Tsleil-Waututh First Nation rejects Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion

Kinder Morgan, Rueben George, Tsleil-Waututh
Rueben George holds a copy of Tsleil-Waututh's assessment of the Trans Mountain Pipeline project. Photo: Carlos Tello

In an old legend from the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, a two-headed serpent brings hunger and disease to the Burrard Inlet, killing off the salmon. In order to survive, the people had to confront the serpent and slay it.

“We’re now facing another long dragon that needs to be slain,” Tsleil-Waututh Sacred Trust Initiative member Rueben George told a crowd of 100 gathered at Whey-ah-Wichen Park in North Vancouver on Tuesday.

“That’s the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation announced that the project would not be allowed to proceed on the Nation's territory. It also released a scathing report on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion, outlining the project's risks to health and environment.

Kinder Morgan’s pipeline project proposes almost 1,000 kilometres of new pipeline to carry diluted bitumen from Edmonton to Burnaby. If approved, the expansion would bring a five to seven-fold increase in the number of oil tankers through the Burrard Inlet. 

The Tsleil-Waututh report found that the fumes from spilled oil have the potential to make over one million people sick within two hours. It also states that an oil spill would seriously harm all components of the Tsleil-Waututh economy.

“What we know is that everything that we get out of the water is good, and what Kinder Morgan … is doing and trying to do isn't,” George said. “It goes against our laws of our culture and our spirituality; it goes against our laws of our lands and our waters.”

A legally significant assessment

Among the people who stood with George during the presentation was Gordon Christie, the director of the Indigenous Legal Studies Program at UBC. Christie is one of four law professors who signed a statement recognizing the release of the Tsleil-Waututh's assessment of the pipeline project.

Kinder Morgan, Rueben George, Tsleil-Waututh

Rueben George addresses the crowd during the presentation of the assessment. Photo: Carlos Tello

Christie asserted that the Nation’s assessment is as valid as the National Energy Board's upcoming review of the project.

“The Tsleil-Waututh’s assessment is a pioneering example of a First Nation acting on its authority to review and decide whether a project should proceed in its territory,” the professors argue in the statement.

The professors warn that Tsleil-Waututh’s decision to oppose the pipeline project is legally significant because of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Tsilhqot’in decision that puts more responsibility on resource developers to obtain consent from First Nations.

In an emailed statement, Kinder Morgan said that the company “deeply respects aboriginal rights and title,” and that they will fully respond to Tsleil-Waututh’s assessment through the National Energy Board's evaluation process.

Residents against Kinder Morgan

During his speech, George recognized the support of Burnaby residents against Kinder Morgan, calling them the Nation’s "allies."

Members from Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion (BROKE), founded by homeowners affected by Kinder Morgan's 2007 pipeline spill in Burnaby, came to support the Tsleil-Waututh's announcement.

“They are showing a great deal of leadership in protecting the earth and in fighting for a sustainable future for all of our children,” BROKE member Ruth Walmsley said. “It's absolutely essential that we stand in solidarity and support each other.”

George agreed, saying his Nation was standing for all people along the Burrard Inlet who opposed the project.

“Our actions here at the Tsleil-Waututh Nation aren't just for the Tsleil-Waututh,” he said. “We protect all the residents here.”

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