the Tsleil-Waututh called out the Conservative government’s natural resources minister Joe Oliver over the National Energy Board’s denial  of intervenor status for the band during the first stage of hearings on Kinder Morgan’s $4.1-billion proposal to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline on Burrard Inlet.

One week later, Chief Justin George commended Thomas Mulcair for comments the federal NDP leader made in Victoria accusing the federal government of gutting the environmental review process for pipeline projects.

In each case a press release was issued from the Tsleil-Waututh outlining both the North Vancouver band’s opposition to the Kinder Morgan project and its plan to use the proposal to set the benchmark for government-to-government consultations on similar resource projects between the federal government and First Nations in the future.

But consultation takes two, and the Tsleil-Waututh’s staunchly anti-pipeline stance may be a non-starter.

In an email response to The Outlook’s request for an interview, Natural Resources Canada said the ministry received the Nov. 5 letter addressed to Minister Oliver from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, but said little else.

The Nation penned the letter out of frustration at having been denied the chance to speak at the NEB’s upcoming commercial tolling hearing on the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipe. That hearing will be the first official government review of the plan to expand the Edmonton-to-Burnaby pipeline. It’s also the point where oil exporters and the NEB set the price structure for the approximately 450,000 new barrels of oil per day that would flow in addition to the 300,000 barrels today.

“Basically they’re putting money before the environment and before the people of British Columbia,” Tsleil-Waututh councillor Carleen Thomas told The Outlook after the Nation was barred from participating in the tolling phase.

“So now we’re focusing on getting the ear of [Minister] Joe Oliver.”

While the minister had not responded to the Tsleil-Waututh letter by the time of his ministry’s Nov. 20 email to The Outlook, Natural Resources Canada spokesman Paul Duchesne said “the Government of Canada takes its legal duty to consult with Aboriginal groups very seriously,” adding “the National Energy Board will conduct a rigorous review of the proposed project with opportunities for Aboriginal groups to participate.”

But the Tsleil-Waututh say they’re not confident the government will fulfill its legal duty engage with First Nations on this and other resource projects. They say the NEB will rely on third party Kinder Morgan to carry out the Crown’s responsibility to engage First Nations and to propose mitigations where necessary. This, the band says, relegates First Nations to stakeholders in the process as opposed to self-governing bodies with constitutionally protected rights and titles to land under the Supreme Court.

“The government has a legal obligation to consult with First Nations but there is currently no mechanism for that consultation to take place,” Chief George said in a press release. “This project is one of many energy projects in British Columbia that have the potential to impact aboriginal rights and titles. We need to get the process right or each project will encounter the same challenges.”

The Tsleil-Waututh have since broken off formal relations with the Texas-based oil company, saying the Nation “will not participate bilaterally with Kinder Morgan in any process that may be legally styled at some point as ‘consultation’ with respect to the pipeline project and its approval processes.”

Coun. Thomas said, despite what many claim, the Tsleil-Waututh are not “anti-development” or “anti-oil,” and “understand that we have a need for the oil industry,” but added the Kinder Morgan plan to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline by 2017 is too risky for the Nation to tolerate from an environmental standpoint.

Trans Mountain has has held nearly three dozen public information sessions along the 1,100-kilometre pipeline route between Edmonton and Burnaby’s Westridge Terminal.

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