The Trudeau government has approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and is promising to have shovels in the ground this summer.
But First Nations are responding swiftly with commitments to resist the pipeline in order to protect the land, Indigenous rights, and to address the climate emergency.
The long-awaited decision was announced Tuesday in Ottawa, following months of renewed consultations with Indigenous communities as ordered by the Federal Court of Appeal last August.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau justified the government’s decision on the basis it “has the potential to create thousands of solid middle class jobs for Canadians,” and that expanding the existing Trans Mountain pipeline’s oil sands output remains within the government’s carbon emission targets under the Paris agreement.
On Monday parliament passed a non-binding motion from Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna declaring a climate emergency in Canada.
Trudeau announced Tuesday the government will work with Indigenous stakeholders who have expressed interest in purchasing the pipeline in part or in whole.
He said up to 100 per cent of the pipeline could end up in Indigenous investors’ hands.
But the government’s consultations with First Nations, and its interpretation of free, prior and informed consent — a principle it has vowed to respect to through its commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) — fall far short of Indigenous peoples expectations.’
Speaking at a press conference in Vancouver Tuesday, Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN) Chief Leah George-Wilson responded to the government’s decision to approve the pipeline with a promise of renewed litigation in the Federal Court of Appeal.
“We believe that the consultation, once again, missed the mark set by the Supreme Court of Canada — and we will defend our rights,” she said.
“TWN continues to withhold our free, prior and informed consent and are prepared to use all legal tools to ensure our governance rights are respected.”
First Nation leaders in B.C. also predicted a swell of grassroots resistance if the government attempts to begin construction in territories where consent has not been granted.
Speaking of an old village and burial site on his people’s lands, Sumas First Nation Chief Dalton Silver said, “should any equipment come on to that site, we’ll be there to meet them.”
A coalition of First Nations leaders in B.C. responded to the June 18 announcement by vowing legal and grassroots resistance. Photo: Simon Charland/APTN.
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson of the Neskonlith Indian Band said the Liberals’ second attempt to consult with First Nations “still doesn’t uphold the United Nations Declaration o the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ minimum human rights standards.
“Clearly, there has been no adequate consultation…and also, most importantly, no consent,” she added, speaking at the joint First Nations’ press conference in Vancouver.
Wilson referenced citizens of the Secwepemc Nation who have asserted themselves on their unceded lands.
“I wanted to acknowledge our land defenders that are out on the land, I want to acknowledge our water keepers that are out on the land, that are continuing to uphold our Secwepemc and our Indigenous laws and legal orders and jurisdiction,” she said.
“Because we hold the underlying title to the land. It has not been ceded, surrendered or sold, or relinquished in any way, shape or form to the provincial government or to the federal government.”
Wilson called Trudeau’s approval of the pipeline “a continuation of the colonial acts of genocide” against Indigenous peoples.
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said Tuesday that the government’s renewed process fulfilled the Federal Court of Appeal’s conditions on Indigenous consultation.
“Our consultation was very thoughtful, meaningful, two-way, and we listened very carefully to the concerns from the communities,” he said.
“We are satisfied that we have discharged our duty to consult with Indigenous communities.”
Asked by APTN News what definition of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) the government adhered to in determining whether it had adequately consulted with First Nations, Trudeau said FPIC “is what we engaged in doing with Indigenous communities over the past number of months.
“It is engaging, looking with them, listening to the issues they have, and responding meaningfully to the concerns they have wherever possible,” he explained.
The prime minister said the consultations resulted in “changes to the process, to the NEB conditions…and that is an essential part of free, prior and informed consent.”
The NDP came out strong against the government’s decision.
In question period Tuesday, before Trudeau’s anticipated green light of Trans Mountain, New Westminster—Burnaby MP Peter Julian said “climate leaders don’t try to ram through raw bitumen pipelines and they don’t run roughshod over Indigenous rights. Just one spill could wipe out thousands of jobs in the fisheries and tourism for a generation.”
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said the Liberals should have gone further than the Federal Court of Appeal’s order on Indigenous consultation and instead used UNDRIP as the “roadmap” for engaging with Indigenous nations on the project.
He referenced Cree MP Romeo Saganash’s private member’s bill, C-262, which has reached the final stages of the legislative process but is up against significant resistance from the Conservative Party.
If passed the bill would require Canada to align its laws with UNDRIP.
“That’s the roadmap that we’ve presented in law, and that law has been passed in the House; it’s being held up in the Senate,” said Singh. “But that’s the law that lays out the ground plan for how we move ahead with any project, and how we move forward in a way that respects Indigenous sovereignty and in a way that respects the rights of Indigenous peoples.”
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer criticized the Liberals on Tuesday over their “failure…to get the Indigenous consultations done properly.”
He said consultation “has to be more than someone just showing up with a notebook and ticking a box. It has to be a dynamic consultation that actually addresses the concerns of Indigenous communities and takes those into account.”
Scheer also said if the “very high standards” laid out by the courts “are met by project proponents, that the project has to be able to proceed.
“We don’t live in a country where any one person or any one group has a veto,” he continued. “We have an obligation to do consultations properly, and as the government we will continue to find avenues to ensure that Indigenous communities benefit from these projects, like the dozens and dozens of Indigenous communities who signed benefit agreements with both Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway.”
Project Reconciliation, an Indigenous-led organization vying for a majority stake in the pipeline, applauded the Liberals’ decision Tuesday.
“We see the possibility to make this a pipeline to reconciliation,” the group’s executive chair and founder, former Thunderbird First Nation Chief Delbert Wapass, said in a written statement Tuesday.
“It’s high time Indigenous Peoples had a seat. This is about us taking the lead on protecting the environment and controlling the revenue that will allow us to move from poverty to prosperity.”
While some Indigenous leaders see the fossil fuel industry as an avenue out of poverty, others argue addressing the climate crisis and strengthening Indigenous rights are more pressing issues to ensure the well-being of future generations.
Khelsilem, a councillor with the Squamish Nation, said Tuesday that the feds’ second attempt at consulting with Indigenous groups was inadequate.
“This government is not committed to reconciliation when they choose to fight us in court, when they choose to approve these pipelines without our consent, and when they choose to behave in such a dishonourable way.”
Trudeau said that regardless of how much Canada tries to get consent, some First Nations just don’t want to give it.
“There are people out there for whom no amount of accommodations or conditions or changes to the plan would have made the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, and the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, acceptable,” he said.
Trudeau was joined by several cabinet ministers at Tuesday’s announcement in Ottawa. Photo: Justin Brake/APTN.
“Those people will not be convinced by the arguments that we have put forward. We accept that, and they will use the legal means at their disposal to advance that argument.
“But we also know…that people expect us to move forward that both create good jobs for the future and protect our environment for our kids.”
The government hired former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci to ensure Canada met the Federal Court of Appeal’s requirements for the renewed consultation process with Indigenous communities.
“We are confident that we have responded to what the court laid out as the right pathway forward towards an approval for this project,” Trudeau said. “And that is the determination we made this morning in cabinet.”
Responding to Tuesday’s announcement, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who represents communities that both support and oppose Trans Mountain, reiterated AFN’s position that First Nations “are the rights and title holders and our rights, title and jurisdiction must be respected.”
Bellegarde said in the written statement that Trans Mountain “is an important reminder why the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and free, prior and informed consent is the way forward.
“It’s the way we avoid conflict, lengthy and costly court cases. It’s how we create peaceful approaches and economic certainty for everyone.”
He reiterated his call that Senators pass Bill C-262 before Parliament rises for the summer.
“Implementing this basic international standard should not delay development. It’s a way forward and a way to better ensure economic certainty. Avoiding it actually creates economic instability for the country.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs remarked Tuesday that the government’s response to Indigenous concerns is cyclical.
“It’s amazing that governments never learn. They keep making the same mistakes over and over again and somehow they expect a different result,” he said.
“The springtime is a time when the land renews itself, the land reawakens. And in regard to the Trans Mountain expansion project, I think what you’re witnessing here is a reawakening of the spirit of resistance,” Phillip continued.
“And like the sun that brings forward the spring, this decision today will bring forward that growing resistance on the part of Indigenous peoples walking once again in solidarity with their friends and neighbours, and their allies.”