The Guardian – Greg McIvor
Canadians haven’t heard enough about the positive influence that similar projects have had on many indigenous groups
Like many Canadians, and specifically First Nations, I have been following the news on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion pipeline with interest, and attended a protest in Vancouver back in January 2017. The pipeline expansion is on the ropes. Notwithstanding the government’s decision to nationalise it, its future is in serious doubt.
Many Canadians of different political slants have voiced their opinions for and against Justin Trudeau’s decision to throw his political weight behind Trans Mountain. Some of those opposed are First Nations, who oppose resource development on the premise of defending their inherent and indigenous rights as “stewards of the land and water”. They emphasise the importance of protecting and maintaining language, culture, heritage and traditional pursuits and practices.
The various First Nations communities who live within the Kinder Morgan project region may have overlapping interests when it comes to access and use of these lands, with very different strengths and community connections.
However, while environmental groups have created a perception that many (if not all) First Nations are anti-pipeline, there is overwhelming evidence that many First Nation communities favour responsible development of fossil fuels on their territories.
First Nations people across Canada have always asserted that under our legal system, resource companies must consult and make accommodations specifically with affected First Nation communities. Any deal that does not contain an ownership, equity or revenue-sharing stake is considered to have no long-term gain – a modern-day sellout for “beads and trinkets”.
In British Columbia, they have been fully represented. Fifty-one First Nations communities have signed agreements (41 in BC and 10 in Alberta), including in cases where the pipeline crosses their territories; many are in close proximity to the pipeline’s right of way. They support the Trans Mountain pipeline, and have signed comprehensive mutual benefit agreements (MBAs). Those First Nations communities that are physically closest to the project are on board.
First Nations in Canada have experienced a history – and a present – of impoverished communities, unstable local economies and a poor record of cooperation with resource companies. The MBAs aim to address those concerns: the social and economic issues that come with high unemployment, large youth populations, inadequate housing and overcrowding, and worse-than-average health outcomes. These require internal solutions and, crucially, alternative financial sources. Failing to develop our resources would deprive our communities of much-needed jobs, training, education, skills enhancement and better community services and infrastructure.
The Trans Mountain expansion twinning of the pipeline has also awoken First Nations to considering a more significant role in resource development. A group led by Calvin Helin has rustled up money and community support for a more northern route for a pipeline, with 100% First Nations influence, MBAs and an ownership role for indigenous communities. Similarly, opportunities such as Trans Mountain will allow many First Nations to participate in resource development projects in a more open, transparent and accountable manner. The MBAs also include procurement deals with affected First Nations, so they can participate in the economic benefits from the development.
Unfortunately, Canadians haven’t heard enough about the positive influence that similar opportunities have had on many indigenous groups. While we continue our efforts as a global community toward creating more environmentally sensitive alternatives to fossil fuels and minimizing our carbon footprint, in the meantime the world will continue to use oil. First Nations don’t want to miss this opportunity to build healthier and more productive communities.
Greg McIvor is an indigenous consultant