Let’s Take a Moment to Have a Sincere Conversation About the Kinder Morgan Project

By Rueben George

The debate between British Columbia and Alberta that is taking place right now in regards to proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline brings up some interesting issues for me as a Coast Salish First Nations person.

My people, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation are the people of Burrard Inlet where the pipeline is proposed. We have been the caretakers of the land and water of the lower mainland long before there was a Canada. This work has continued to the present day in the form of science based research and ecological restoration work.

Before this dangerous new pipeline and tanker project was ever introduced we had staff working with governments at all levels to sustain the health of our region. We have made great progress with our programs to reintroduce elk, repair salmon spawning habitat and much more. This work is critical for our traditional diet, our culture, identity and spirituality, all of which are based on the land and water of our territory.

When the Kinder Morgan was first proposed, we carefully studied it and our assessment report was more thorough than the provincial or federal government studies. What we discovered was a risk too great to accept. An increase from approximately 50 tankers a year to over 400 would result in a more than 80 per cent chance of a catastrophic oil spill that could not only undermine all of our work to restore the health of the inlet, but also would endanger millions of migratory birds, and countless marine species not to mention all of the people living in the most densely populated part of western Canada.

For the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, this matter is an issue of respect and proper consultation. That is why it is before the courts right now. First Nations have won the vast majority of these types of court cases in recent years. But I wish we didn’t have to fight about this in court. This is not just a First Nations people’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem.

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation are simply doing what the provincial and federal government have not been doing which is to seriously examine the threats posed by the Kinder Morgan project  and make a decision based on evidence, rather than one based on politics or pressure from industry. It is proper that the British Columbia provincial government is now taking that responsibility a bit more seriously.

A study of diluted bitumen is long overdue. The National Energy Board would not even consider studies done by the National Academy of Science in the United States that showed this unconventional oil product (bitumen) is even more dangerous than conventional crude oil. Bitumen is different, since it must be blended with toxic chemicals like benzene which even in very small amounts can cause birth defects and brain damage. It threatens our water and the very air we breathe and everything we all love and care for. To ignore these real dangers is reprehensible Why is the government of Alberta interfering with research into the real risks posed by the Kinder Morgan project.  It seems to me that too many politicians are being blinded by greed or fear of political failure.

To be clear, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, are not anti-development. In fact we are developers. We have multiple condominium projects and a variety of successful business ventures in large part thanks to the leadership of my grandfather Chief Dan George and my Uncle Leonard George. They continued the traditions of our ancestors who skillfully traded with our relatives from up and down this coast for thousands of years. Now it is our responsibility to continue their work both in terms of the protection of the land and water that supports us all as well as in providing economic opportunities that benefit our community and our neighbours.

Reconciliation is not just about working together when you agree. That’s the easy part. The real work is focusing on the times when you don’t agree and finding a better path forward. We are at a moment right now where there is an opportunity for real vision and leadership from all our political leaders. It could not be any clearer that this project is short sighted, has more risk than reward and is fundamentally unsustainable as we need to be well on our way to a world that is moving beyond fossil fuels to address the existential threat of climate change.

Rueben George is from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation