Photo credit: Darryl Dyck (The Canadian Press), March 10 2018
Progress on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion has slowed considerably in recent months; this article discusses the powerful and critical role of indigenous activism in combating the project.
On April 8, 2018, Kinder Morgan announced that it was suspending all non-essential spending on the Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton, AB to Burnaby, BC. The company proceeded to deliver an ultimatum to the Canadian federal government: in order to proceed with the proposed pipeline expansion, they need to be confident that the pipeline will be met with a favourable social and political response. If that is not the case by the end of May, Kinder Morgan will walk away from the project entirely.
The Trudeau government approved the Trans Mountain pipeline in the fall of 2016. They were immediately met with a wave of opposition in BC, spearheaded in large part by local First Nations communities. At the time of federal approval, Kinder Morgan had received support from roughly one third of the indigenous groups who had been consulted. By May 2017, 13 First Nations communities had taken a formal stance against the pipeline. By the fall of 2017, a group including seven First Nations communities, the Cities of Burnaby and Vancouver, and two environmental groups appeared in the Federal Court of Appeal to request that the federal pipeline approval be overturned.
The last similar review heard in court resulted in the shutdown of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline in 2015 and 2016. Judiciary reviews of pipeline approvals have historically been uncommon in Canada’s federal court; however, these two cases could represent a turning point. First Nations in Canada are exercising their constitutional rights with increasing success, and they are now some of the most influential parties in the world of environmental activism. The Idle No More movement and the indigenous-led campaign against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline have garnered momentum that seems likely to keep on growing.
Kinder Morgan’s original Trans Mountain pipeline was built through Coldwater Indian Band territory beginning in 1951, before First Nations communities were allowed to vote in federal elections. The Coldwater Indian Band has now taken a legal stand against the twinning of the pipeline, with promising results. In March 2018, an indigenous-led protest at the Kinder Morgan terminal in Burnaby was attended by upwards of 5000 people; the pro-pipeline protest on the same day was attended by roughly 200. The tides are turning.
Indigenous participation in conversation or activism relating to pipelines is more than a rallying cry for the environment; it is a reaction against industrial projects that will have an immediate adverse effect on their lives and livelihoods. The tenacity, strength, and persistence exhibited by so many indigenous communities as they stand up to corporations or government bodies with vastly more resources at their disposal is something that Canadians will be learning and benefitting from for a long time to come.