UPDATE:North Vancouver First Nation vows to block Burnaby oil pipeline
Barely one week after Kinder Morgan asked the National Energy Board to approve contracts for a twinned Trans Mountain pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation signed a legal declaration promising to tie up the expansion for decades to come.
In a July 7ceremony at North Vancouver’s Cates Park, Tsleil-Waututh chief Justin George signed his name to the the Save the Fraser Declaration, an aboriginal law banning Alberta oil sands pipelines on its signatories’ lands. The law also restricts tankers from carrying any oil sands products across the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon along the whole B.C. coast.
“What our elders told us as a council is enough is enough,” Chief George told the more than 150 attendees at the signing ceremony. “It’s our aboriginal rights and title that stops this madness.”
The declaration was initially drawn up by the Yinka Dene Alliance, a coalition of six First Nations in northern B.C., to block the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline from being built on their territories. But to date, more than 130 First Nations in B.C. and several more in Alberta have signed the document, forming what the alliance now says is an unbroken blockade of all westward oil sands pipeline expansion reaching from the Canada-U.S. border to the Arctic Ocean.
The signing received the blessing of Vancouver city councillors Adriane Carr and Andrea Reimer, and of NDP MP for Burnaby-Douglas Kennedy Stewart, who all served as formal witnesses in the ceremony. Though he did not attend, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, sent a laudatory letter to the Tsleil-Waututh which was read in his absence.
“I extend my full support for the exercise of your rights and responsibilities in this matter. As the national advocacy organization, we stand in full solidarity with you,” Atleo wrote, citing the federal government’s obligation as a signatory to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to consult with First Nations and accommodate their demands where possible on projects affecting their lands.
“I applaud your efforts to protect your pristine environment,” Atleo continued, “the critical habitat of the salmon, and the entire river system of the Pacific North Coast from the threat of oil spills and other harm posed by oil pipeline development and expansion.”
And while June 29 marked the date of Kinder Morgan’s application to the National Energy Board for approval of contracts with nine shipping companies already signed up to use the $4.1-billion Trans Mountain expansion, the day was also significant for another — albeit, related — announcement from Ottawa.
On June 29, the federal government passed its omnibus Bill C-38, the Budget Implementation Act, which critics, including the 130-plus B.C. aboriginal groups who have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration, say guts the environmental review process for resource projects and tries to sidestep First Nations’ rights to land and title.
“Individual [First] Nations can be quite small but together they have quite a massive resource pool that they can put towards many different kinds of court cases that can tie these things up for a very, very long time,” said NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, whose Burnaby-Douglas riding includes the Tsleil-Waututh lands on the south shore of Burrard Inlet where the Kinder Morgan pipeline meets the water. “So what we see here is 130 nations binding together and saying, ‘We don’t believe in C-38 — not just the pipelines, but the whole process — and we’re going to take you to court, essentially.”
MP Stewart said he will join the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in seeking intervenor status in the Kinder Morgan pipeline’s approval process once the National Energy Board’s public hearings on the project begin.
Spokespeople for the Tsleil-Waututh Nation reminded ceremony attendees that it was only five years ago that their community suffered the effects of an oil spill on the inlet. In July 2007, the error of a Burnaby city worker ruptured a Kinder Morgan pipeline in a residential neighbourhood near the Westridge Terminal, spraying 234,000 litres of oil onto the street and into the inlet.
Twinning the Trans Mountain pipeline is expected to increase its capacity from the current 300,000 barrels per day to 750,000 by 2017, when Kinder Morgan plans to complete the expansion.
“They’re changing these environmental rules; they’re tweaking them, they’re making them weaker,” Chief George said. “But they still need our consent; they still need our aboriginal rights and title. And we’re not going to give them that.”
A request for comment from North Vancouver Conservative MP Andrew Saxton was not returned by press time.
* Editor's note — After deadline yesterday, Outlook reporter Todd Coyne received a statement from Andrew Saxton. Here it is: "I think it's appropriate that there be a thorough airing of the issues surrounding pipeline expansion. I welcome the participation of the Tsleil-Waututh in this public dialogue, and I encourage them to make their views known to the appropriate regulators."