First Nations support pipelines including Trans Mountain—a fact you rarely see or hear

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Appeared in the Edmonton Journal, April 10, 2018
First Nations support pipelines including Trans Mountai

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley forgot one group of Canadians when she cheered a recent court ruling relating to the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (which, of course, has since been halted by Kinder Morgan due to, in CEO Steven Kean's words, “extraordinary political risks that are completely outside of our control and that could prevent completion” of the project).

“It wasn’t that we won the decision, it was the court wouldn’t even hear it. So, it was a pretty definitive victory for the pipeline and for the people of Alberta and Canada,” Notley said, after the Federal Court of Appeal declined to hear appeals to overturn the National Energy Board’s decision on the pipeline.

However, the premier forgot to mention First Nations people along the pipeline route. Yes, they are Canadians and residents of Alberta, but under our legal system, resource companies must consult and make accommodations specifically with these affected First Nation communities.

The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion remains in limbo, with its future in serious doubt. And crucially, the common pipeline narrative in the Canadian media often ignores the overwhelming evidence that many Indigenous communities favour responsible development of fossil fuels on their territories. Environmental groups have created a distorted image that many (if not all) First Nations oppose development, which is quite contrary to the evidence.

In a co-written report by the British Columbia government and the First Nations LNG Alliance (how many Canadians know such an organization exists?), the authors express the frustration of many First Nation communities, who view LNG (liquefied natural gas) projects as instrumental to jobs and training in their communities, over delays in the Trans Mountain project.

So, like other British Columbians, they are upset about these delays and the potential death of the project. Why don’t we hear these Indigenous voices more fully represented in the media? Probably because they don’t blockade roads or stage sit-ins, but rather negotiate calmly on behalf of their communities while thinking about the future. This recent court victory comes on the heels of a Senate motion, which was unanimously passed, calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to throw his political weight behind the Trans Mountain expansion.

Clearly, Indigenous communities stand to lose a great deal if Trans Mountain dies on the vine. According to company sources, 51 First Nation communities have signed comprehensive mutual benefit agreements (MBAs) with the pipeline project worth more than $400 million.

Broken down, that’s 41 agreements in B.C. and 10 in Alberta—including every First Nation on land where the pipeline crosses and 80 per cent of First Nation communities in proximity to the pipeline’s right-of-way. In other words, Indigenous communities closest to the project and its impact are onboard.

If the pipeline expansion does not proceed, these agreements with First Nations also die, depriving these communities of mutually-agreed upon benefits including much-needed jobs, training, education, skills enhancement and improved community services and infrastructure. The MBAs also include procurement deals with affected First Nations so they can participate in the economic benefits from the development.

Incendiary headlines of protest notwithstanding, the real story of the proposed Trans Mountain expansion (if it the project happens) is the large-scale Indigenous-corporate cooperation and engagement on resource development, which could serve as a model for other forms of First Nation economic development. And again, the reality on the ground, where the project is planned, counters the environmentalist propaganda that First Nations oppose resource development.

Unfortunately, Canadians don’t hear enough about Indigenous communities open to development that have signed deals with resource companies to develop resources in a safe, environmentally-friendly way. Those success stories must be heard for Canadians to correctly understand the situation.

The derailing of 51 mutual benefit agreements with Indigenous communities would be horrible for impoverished communities lacking stable economies, but would also represent one more obstacle and backward step on responsible co-operation between resource companies and First Nation communities.