BC Business Magazine - - Front Page - By Ja­cob Parry

From Larry Com­modore's van­tage point near Chilli­wack at the top of the Fraser Val­ley, the Trans Moun­tain Ex­pan­sion Project isn't a done deal. “Not go­ing to hap­pen,” vows the for­mer two-term chief of the Soowahlie na­tion turned grass­roots ac­tivist. Com­modore lays out his op­po­si­tion to the pipe­line: its rightof-way in­ter­sects with a burial ground; oil could spill into the Fraser River; First Na­tions in Al­berta need B.C. sup­port. The fac­tor that could kill it? “We were told we would have free, prior and in­formed con­sent,” he says. “That hasn't hap­pened here.”

Along the pro­posed route of the pipe­line ex­pan­sion, which stretches al­most 1,000 kilo­me­tres from north­ern Al­berta to Burn­aby and will triple ex­ist­ing ca­pac­ity, grass­roots ac­tivists, First Na­tions and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups are gird­ing for a fight. De­spite a green light from Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau in Novem­ber, quickly fol­lowed by ap­proval from B.C. Pre­mier Christy Clark, foes of the project aren't back­ing down.

It's the next phase of a bat­tle that started in 2011, when Texan en­ergy gi­ant Kin­der Mor­gan an­nounced plans to build a sec­ond pipe­line. Ten­sions cul­mi­nated in 2014 with a stand­off on Burn­aby Moun­tain that led to the ar­rest of 130 pro­tes­tors; now op­po­nents are plan­ning mea­sures from road­blocks to a

pos­si­ble ref­er­en­dum. For First Na­tions, em­bold­ened by the de­feat of En­bridge Inc.'s North­ern Gate­way project, it's part of a re­vival in in­dige­nous ac­tivism that flowed from the Idle No More protests.

The scale of their in­volve­ment is a big change for the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment in B.C., says Karen Ma­hon, the Cana­dian di­rec­tor of Stand .earth, the en­vi­ron­men­tal group for­merly known as For­est Ethics, and a vet­eran of the so-called War in the Woods dur­ing the early 1990s to pre­serve Clay­oquot Sound. “The con­trast is that [First Na­tions] are re­ally in a lead­er­ship po­si­tion now,” Ma­hon says. “The re­la­tion­ship is a lot tighter; we've learned to step back and let them take the lead.”

Few in­dige­nous lead­ers have been more vo­cal than Rueben Ge­orge, di­rec­tor of the Tsleil­Wau­tuth Sa­cred Trust. On the North Shore, west of the Sec­ond Nar­rows, his com­mu­nity sits across from the hodge­podge of oil drums and pip­ing that form the Kin­der Mor­gan ex­port ter­mi­nal. “It's a di­rect at­tack on our way of life,” Ge­orge says. “We don't want to take the risk of an in­evitable spill.”

But op­po­si­tion is far from unan­i­mous. Among the 71 First Na­tions groups that Kin­der Mor­gan con­sulted in B.C., 41 have signed mu­tual ben­e­fit agree­ments, while 13 have taken a for­mal stance against the project. Over the spring, a dozen more bands are set to weigh agree­ments with Kin­der Mor­gan, some through ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sions by their coun­cils, oth­ers via na­tion­wide votes.

If there is a uni­fied op­po­si­tion, it comes from grass­roots ac­tivists and not-for-prof­its. At the fore is the Union of Bri­tish Columbia In­dian Chiefs, an um­brella group that cham­pi­ons First Na­tions in­ter­ests. Un­der the lead­er­ship of Grand Chief Ste­wart Phillip, the UBCIC has emerged as an in­sti­tu­tional and a moral au­thor­ity in the fight against the Trans Moun­tain ex­pan­sion. That push grew out of its suc­cess­ful cam­paign, Save the Fraser, to stop North­ern Gate­way. “This is the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity if we're to speak out and make a dif­fer­ence,” Phillip says.

To that end, the UBCIC has con­cen­trated on build­ing Coast Pro­tec­tors, an ef­fort to sup­port di­rect ac­tion and pro­vide a le­gal fund for pro­test­ers fac­ing charges. It's also spear­headed a part­ner­ship with ad­vo­cacy group Dog­wood Ini­tia­tive to hold an HST- style ref­er­en­dum on the project this fall, should the B.C. Lib­er­als re­tain power in the May elec­tion.

The chance of a show­down like the one be­tween pipe­line pro­test­ers and author­i­ties at Stand­ing Rock in North Dakota looms in ac­tivists' minds. If that hap­pens, the feds' po­si­tion is clear: “No, they don't have a veto,” Trudeau told the Van­cou­ver Sun in De­cem­ber when asked about First Na­tions op­po­si­tion to Trans Moun­tain.

Kin­der Mor­gan main­tains that it has been proac­tive with First Na­tions. “We rec­og­nized very early on in our project plan­ning that the en­gage­ment with and un­der­stand­ing of First Na­tions con­cerns and in­ter­ests had to be a pri­or­ity,” says Ian An­der­son, pres­i­dent of Kin­der Mor­gan Canada. “We've worked for years, go­ing back to 2011, on the ground in th­ese com­mu­ni­ties. I've been with all the chiefs and many of the coun­cil­lors.”

The com­pany is ready for protests and block­ades, An­der­son says. “Our num­ber-one pri­or­ity is safety of peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment,” he as­serts. “While we will never get in the way of peace­ful, law-abid­ing protest, we'll be pre­pared for what­ever out­come oc­curs in terms of op­po­si­tion ac­tiv­ity.”

For ac­tivist Com­modore, Trans Moun­tain can't pro­ceed, no mat­ter who's in gov­ern­ment. “Idle No More was in part about op­po­si­tion to om­nibus leg­is­la­tion that gut­ted the Na­tional En­ergy Board, which made it less of a reg­u­la­tor,” he says. “It's a deeply flawed process that's long con­cerned us at the grass­roots level.”

Com­modore adds with a laugh, “I haven't been idle for years.”

NOT SO FAST In Van­cou­ver this past Novem­ber, First Na­tions drum­mers led thou­sands of pro­test­ers op­pos­ing Kin­der Mor­gan`s plan to twin its Trans Moun­tain pipe­line

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