British Columbia

Tsleil-Waututh Nation to appeal Trans Mountain expansion once again

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation says it will once again appeal the approval of the Trans Mountain expansion project.

'Our obligation is not to oil. Our obligation is to the land, to the water, to our people, to the whales'

Tsleil-Waututh Nation Chief Leah George-Wilson speaks at a press conference held Tuesday by Indigenous leadership in response to Canada’s decision to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation of North Vancouver, B.C., says it will once again appeal the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

Speaking shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet announced the approval on Tuesday, Chief Leah George-Wilson said the decision was disappointing, but not unexpected. 

"It feels exactly like the moment those years ago the first time that Canada approved this pipeline," George-Wilson said.

"We will be appealing this decision to the Federal Court of Appeal."

Tsleil-Waututh was among several First Nations who were part of a Federal Court of Appeal case that effectively delayed the project last year and sent the government back to the drawing board to consult with Indigenous communities.

George-Wilson said Tuesday that consultation did not go far enough. 

"We believe that the consultation once again missed the mark set by the Supreme Court of Canada and we will defend our rights," she said.

"Our obligation is not to oil. Our obligation is to the land, to the water, to our people, to the whales."

Rueben George gives a speech.
Rueben George, a spokesperson for the Tsleil-Waututh on the pipeline, said the First Nation is once again ready to push back against a project he believes brings no benefit to Canada. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

'It doesn't reduce the risk to Tsleil-Waututh'

After the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the project last summer citing inadequate Indigenous consultation and an incomplete environmental review process, a team of 60 government consultants met with First Nations and Métis communities across Alberta and B.C.

The majority of First Nations communities accepted the project. But some, like the Tsleil-Waututh, flagged the potentially devastating impacts of an oil spill on traditional lands and waters and called for the project to be killed.

The National Energy Board proposed 156 conditions that could mitigate the impacts of the pipeline expansion.

Trudeau's cabinet accepted all these conditions and is also proposing eight more measures to address Indigenous concerns, including curbing the impact of increased tanker traffic on the southern resident killer whale population.

George-Wilson said these conditions don't make a difference when it comes to the Tsleil-Waututh Nation's stance on the project.

"It doesn't matter that there are conditions today with the approval," she said. "The conditions don't meet or don't take away Tsleil-Waututh's concerns. It doesn't reduce the risk to Tsleil-Waututh."

On Tuesday, the federal government said it will begin meeting with Indigenous groups who are interested in buying the project.

The government is open to selling as much as 100 per cent of its stake to First Nations, Métis and Inuit investors. 

Government consultation 'contrived,' lawyer says

Merle Alexander, an Indigenous resource lawyer, told CBC he does not believe there has been meaningful consultation with First Nations since the federal court decision.

"The consultation process was very contrived. There was a real intent to try and meet the letter of the law, but not the spirit of it," Alexander said.

Indigenous leaders and environmentalists beat drums and sang as they protested Kinder Morgan's $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline in southern B.C. on in March 2018. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Some Indigenous protesters vowed to continue the fight against the expansion project. The Tiny House Warriors, Secwepemc activists living near Blue River, B.C., along the proposed pipeline route, called for Indigenous allies to prevent construction.

"The Trudeau government does not have the right to put a pipeline through unceded Secwepemc land," spokesperson Kanahus Manuel said in a release.

Rueben George, a Tsleil-Waututh Nation spokesperson regarding the pipeline, said the community is once again ready to push back against a project he believes brings no benefit to Canada.

A day after the House of Commons passed a motion to declare a climate emergency in Canada, George said Trudeau is "incapable" of making decisions for future generations. George said he will fight to protect his family and land.

"Canadian people, we know that you see the truth outside your doors and outside your windows. Here in British Columbia last summer ... there was a month of a cloud of smoke," George said.

"Look at the disasters that are happening all over the world. Look what they said yesterday, that we're in a crisis. We are in a crisis. They're contradicting themselves again, so we will correct it, because we have the best interests for all of you."

With files from Bethany Lindsay