More than 40 First Nations – including four from Washington State – have applied to participate in National Energy Board hearings into Kinder Morgan's proposed twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
The flood of applications, say First Nation representatives, is a signal of how dramatically Canada has changed since the pipeline was first built across British Columbia 61 years ago.
"The wishes and wants and participation of the bands wasn't even a consideration then," Ernie Crey, an adviser to the Sto:lo Tribal Council in the Fraser Valley, said Thursday. "We wouldn't have been consulted. If the pipeline passed over or near a reserve, that was a matter between the company and government. But the climate has changed, the legal landscape has changed. It's a new era."
Carleen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation in North Vancouver agreed. "Back then there was opposition, but there was nothing we could really do about it," she said. "Back then, Indian bands weren't even allowed to hire lawyers."
It will be different this time, said Ms. Thomas, who is project manager of the Sacred Trust Initiative, an effort the Tsleil-Waututh launched to rally First Nation opposition to the Trans Mountain expansion. If approved, the project would triple the amount of oil being shipped by pipeline across B.C. from Alberta – to about 900,000 barrels a day.
"The biggest concern we have is the increased tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet," said Ms. Thomas, whose band lives just across the water from the Westridge Marine Terminal where tankers are loaded. "The people have told us we have to stop this project. It is a risk too great."
In applications for intervenor status filed this week, bands on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border express concerns about potential spills both from the pipeline and the associated tanker traffic. The Swinomish, Tulalip, Suquamish and Lummi nations in Washington argue in a joint application that such concerns transcend national boundaries.
"The tribes are part of the Coast Salish people, whose political, social and economic linkages spanned the international border long before that border existed," the U.S. tribes state. They say they rely on salmon and shellfish for traditional and economic purposes, and those resources "require a healthy ecosystem in the Salish Sea on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border."
The Salish Sea encompasses Juan de Fuca Strait, Georgia Strait and Puget Sound. If the Kinder Morgan project is approved, the number of oil tankers plying those waters would increase from about one a week to one a day.
"Specifically, the nearly sevenfold increase in oil tanker traffic travelling through and near the tribes' treaty-protected fishing areas will interfere with tribal fishing, damage equipment, and create safety hazards," the U.S. bands say. "Tankers will have significant adverse impacts on shoreline habitat … and [on] species like orcas. Spills or leaks in the pipeline itself would impact Canada-origin salmon stocks that the tribes rely on. … Fuel, oil, or bitumen spills, whether small or catastrophic, would damage the tribes' economy, culture, and way of life."
"Over the past 100 years, our most sacred site, the Salish Sea, has been deeply impacted by our pollution-based economy," Swinomish chairman Brian Cladoosby said in a statement. "Every kind of pollution ends up in the Salish Sea. We have decided no more and we are stepping forward."
The Pacheedaht, on southern Vancouver Island, express similar fears about the threat of oil spills. And the band states that tanker traffic could also "disturb and undermine the spiritual connections that support Pacheedaht's harvesting activities … [and] the sense of quiet that is required for harvesting."
Bands along the Fraser River, through the B.C. Interior and into Alberta, have also applied for intervenor status. The NEB is expected to announce a list of intervenors within a few months.