Members of the Tsartlip First Nation in Central Saanich voiced their opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion at National Energy Board hearings in Victoria Monday, saying the project would increase tanker traffic along the West Coast, threatening sensitive marine life on which First Nations people rely.
Tsartlip elder and former band chief Simon Smith said First Nations groups on Vancouver Island would not rule out demonstrations against the pipeline such as the ones ongoing on Burnaby Mountain, which have led to dozens of arrests and tense clashes between police and protesters.
“We don’t want to see [the pipeline project] happen,” Smith told reporters after his oral submission before the National Energy Board. Smith added that if there is an agreement reached on the pipeline, the band would like to see it in their local language.
Smith said representatives from Kinder Morgan showed up at the Tsartlip First Nation about a year ago to talk about the pipeline project, but elders sent them away.
Smith, who has lived on the Tsartlip reserve his whole life, said he grew up watching his late father fish, dig clams and make his livelihood off the water.
“Our food source is in that area and one spill would mean a disaster to that area,” said Smith, 75, who has 16 great-grandchildren and 32 great-great grandchildren.
“My time is almost over. What I’m doing is looking after the future.”
Smith said elders are talking about bringing together the 150 tribes of the Coast Salish territory for a united voice.
He said his heart is with the hundreds of people who have gathered on Burnaby Mountain to oppose the Trans Mountain expansion, which would see 990 kilometres of new pipeline laid to carry crude oil from northern Alberta to B.C.’s coast for export by tanker ships.
At Westridge Marine Terminal in Vancouver, about five tankers are loaded each month with petroleum products delivered by the existing pipeline. With the expansion, about 34 would be loaded each month.
Kinder Morgan has said the pipeline expansion will bring many benefits, including a more secure supply of oil for customers offshore as well as on the Lower Mainland, more jobs and job training, and more tax revenue for federal, provincial and local governments.
At least 60 people have been arrested for violating an RCMP-enforced injunction on Burnaby Mountain. Kinder Morgan is drilling bore holes and studying the feasibility of running the pipeline through the mountain instead of along residential streets in Burnaby.
Smith said First Nations groups are prepared to protest to voice their opposition.
“If it comes down to it, we’re ready to do that,” he said. “We’re ready to go out there and show that we mean what we say.”
The National Energy Board is conducting hearings to gather oral evidence from First Nations groups in Victoria until Thursday. The hearings, at the Victoria Conference Centre, are open to the public. The board already has had hearings in Kamloops, Chilliwack and Edmonton.