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  • Dana Barrett

A Rift in Indigenous Canada

When the federal government bought the Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion dollars from Kinder Morgan in 2018, Indigenous peoples were left at a crossroads. The pipeline raised a critical question: what does this purchase mean for the future of the Indigenous community? Likewise, how will the construction of the pipeline affect the nation-to-nation relationship in Canada? These questions sparked an ongoing debate as Indigenous groups considered purchasing the pipeline for themselves, while others strongly disapproved of its contribution to sacred Indigenous soil. Mike Lebourdais, the Chief of Whispering Pines/Clinton Band in B.C., openly expressed his interest in the pipeline, with the belief that if the First Nations communities affected by this pipeline were to invest in the project, it could transform the lives of many Indigenous families in the area. Lebourdais represents the Western Indigenous pipeline group located across the trans mountain route in B.C. whose members are interested in funding the pipeline. The revenue that this group will gain from owning equity in the pipeline will be substantial enough to gain economic independence from the Canadian government and support their communities. The living conditions in many Indigenous reserves are fundamentally deficient which makes it difficult to sustain life. Therefore, this endeavour could help to make the necessary improvements to create living conditions equal to those of non-Indigenous people or individuals off reserves, that are often taken for granted. As Lebourdais states, this would push an essential change in how the First Nations and the Ottawa government operate together, making all citizens closer to equals.

Iron coalition and Project Reconciliation represent other Indigenous groups interested in investing in the pipeline. Project Reconciliation has prepared to make an offer to buy a 51 percent stake in the pipeline. Shane Gottfriedson, the B.C director of Project Reconciliation, believes that this reconciliation is an economic one since they have never profited from the resources Canada reaps from their territory.

On the other hand, some First Nations groups aren’t interested in the pipeline. They say it doesn’t represent reconciliation but instead will continue their current relationship with the Ottawa government. The pipeline poses a threat for the resources held by the Indigenous communities. The majority of Indigenous communities don’t have safe drinking water, but some do have water that is drinkable without treatment, like Coldwater. Coldwater First Nation is a Nlaka'pamux First Nations government located in British Columbia. The pipeline is located in close proximity to this water source, and the thought of a potential spill is very concerning to many Indigenous communities in the area. Since the existing pipeline is already over 60 years old, the threat of a spill is not “if”, but “when”.

The Coastal Gaslink pipeline is a new concern among Indigenous communities in B.C. It pits Western ideology against Indigenous ideology. The territory on which the natural gas pipeline is set to be constructed is not covered by any treaty, which urges the question: who owns the land? This billion-dollar private sector investment has incited conflict between investors and Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who affirm that in their traditional territory, no pipelines can be built without their consent. In spite of this, the GasLink has already been approved by the province and the 20 First Nations band councils who signed agreements. A band council is the elected government of a first nations band which includes councillors and a chief. Resolving to stop construction by other means, camps were set up along the road and checkpoints were created to prevent people from working on the pipeline. In December of 2018, these groups were ordered to stop by an interim court injunction, but the pressure to halt construction on the pipeline continues to this day. Trees were notched onto service roads to prevent passage, and the RCMP has made 6 arrests in February of 2020 to enforce order upon those blocking the progress of the Coastal GasLink. It is unknown whether or not Indigenous groups will be successful in their attempts to contribute to Canadian soil, but what is clear is that change is coming.

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