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Is this really an autonomous decision?

I understand the Matsqui Nation’s logic in regards to changing their minds on the proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP), and can respect their acceptance of it running through their land. Whether the pipeline runs through the land reserve or next to the reserve, there are still mandatory environmental and social assessments that would need to take place due to the direct consequences the pipeline will have on the surrounding communities.

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By Sonja Klotz (The Cascade) – Email

I understand the Matsqui Nation’s logic in regards to changing their minds on the proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP), and can respect their acceptance of it running through their land. Whether the pipeline runs through the land reserve or next to the reserve, there are still mandatory environmental and social assessments that would need to take place due to the direct consequences the pipeline will have on the surrounding communities. Having the community experience the expansion project more directly by accepting the project will potentially reinforce Kinder Morgan’s cooperation in conducting the proper assessments to a standard that’s higher than just the bare minimum.

But personally, I find this form of acceptance rather discouraging, since the initial plan was for the pipeline to go through the region no matter what the First Nations community would say in the first place. Despite the TMEP’s approach in negotiating with the Matsqui Nation, I would argue that the decision was predetermined.

First, some background. Since 2013 there has been much heated dialogue between municipalities, First Nations reserves, and provincial governments regarding the proposed TMEP that would extend from Alberta into British Columbia, carrying roughly 890,000 barrels of oil per day.

As stated in a report from the Conversations for Responsible Economic Development (CREDBC), “The existing Trans Mountain pipeline runs through the communities of Rearguard, Albreda, Chappel, Blue River, Finn, McMurphy, Blackpool, Darfield, Kamloops, Stump, Kingsvale, Hope, Wahleach, Sumas, Port Kells, and Burnaby. In addition, the pipeline traverses 15 First Nations communities and dozens of other towns.”

However, there are proposals in place for expansion extending well into the Fraser Valley, particularly in Abbotsford and Chilliwack. CREDBC states that “the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is part of a larger oil sands expansion strategy. The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway project is the other main proposal on the table in British Columbia. Both pipelines would allow oil sands products to reach the coast for export to foreign markets, and both would involve significant risk to local communities and B.C.’s coastal waters.”

Recently, following but seemingly unconnected to the protests that have occurred from residential communities and First Nations reserves, there has been a drastic shift in some of the attitudes towards the TMEP itself. Firstly, the Government of British Columbia has recently said it will not support the continuation of the building of the pipeline. This has come as a shock to most residents here in B.C., especially those who have been protesting constantly at Burnaby Mountain.

In a recent press release to the CBC, the government has stated that “during the course of the NEB [National Energy Board] review, the company has not provided enough information around its proposed spill prevention and response for the province to determine if it would use a world-leading spills regime.” They further explain their reasoning by saying that “the B.C. government noted that in 2012, it laid out five conditions the project would have to meet before it would be permitted in the province.”

“The expansion project failed to meet any of those conditions,” according to Environment Minister Mary Polak’s statement, reported by the CBC last Monday.

Interestingly enough, the tables have turned for the Matsqui Nation here in the Matsqui-Mission region. During the initial TMEP proposal, the Matsqui Nation, along with many other First Nation bands, had expressed some form of resistance to the pipeline going through their reserve. However, according to an article published in the Abbotsford News on August 30, 2015, “… while Kinder Morgan said it won’t build its expanded pipeline across Matsqui First Nation land unless given consent, a submission by the nation suggests they would rather see the pipeline built on their land, rather than right next to it.”

The article goes on to say, “The company has already created plans that would skirt the southwest corner of the reserve, which sits between Harris Road and the Fraser River just west of Glenmore road. An alternate route has also been drawn up that would cross the reserve.”

The Matsqui commissioned an impact assessment for themselves, in which “the effects of the project and possible impacts to Matsqui and their values [would be] established through the development of various scenarios, from routine operations to major spills.”

Although assessing the environmental and socio-economic impacts is always the best negotiation method in establishing some form of rapport with prospective communities, I am naturally skeptical of whether or not a trans-national corporation such as Kinder Morgan is really all that interested in the community’s input. I believe their main goal is to export oil for capitalist purposes despite the potential negative impacts it may have in Canada. The fact that Kinder Morgan “has already created plans that would skirt the southwest corner of the reserve” exemplifies the pressure the First Nations community has experienced from the corporation itself. I am almost tempted to think that it is a form of bullying in that no matter what the community objects to, the corporation still plans to exist within the vicinity of the traditional land. Naturally, it would make more sense for the Matsqui Nation to have direct interactions with the corporation if the pipeline is built through their land.

Overall, I have yet to learn about any trans-national corporation that is actually interested in Indigenous land values and social-cultural impacts. Perhaps there are some such corporations out there, but given Canada’s economic history with the First Nation peoples, the likeliness that the corporation will keep its written promises to keep Indigenous values integral to resource management and development is very low. Sadly, more often than not, such agreements are hardly acted upon in a respectful, and sustainable, manner. Despite the language used today (“Matsqui First Nation drops pipeline objections” was the News’ headline), this one likely won’t be any different.

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