Ipolitics – Rachel Gilmore

National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde takes part in a press conference during a two-day emergency meeting on Indigenous Child and Family Services in Ottawa on Friday, January 26, 2018. iPolitics/Matthew Usherwood

National Chief Perry Bellegarde broke his silence on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline Tuesday evening, asserting that the decision-making process must respect rights, title and consent as laid out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

There has been vocal Indigenous opposition to the project, which would expand an existing pipeline to the Pacific coast. The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) has been leading the charge for the region, asserting in a Feb. 8 press release that Kinder Morgan “cannot proceed” without the consent of First Nations along he pipeline’s path — and many of whom oppose the project.

That sentiment was echoed in the statement from the head of the Assembly of First Nations.

“Free, prior and informed consent means First Nations have the right to say yes or no and to determine conditions for development in their territories,” Bellegarde said.

“As self-determining peoples with title and jurisdiction, First Nations must be involved from the outset of discussions and throughout the decision-making process. Together we must arrive at a process that respects rights, title, and free, prior and informed consent consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Up until the release of the statement, the AFN had been getting slammed on social media for its silence since Kinder Morgan announced Sunday night it was halting non-essential spending on the project.

The most recent development has some Indigenous pipeline opponents feeling hopeful.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, who is president of the UBCIC, told CBC Sunday he was “greatly encouraged” by Kinder Morgan’s announcement.

The federal government is standing firm, however, and insisting the pipeline project will go forward.

Kinder Morgan is consulting with its stakeholders and is expected to wrap up that work May 31.