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OIL & WATER: ‘People of the Inlet’ oppose Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion
When Tsleil-Waututh First Nation Chief Justin George was a kid, he and his family were on the water all the time.
They crabbed, they fished and they clammed, George recalls, never once worrying about the purity of the waters in the Burrard Inlet. It was a way of life for the People of the Inlet, a tradition that started long before George ever cast a line into the local waters.
“There’s an elder’s saying ‘When the tide went out the table was set for dinner,’” says George.
“Theirs was abundant life in the water, with resources to sustain our nations. There was a respect and balance with the inlet, it was our sustaining force.”
But times have changed for the Coast Salish community that lives along the inlet shores in North Vancouver, laments George. He’s only 42, but he no longer even considers eating any of the shellfish caught in the Burrard Inlet. Pollution has taken that away.
And it’s concern over more pollution to the area that forms the basis of the Tsleil-Waututh’s opposition to Kinder Morgan’s plan to twin its TransMountain pipeline, a line that ends at the Westridge Marine Terminal in north Burnaby on the band’s traditional territory.
By twinning the pipeline, Kinder Morgan is aiming to double the amount of crude being sent to the area. That potential influx has George worried as he vividly remembers a 2007 construction accident that resulted in 1,500 barrels of oil spilling from the pipeline. If the pipeline is twinned and another accident occurred, the results would be worse.
“The health issues coming from this are a reality. Even just in the day-to-day operations, oil is lost. This isn’t an issue of if there will be an oil spill, it’s when.”
But don’t confuse Goerge’s position on the pipeline as an anti-business stance. It’s anything but, he stresses. The Tsleil-Waututh are a progressive nation when it comes to business partnerships. They backed the $8-billion federal shipbuilding contract awarded to Seaspan last year and have undertaken development projects as well as various eco-tourism ventures.
It’s just the risks of this project are too great to accept. When the original pipeline was built, George says the Tsleil-Waututh hadn’t yet been granted aboriginal rights and title to its land. But now that they have, those rights will be invoked if need be.
“We feel strongly that consent is needed. Where there is impact to territory, there is a duty to be consulted. Our position is firm: we will oppose this project and we’ll use everything within our powers and rights,” says George.
“But this decision will touch the lives of us all. It sees no colour. It will touch our children and our children’s children.”
A Black Press series exploring the logistics, risks and politics of Kinder Morgan's proposed oil pipeline expansion.