A Port Alberni First Nation leader says the reason he signed a letter of support for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is complex.
The Ditidaht First Nation is one of nine Vancouver Island First Nations that signed mutual-benefit agreements with Trans Mountain.
“We came to the determination, as a group, that [the project] was going to go ahead anyway. So it’s not really support. If we opposed it, we would have no way of addressing spills, because we would be disqualified from funding from Trans Mountain,” said Ditidaht Chief Coun. Robert Joseph.
As of Wednesday, 39 of the 120 aboriginal groups that Kinder Morgan consulted had signed mutual-benefit agreements. Eleven are in Alberta and 28 are in B.C. As part of the agreement, each submitted a letter of support to the National Energy Board, which approved the project.
The expansion, which could increase marine traffic past Vancouver Island to 408 tankers per year from 60, received federal approval last week.
Other Island First Nations that signed letters of support include the Esquimalt, Halalt, Lake Cowichan, Malahat, Pacheedaht, Pauquachin, Penelakut and Scia’New (Beecher Bay) First Nations.
Details of each agreement are not available publicly; however, Kinder Morgan says it has committed more than $300 million to aboriginal communities through mutual-benefit agreements, as well as capacity agreements, traditional-use studies, marine-use studies, cultural studies, relationship agreements and procurement policy.
Kinder Morgan had also signed 18 community-benefit agreements worth $8.5 million with local governments along 95 per cent of the pipeline land route.
Joseph did not say how much money the Ditidaht First Nation received as part of its agreement with Kinder Morgan. But he said he has been frustrated with other elements of the deal.
Ditidaht was promised a meeting with spill-response company Western Canada Marine Response Corp., Joseph said, and he thought it meant the band would be more directly involved in spill response.
While training, logistics and equipment have been discussed, Joseph said there has been no commitment to any of those roles for the band.
“We should know by now exactly what it is we can do. … We should be able to tell our people: This is what we’re able to do that we couldn’t do before,” he said.
Members of the band escorted members of Western Canada Marine Response Corp. to Nitinat Narrows, near Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park, to prepare them for conditions in the event of a spill.
“A spill will probably happen when there’s a storm event, not when it’s calm. If there’s a storm event, we can’t take boats through the narrows,” Joseph said.
The band suggested making a trail, from which boats could be launched, but has not heard anything back on that suggestion, he said.
“If they can’t do something, I wish they would tell us, so we could focus on what we can do.”
Marine Response spokesman Michael Lowry said the company has had conversations with Ditidaht about spill response, but it is not privy to the contents of the band’s agreement with Kinder Morgan.
Another Port Alberni area band, the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, did not sign a mutual-benefits agreement with Kinder Morgan.
But it issued a statement of support for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday for approving Trans Mountain, rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline and banning northern tanker traffic.
“These decisions are never easy,” hereditary Chief Derek Peters said in the statement.
“Huu-ay-aht respects everyone’s right to their own opinion.
“That said, it is the responsibility of governments to enable economic development while protecting the environment, in both the short and the long term.”
Elected Chief Coun. Robert Dennis Sr. said Trans Mountain would have minimal impact on the Huu-ay-aht community, since tanker traffic would pass far offshore and outside of its fishing area.
While consultation is appropriate, he said he didn’t think it was the First Nation’s right to claim jurisdiction over the decision.
“Let me use an example: Quite a few years ago, there was a referendum on the treaty process in B.C. A lot of people were up in arms about it, but I took the position that it’s the provincial government’s jurisdiction to do what they want, why should I have a say in it?” Dennis said.
Dennis said the band’s priority is maintaining a positive relationship with the federal government, as it focuses on local priorities.
“We are attempting to establish a relationship with Canada in order to reconcile any past differences. In order to reconcile, we need to have a relationship,” he said. “I go by the teaching of one of my elders and it’s really simple: You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”