The Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish First Nations have joined more than 100 other bands from the Arctic to the U.S. border in opposing further pipeline development and oil tanker traffic off B.C.’s coast.
Chiefs of both nations signed the Save the Fraser Declaration Saturday, a document stating that in accordance with Indigenous law, no more oil infrastructure may threaten the Fraser River, its tributaries or the migration paths of wild Salmon.
The Save the Fraser initiative began in opposition to Enrbidge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which crosses several of the Fraser’s headwaters, but has since expanded to cover Kinder Morgan’s proposal to twin the Trans Mountain Pipeline to Burnaby, said Tsleil-Waututh Chief Justin George.
If approved, Kinder Morgan’s plan would more than double the amount of oil shipped to Chevron’s refinery just across the water from Tsleil-Waututh Nation lands, and add one extra tanker per day traveling through Burrard Inlet.
“The reality is, it’s not a First Nation issue. It’s a British Columbian and a Canadian issue. We feel strongly that the risks outweigh any possible economic benefits,” George said. “What they’re essentially proposing is that we become and oil port city. Oil port cities throughout the world become water way dead zones, and we all know that.”
There is no clear way for First Nations to enforce Save the Fraser’s mandate, but federal approval processes require First Nations consultation. With bands stretching the entire north-south length of the province signing the declaration, getting First Nations’ approval will be impossible, George said.
“We have inherent aboriginal rights and title. Tsleil-Waututh means ‘people of the inlet.’ We’re deeply connected to the Burrard Inlet, and our territory encompasses a much larger scope of land and waters than our present-day reserve. We are to be consulted and, in our view, the federal government needs consent,” he said
To that end, Tsleil-Waututh Nation has signed up to be an intervener in Kinder Morgan’s upcoming application to the National Energy Board that will set up the tolls to be paid for use of their infrastructure.
With risks to the proposed projects including difficult terrain, inclement weather, ocean currents and human error, it’s all but a guarantee that there will be an oil spill of some kind, George said. Already, the inlet cannot support the much of the sea life that sustained Tsleil-Waututh people for thousands of years.
“Up until I was 19, our community harvested clams and cockles and oysters . . . and today that’s completely gone. It’s a complete dead zone for these shellfish,” he said.
Signing the declaration shouldn’t send the message that the Tsleil-Waututh are closed for business though, George said, noting that the band is involved in residential development and construction, ecotourism and green energy.
While bands like Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish are steadfast against the oil projects, George said it will take firm opposition from non-First Nations communities as well to kill either pipeline plan.
“I’d like to think that North Shore residents and people in Vancouver and B.C. are much smarter than what these spin-doctors are all about.”
“The real benefit is not here. The real benefit is in Asia — China and India, and with Kinder Morgan’s shareholders and the tar sands,” he said.