Why is the government going to such lengths for the Trans Mountain pipeline? Auntie Gloria’s clam fritters were legendary in the Tsleil-Waututh Nation territory of the Canadian province of British Columbia. Reuben George remembers them well. Back in 1953—the same year that the Trans Mountain pipeline was first put in use, carrying crude oil from Alberta to the coast British Columbia in Burnaby acrossfrom Tsleil-Waututh Nation territory—George would often walk out to the Burrard Inlet at low tide near his home to a bounty of oceanic delights, where people could simply pluck clams and other culinary treasures straight from the sea. Auntie Gloria’s fritters were in abundance back then.
That’s one of the memories that keeps him, his family, and other Coast Salish Nations motivated to continue their fight against the Trans Mountain pipeline. Tsleil-Waututh is one of several First Nations in Canada, along with the Squamish Nation and Coldwater Indian Band, that scored a resounding victory against Trans Mountain in the Federal Court of Appeal on August 30. The court found that the federal government’s review of the proposed expansion of the pipeline was fatally flawed.
In its decision, the court challenged the validity of the review on two points: the National Energy Board’s assessment process that led to its 2013 approval of the pipeline ignored the impact of increased oil tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet as a result of the project, and, the Government of Canada failed to fulfill its legal duty to consult Indigenous peoples. As noted in a1,200-page assessment of the expansion plan conducted by The Sacred Trust, a Tsleil-Waututh Nation initiative, which found that the project is too risky, 87 percent of the traditional diet of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation comes from the water.
Following the announcement those long involved in the Indigenous-led resistance to the project— George, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and Squamish Nation spokesperson Khelsilem—held a press conference during which it was noted that Indigenous Peoples in Canada would not waver in their commitment to protecting land and water resources and that they would continue the fight in the courts and on the land as long as it took.
“They (the government of Canada) did not behave honourably. The consultation was in effect note-taking and there was no meaningful addressing of our concerns,” said Khelsilem, a newly elected councillor and spokesperson for Squamish Nation, at a press conference following the Court’s decision. “So today, I stand before all of you with my people to tell Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that he must listen to the courts and must stop picking fights with Indigenous Peoples.”
Canada’s proposal for expanding the pipeline—formerly owned by Texas-based energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan and recently purchased by the government—involves tripling its capacity to nearly 900,000 barrels per day by adding an additional pipeline. It would twin the existing Trans Mountain infrastructure and follow the same route snaking its way from the Alberta oil sands through the BC interior to an expanded marine terminal on the Burrard Inlet.
For the Tsleil-Waututh, also for the Squamish Nation and other Coast Salish peoples, the pipeline threatens the waters on which they rely. For them, the water really is life. It’s not a catchphrase, it’s law.
“Our first laws come from our story of creation. The first man was wolf, the first mother came from the Burrard Inlet in our waters,” George explains. “What does a mother do for you? She feeds you and takes care of you and makes sure you have abundant food. So what do we do for our mother? We protect her. That’s a reciprocal relationship […]
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