First Nations leaders explain their opposition to massive 1,600 kilometre, $7.5-billion project
ENBRIDGE’S $7.5-billion pipeline replacement project is a flashpoint for environmentalists and indigenous-rights advocates who oppose extracting Alberta’s bitumen, let alone sending it through a pipe across half a continent. When they do speak up, they usually cite elders, cultural teachings and traditional knowledge as the reasons why. Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, one of the longest in the country, stretches from northern Alberta to Wisconsin, passing through Saskatchewan, Manitoba and 49 First Nations along the 1,600-kilometre route. Despite the constitutional duty to consult and accommodate First Nations in all matters of resource development, it’s been nearly impossible to bring First Nations together with project proponents or the federal government. Earlier this month, representatives from the National Energy Board, the federal pipeline regulator, made a stop in Winnipeg as part of a tour to conduct hearings. At first, the NEB limited testimony it would hear from indigenous elders, then changed the rules and allowed the elders to say what they wanted about the broader implications of the project. Elders responded by inviting NEB and Enbridge officials to hear their perspective separately from the hearings. Dakota, Cree and Ojibway traditional-knowledge keepers held a day of ceremony and invited the regulatory and oil proponents to the Turtle Lodge off Highway 11, 145 kilometres north of Winnipeg on the Sagkeeng First Nation. Two indigenous elders spoke with Free Press columnist Dan Lett and reporter Alexandra Paul about traditional knowledge and the environment at a recent Winnipeg Free Press News Café event. The interview was with Pine Falls-area Sagkeeng Anishinabe elder Dave Courchene and traditional-knowledge keeper Katherine Whitecloud from Wipazoka Wakpa Dakota Nation in Sioux Valley, about 30 kilometres west of Brandon. Free Press: There is a very important hearing process being undertaken right now to study an application from Enbridge to rebuild and expand an oil pipeline. It’s already running through Manitoba. They would be replacing it and expanding it dramatically. The Public Interest Law Centre is working with the elders to provide some traditional knowledge to the National Energy Board. Why it is important for First Nation elders to be heard in this legalistic regulatory process? Courchene: Global warming has raised the bar of concern for all of us and giving our statement was a way to show our concern and our willingness to participate in the challenges global warming brings. We’ve been asked many times (if) we oppose the pipeline going across our land. FP: Can you define what is meant by traditional knowledge? What does it really describe? Whitecloud: Traditional knowledge is what our old people call in our languages, blood knowledge. It’s genetic knowledge that we, as indigenous people have, and it’s tied to the land. It’s tied to who we are as people and it’s tied to our languages, to all those things we learn as children and as human beings. Climate change has created climate crisis for everyone around the world and it’s not being addressed. We as adults have perpetuated a situation where our children and those yet unborn, they’re not going to have a world to live in if we don’t do something about it now. FP: A couple of days before the NEB hearings, there was a special event held at Sagkeeng for members of the board. Could you describe the significance of that event held at the Turtle Lodge? Courchene: This was a opportunity to highlight our leadership within our homeland. We’ve been denied for the longest time... We took that opportunity to share with the rest of the world that we have a leadership that is needed in today’s world. It was to show that, as a people, we do not move forward without invoking the spirit. We showed who we really are as a people, spiritually. FP: As I understand it, the meeting was a day of ceremony, where members of the National Energy Board, not those sitting and hearing this application, but members of the board and representatives of Enbridge, came to meet with you in your lodge at Sagkeeng. Courchene: We hoped our position would create a spirit of inspiration. The position we were taking as elders was to remind them that we believe there is one law created for all of us. We refer to it as the great binding law of the creator. (It speaks to the concept) that we are all united and we are all connected and that every living entity that was given life was given original instructions on how to be. Certainly the natural world has followed the original instructions. Somehow we as human beings have strayed so far from the original instructions. All that we tried to share was to inspire everybody to regain the memory of the original instructions on how to be a human being. FP: The pipeline under consideration literally passes through dozens of First Nations from Alberta to Saskatchewan and down Manitoba through to the United States. Is there also a concern among the elders
Free Press columnist Dan Lett (left) and writer Alexandra Paul talk with elders Dave Courchene and Katherine Whitecloud about traditional knowledge and the environment at a recent event.
Decisions by Enbridge have triggered protests across the country.