The Tsleil-Waututh Nation is in court trying to halt the National Energy Board’s review of a proposed $5.4 billion pipeline expansion project that would operate in its territories and waters in and around Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet.
The nation’s legal challenge, currently being heard in the Federal Court of Appeal, alleges the Tsleil-Waututh were not consulted when Canada began its environmental assessment process.
Kinder Morgan’s planned Trans Mountain expansion would nearly triple the pipeline’s capacity, carrying crude oil from Alberta to B.C.’s coast.
Tsleil-Waututh Chief Maureen Thomas told a press conference in Vancouver before court began Tuesday that she hopes the band’s challenge will slow Trans Mountain down.
“It will give everybody an opportunity to really examine what’s going on here,” she said. “If there is an oil spill in our community it will ultimately mean that we will no longer have our home there. … For us, you lose that connection to our people, to our ancestors, to the land that we’re so much a part of.”
Rueben George of Tsleil-Waututh’s Sacred Trust, an anti-pipeline initiative, said the case “has the potential to send Kinder Morgan back to the drawing board."
A number of other Indigenous groups, local governments and other organizations have joined Tsleil-Waututh in opposing the project, citing potential risks to the environment and people.
Ali Hounsell, a spokesperson for Trans Mountain, said the company “has already consulted with approximately 133 Aboriginal and First Nations Groups.”
“As always Trans Mountain stands by our commitment to engage with First Nations and invites Tsleil-Waututh Nation to come to the table and engage in clear, productive conversation,” she said in a statement.
“Trans Mountain appreciates the need for a healthy Salish Sea, and we are committed to safe and environmentally responsible operations.”
To get the Tsleil-Waututh’s perspective on this court battle, Ricochet interviewed Rueben George on the first day of the hearing.
Can you summarize what Tsleil-Waututh is doing in court?
We’re suing Canada and the National Energy Board for not consulting us on the [process]. They’re not following the Canadian constitution, which protects our Indigenous rights.
Tsleil-Waututh has been fighting this project for a long time. What was it like finally being heard in a courtroom?
It looks really promising and feels really good. But you know, no matter what, we as the Tsleil-Waututh said we would do whatever it takes to make sure that we stop this, and this is one step in that direction.
What do you think Canada’s recent change in government will mean for this case?
All this mess that was created was [Stephen Harper’s Conservative] government. He was sticking up for and looking out for the one per cent. It’s not good for Canadians, it’s not good for our economy, it’s not good for jobs. We knew that, and what we saw loud and clear was that 70 per cent of voters voted to get rid of Harper. We will work with anybody going in the same direction [as we are], and so we look forward to meeting with this new government.
You said earlier that going to court is an opportunity to educate the National Energy Board and federal government about First Nations law. Can you elaborate?
Our laws have been in place for thousands of years, since time out of mind. Tsleil-Waututh had multiple villages because we didn’t want to deplete resources in any one area. We created a Salish Sea treaty [last year] where we had spiritual leaders from Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam and Squamish put in their input and that was based out of our culture and spirituality, which are the laws of our lands and our waters. That is a big part of what we’ve been doing all along. No matter what direction we’re going in as Tsleil-Waututh, there are standards that we want our partners to meet that we work by. We want to take care of the things that we love.
Can you speak to the SumofUs campaign to raise funds for the legal action? How much have you raised so far and how much do you need to fight it until the end?
That’s a big push that we’re going to do. It’s our economic development that’s been paying for a lot of the work that we’ve been doing. We need help, we’re doing this for Tsleil-Waututh but with the actions that we’re doing, everyone will benefit, so we hope Canadians will support us and leave donations to help us with this court case.
Is there anything else you think people should know?
It was so unjust how [the Harper government] changed our environmental standards and they tried to block out First Nations in this process. I believe that when Canadians are educated on the true facts of what these pipelines are, they will make choices like the Tsleil-Waututh have.
This Q&A has been edited for style and length.