Why some Indigenous leaders see benefits to Kinder Morgan pipeline
On Dec. 6, Indigenous representatives from across Canada gathered in Gatineau, Que., for the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting.
National chief Perry Bellegarde spoke about how divisive the issue of pipelines can be for Indigenous people.
"We support rights. And the most important right that we will support is that right to self-determinations," says Bellegarde.
"And I've always said that means the right to say yes and the right to say no."
Many First Nations groups have vowed to fight the Trans Mountain pipeline when the federal government announced its approval in November. If that project goes ahead, it will triple the existing pipeline's capacity, bringing bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to the B.C. coast.
While Indigenous opposition to the project has been loud, at least 39 Indigenous groups have signed agreements with the pipeline company, Kinder Morgan.
We had and still have concerns in relation to the project.- Aaron Sam, Chief of the Lower Nicola Indian Band
Chief of the Lower Nicola Indian Band Aaron Sam's community just signed a conditional agreement with Kinder Morgan.
Sam tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that he understands how the community could be so divided on the issue.
"We have community members that see the benefit in the agreement; we also have people in our community who are adamantly opposed to the project," says Sam.
"That's why these decisions are so difficult."
Sam says the key is to balance economic needs with environmental ones.
"Our communities do suffer from poverty and high unemployment," says Sam.
"But we also want to do everything we can to take care of our lands and waters in a way that reflects our values."
Sam says there are still serious concerns about the long-term ramifications of the pipeline.
"We had and still have concerns in relation to the project."
Michael LeBourdais is another chief dealing with tense divisions over a pipeline. He's the chair of the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics and former chief of Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band. His band signed an agreement with Kinder Morgan back in 2014.
The people who call me sell-outs — thank you for your opinion, but it doesn't bother me.- Michael LeBourdais, chair of the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics
LeBourdais tells Tremonti that there's only so much he can do.
"We don't have the authority to say no, people don't understand that ... today we don't have the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. We don't have free, prior and informed consent and the ability to say no."
LeBourdais says he has been able to make headway for his community.
"We made Kinder Morgan consult, we made them accommodate. We put it in front of the community and they ratified it," explains LeBourdais.
"The people who call me sell-outs — thank you for your opinion, but it doesn't bother me."
Listen to the full segment near the top of this post.
This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson.