Kinder Morgan questions how much B.C. First Nation still eats fish

NEB hearings underway to hear Aboriginal oral evidence into Kinder Morgan's proposed oil pipeline, that would cross dozens of rivers sacred to First Nations.

Kwatlem First Nation at NEB Kinder Morgan Hearing Chilliwack - Mychaylo Prystupa
Kwantlen band councillor Les Antone at NEB hearing in Chilliwack regarding the Trans Mountain expansion project on Friday. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa.

How much do First Nations still catch and eat fish? That appeared to be a key line of questioning at a National Energy Board hearing underway this week in Chilliwack regarding Kinder Morgan's $5.4-billion oil pipeline expansion. 

The forum is designed to gather oral evidence from Aboriginals on the Texas-based company's proposed Trans Mountain expansion pipeline that would cross dozens of rivers considered sacred to B.C. First Nations.

“I’m just wondering... do you have an estimate in terms of what proportion of Kwantlen members’ diet comes from sources in the Fraser River?” Kinder Morgan lawyer Terri-Lee Oleniuk asked Kwantlen First Nation leaders on Friday.

Just prior to the company’s question on Aboriginal diet, Kwantlen band councillors spent three hours explaining how profoundly important salmon fishing on the Fraser River has been to their people for millennia.

“I can’t give it honour in a verbal description of what that means to our people and our families.  Today, it is our main sustenance and diet for our peoples,” band councillor Tumia Knott told the hearing.

“[The salmon harvest] is truly the one time when our community is really alive.”

“You see us racing to and from the dock.  A lot of energy and excitement about the importance of harvesting that resource,” she added.

Kwantlen are a Stó:lō people -- one of 11 First Nations, and three U.S. tribes presenting at the hearing regarding the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

Stó:lō literally means “People of the River.”

Kinder Morgan lawyer at NEB Aboriginal hearing in Chilliwack - Mychaylo Prystupa

Kinder Morgan lawyer Terri-Lee Oleniuk questions B.C. band at NEB Aboriginal hearing in Chilliwack on Friday - Mychaylo Prystupa

UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said Kinder Morgan’s question on the community’s fish diet showed how little the company knows about the First Nations way of life.

“They are deliberating ignoring that we have constitutional and judicial rights to the fishery and to our cultural traditions,” said Grand Chief Phillip from Prince George on Friday.

Kinder Morgan later clarified that the main purpose of its fish diet question was to inquire about a traditional land use study, which it helped fund. 

The only other question (of two) from the company was how much do Kwantlen still do commercial fishing.

Salmon on Fraser River already in trouble

Band councillor Les Antone responded that Aboriginal commercial fishing had nosedived in recent years – something the recent $20 million Cohen inquiry attempted to better understand.

The councillor said he believed the Fraser River’s salmon stocks have been hit hard by many industrial activities, as well as city sewage.

An oil spill, he said, would make matters far worse for the already beleaguered salmon.

“That would be devastating to even think of it.  We know what happened in Exxon Valdez and other spills around us.”

“If it ever did happen -- how would we fix that?  How would we get that out of the river?  How would we stop it from killing smolts?"

"We don’t have the means, probably millions and millions of dollars, which we don’t have.”

“And to take away that fish from our community -- we’d be on the endangered list [as councillors],” said Antone.

The band revealed that it earlier asked the NEB for $129,000 in funding to hire experts to understand how a diluted bitumen oil spill would impact the local ecosystem and fisheries. It was denied, and provided only $40,000.

As a result, it cannot afford to hire technical experts to do that oil spill analysis, said the band's lawyer.

“Nobody knows what a Kalamazoo river type spill would be like for the fish in the Fraser River.  But there’s good reason to think it would be devastating,” said the Kwantlen lawyer, Tim Dickson.

“That doesn’t mean they have to go eat chicken instead of fish – it means their culture takes an enormous hit.  They have Aboriginal rights to fish.  Their reserves are on a river for a reason,” he said.

The NEB will hear from more bands, including the Americans tribes, all of next week in Chilliwack.

Kwantlen salmon ceremony

Spring salmon ceremony of the Kwantlen people - photo by Dean Werk, Great River Fishing

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