Canada Pipeline Expansion Meets Resistance From Tribes

canada pipeline expansions flickr

A proposed expansion to the Trans Mountain pipeline has been met with resistance from many citizens of Canada. Indigenous tribes are especially opposed, not only because it will affect their lands, but also because they feel a strong spiritual responsibility to protect the environment.

The proposed new routes will run through nine aboriginal reserves, with current routes already running through fifteen. Indigenous tribespeople and environmental activists are speaking out about the negative impacts the pipeline expansion could have on fishing, hunting, and other tribal activities.

A Pipeline Transporting Conflict

Owned by Canada’s Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, the Trans Mountain pipeline has been in existence since 1953. Plans are now being drawn up to extend the pipeline in western Canada to transport tar sands for export to Asia. This plan would generate billions in revenue by supplying the international market. Proponents also point out the large number of jobs the proposed construction would generate.

Opponents feel that the benefits of potential jobs created by the project are far overshadowed by the potential risks to the native people, their land, and the sea. Affecting the lives and livelihoods of indigenous tribes imposes more hardship upon a people already suffering from social and economic injustice. Additionally, the risk of oil spills will rise as the number of gallons of oil traversing their lands increases.

Resistance From Canada’s First Nations Tribes

One of the indigenous tribes actively involved in the opposition is the Coast Salish First Nations. Ray Harris, a prominent tribesmember, said recently, “Like the sea, Coast Salish people acknowledge no boundaries. We are united to protect the Salish Sea.” Regarding the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Harris stated, “It is a danger to the environment, a violation of aboriginal fishing rights, and a threat to all people who call this unique place home.”

The Canadian government lately granted Kinder Morgan access to build through the city of Barnaby, much to the dismay of opponents and in direct violation of Coast Salish law. With opposition voices rising the National Energy Board of Canada has now entered the conflict, and is hearing both sides.

Although the political odds are stacked against them, the tribespeople of Canada’s First Nations are not giving up without a fight. Joining Canada’s First Nations tribespeople, U.S. native tribes have sent representatives to testify before the court, offering testimony against this project, as well.

Raising Additional Concerns for the Sea

There are additional concerns being raised about the health and safety of fish and other creatures living in the Salish Sea. This body of water is a delicate marine ecosystem whose future could be jeopardized by the subsequent increase in oil tankers following the expansion’s completion.

Sacheen Seitcha is a member of the Nuu Chah Nulth tribe, living in Maaqtusiis Village. Seitcha speaks of her people’s love of fish, and of “teaching the children of the importance of salmon and other seafood to our Nuu Chah Nulth people.” Seitcha adds that lessons to their children include teaching them that “we should be grateful we can eat our traditional foods, and have food over the winter, so we do not rely on the grocery store.”

The Abiding Force of Resistance

Even if Kinder Morgan receives final approval for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Canada’s First Nations tribespeople are committed to environmental activism. Raising awareness of the potential risks and damage to the environment, First Nations tribes are voicing opposition to other proposed pipeline projects. One of the other battles they are currently engaged in is the TransCanada Energy East pipeline. This project hasn’t yet been given the green light and First Nations activists are beating the drums for support in the battles brewing ahead.

Pipeline expansions take years to complete and this gives more of Canada’s First Nations tribes and environmental advocates time to organize opposition activities. The indigenous people are an abiding force, ancient as the land and the sea, with roots reaching deep into the history of Canada. Respect for the safety and well-being of their entire environment is a spiritual pillar, providing strength in times of impending change. From well into the past, resistance to change has safeguarded the existence of Canada’s First Nations people and they are likewise prepared to offer patient resistance well into the future.

Salish sea of canada flickr

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About the Author

Gina Merlino is a freelance writer who cares about environmental issues. She has a Bachelor's in Philosophy, a Master's in Engaged Humanities, and is an avid reader of the news. You can find me on Twitter.