Regina Leader Post
When new pipelines are being built in Canada there is a legal obligation to consult First Nations.
But the pipeline that spilled on Ocean Man First Nation last week was put in the ground near 50 years ago, long before any type of consultations would have taken place.
“Nation-to-nation consultation has only come into effect these last few years,” says Ocean Man First Nation chief Connie Big Eagle. “A lot of those things were done without our approval or even knowledge.”
Ocean Man wasn’t located where it is now — about 18 kilometres north of Stoughton — until nearly 30 years ago. It got band status in 1988 and reserve status four years later, in 1992.
“We moved onto this land and those pipes would have already been there,” says Big Eagle.
In the early 1900s, Ocean Man was amalgamated with White Bear First Nation. Starting in the 1970s, land claims were launched against the federal government that ended in Ocean Man band members moving to where they are now.
Hayden King, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s school of public policy and administration, says decisions about development have been taken unilaterally by the Canadian government since Confederation.
“Aboriginal and treaty rights certainly existed long before the pipeline, although the physical community may have come later,” he says. “Those Constitutional rights exist despite where communities are geographically.”
King says decisions about development that impact First Nations have been taken unilaterally by the federal government for generations.
“First Nations have never been asked about pipelines crossing their territory, until very recently,” he says. “It has taken a lot of work on the ground, in courts, to get policy makers to recognize consultation is a moral, legal and ethical responsibility.”
Recent strides do little to change the fact that there are pipelines running underground all over Saskatchewan, including those that were put on on First Nations’ land without consent.
King says First Nations now would largely prefer being included in the management of land and resources on their territory.
“That’s the option that is collaborative that I think everybody would prefer and benefit. The other option is litigation and conflict of court, that’s the most common,” he says.
As of Friday, about 180 cubic metres — or 180,00 litres — of the 200 cubic metre spill on Ocean Man has been cleaned up and taken to a processing facility, according to the province.
The province also says more than 450 tonnes of soil has been recovered from the spill site and that work will continue after the affected line has been removed.
By Friday, one week after the spill, the pipeline had been purged, cut and removed. Affected segments of the line is being shipped for testing and examination.