Comment: First Nations team up to fight Trans Mountain


With World Environment Day and World Oceans Day both falling within the first week of June, the federal government has been hard at work promoting itself as a champion of the natural world.

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Environment Minister Catherine McKenna reminded all that “indigenous peoples are the first stewards of our water, air and land,” pledging to partner with us to protect the environment in the spirit of reconciliation.

Meanwhile, out of the other side of its mouth, the government was reaffirming its support for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, despite the B.C. NDP and Green Party’s agreement to stop it, and the vocal opposition of many First Nations.

Our community of Tsawout is part of the WSÁNEC Nation, whose traditional territory extends from Vancouver Island to Boundary Bay. We are “the saltwater people,” because we have always lived, travelled through and relied upon these marine waters and the Southern Gulf Islands.

We have carefully considered the potential effects of this project on our territory and our harvesting practices. We have risen above a process that was confusing, disrespectful and coercive from the outset, to document and present our traditional knowledge of the project area, our current and traditional uses within it, and our concerns about the impacts a 400 per cent increase in tanker traffic could have on our Salish Sea. Today, on the strength of our research, we oppose this reckless plan.

Our ancestors depended on the salmon, urchins, oysters, clams and crabs throughout our territory. They hunted ducks and gathered food and medicinal plants along our shores. Tsawout members continue to exercise all these practices today for sustenance and for ceremonial purposes.

We continue to rely upon these resources for our health and survival, our culture and our spiritual well-being. It is our responsibility to take care of these gifts from the creator, and we take this responsibility seriously.

The peace and friendship treaty our ancestors signed with Sir James Douglas protects our right to fish and hunt as we have always done, forever. That is the promise the government made to us in 1852. We are deeply concerned that this promise, and our ability to exercise our constitutionally protected aboriginal and treaty rights, will be infringed by the Trans Mountain project, by its overwhelming increase in tanker traffic, and its inevitable accidents and malfunctions.

Since the fall of 2013, we have done our best to engage with the Crown on this project, and to encourage Ottawa to provide proper consultation. We have invested more than our small nation can truly afford in an effort fulfil our role as stewards of our water, land and air, but to no avail. Having considered our submissions, the government of Canada supports Kinder Morgan’s plan to put our territory and our way of life at risk.

Fortunately, three B.C. First Nations are finding the resources required to fight the federal government’s decision in court. In a move that suggests ordinary Canadians are determined to partner with indigenous people to protect the environment in ways that Ottawa is not, people across the country are donating their own money to help the Tsleil-Waututh, Coldwater and Squamish First Nations mount legal challenges to the National Energy Board’s report on the project and the government’s decision to approve it.

The Pull Together initiative raised more than $600,000 to support First Nations legal challenges to the Enbridge pipeline. Now it is accepting donations to help the three communities that have the best shot at stopping Kinder Morgan.

When we compare the beauty and remaining abundance of our territory with the potential for catastrophe if the Trans Mountain pipeline is allowed to proceed, our obligations to our ancestors, to our relatives of the deep, to our children, and our children’s children, are clear. Tsawout stands in solidarity with the First Nations represented by Pull Together, and in opposition to the federal government’s support for this threat to our environment.


Harvey Underwood is the elected chief of the Tsawout First Nation and one of the community’s interveners to the National Energy Board for the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. Mavis Underwood is an elected councillor for Tsawout First Nation, and presented on behalf of the community at the NEB hearings.

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