Cer­e­mony, tears mark NEB con­sul­ta­tions on Trans Moun­tain


National Post (National Edition) - - CANADA - Dou­glas Quan in Nanaimo, B.C. Maura for­rest in Ot­tawa — with files from Jesse Sny­der in Ot­tawa Na­tional Post [email protected]­media.com mfor­[email protected]­media.com

In a drab, win­dow­less room at the Van­cou­ver Is­land Con­fer­ence Cen­tre this week, at the tail end of a weeks-long se­ries of hear­ings that some have called a sham, there was a rare break from the for­mal pro­ceed­ings.

Three Na­tional En­ergy Board (NEB) panel mem­bers as­signed to gather oral ev­i­dence from Indige­nous lead­ers about the pos­si­ble ef­fects of ma­rine traf­fic re­lated to the con­tro­ver­sial Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion were asked to as­sem­ble in the mid­dle of the room to watch mem­bers of the nearby Snuney­muxw First Na­tion re-cre­ate a salmonhonour­ing cer­e­mony.

El­der Gary Man­son, cov­ered head-to-toe in re­galia and his face painted with ochre, de­liv­ered a solemn mono­logue that touched on his love of the ocean, his spir­i­tual con­nec­tion to killer whales and his fears about what could hap­pen in the event of a tanker spill. At one point, he turned to in­tro­duce his young grand­chil­dren and said he was com­pelled to share a phrase in his lan­guage — “thi qwum.” “Have pity,” he said. One of the NEB pan­el­lists bowed her head and ap­peared to wipe away a tear.

But this mo­ment of quiet rap­ture and hu­man con­nec­tion was, ac­cord­ing to ob­servers and tran­scripts of pre­vi­ous hear­ings, more the ex­cep­tion than the rule dur­ing three weeks of oral tes­ti­mony that con­cluded Thurs­day. In fact, many par­tic­i­pants were not shy in telling the NEB panel they had lit­tle faith in the process and feared it was headed for a “pre­de­ter­mined out­come.”

That the hear­ings were hap­pen­ing at all was the re­sult of an Au­gust rul­ing from the Fed­eral Court of Ap­peal which over­turned the gov­ern­ment’s ap­proval of a pipe­line ex­pan­sion that would triple the amount of di­luted bi­tu­men it car­ries from Al­berta to B.C. The gov­ern­ment had to redo its con­sul­ta­tions with First Nations, the court ruled, be­cause the first round hadn’t been done in a mean­ing­ful way. The court also found the NEB had made a “crit­i­cal er­ror” when it rec­om­mended the gov­ern­ment pro­ceed with the pro­ject with­out tak­ing into ac­count its pos­si­ble im­pact on the ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment.

As part of its re­sponse, the gov­ern­ment told the NEB to draw up a new re­port with a fo­cus on the im­pact of in­creased tanker traf­fic, par­tic­u­larly the south­ern res­i­dent killer whale and other species at risk. It set a dead­line of Feb. 22, 2019. And so the NEB panel held meet­ings in Cal­gary, Vic­to­ria and Nanaimo to hear oral tra­di­tional ev­i­dence from Indige­nous lead­ers.

Com­plaints about the process soon fol­lowed. Why weren’t any of the hear­ings be­ing held in Van­cou­ver? How was it pos­si­ble to cover ad­e­quately in the given twohour time lim­its their spir­i­tual and cul­tural con­nec­tions to the ocean?

“I know that this is just a for­mal­ity. This is kind of like check­ing off that lit­tle box that’s there that we were con­sulted,” El­der Paula Giroux of the Drift­pile Cree Na­tion told the panel in Cal­gary. “I hope that my words are not sit­ting on a shelf col­lect­ing dust like a lot of First Nations words do.”

Mem­bers of the Squamish Na­tion were up­set the panel de­clined their in­vi­ta­tion to at­tend a sa­cred cer­e­mony in a long­house so they could see first-hand their cul­tural and spir­i­tual prac­tices.

“When they’re en­gag­ing with First Nations, they need to do it in good faith and it needs to be mean­ing­ful,” Dustin Rivers, a Squamish Na­tion coun­cil­lor who goes by his tra­di­tional name Khel­silem, told the Na­tional Post.

The new hear­ings, he said, were rem­i­nis­cent of the ini­tial con­sul­ta­tions when “they met with us, they lis­tened to us, but then noth­ing changed.”

Adam Olsen, a B.C. MLA and mem­ber of the Tsartlip First Na­tion, tes­ti­fied in Nanaimo that the ev­i­dence­gath­er­ing process smacked of be­ing “wa­tered down.”

“It’s ac­tu­ally quite cute, I called it the Hil­ton Ho­tel ver­sion of oral tra­di­tional ev­i­dence — the con­fer­ence cen­tre, the ster­il­ized en­vi­ron­ment that we’re in to­day,” he told the panel.

And fol­low­ing a spe­cial sit­ting of the Assem­bly of First Nations chiefs in Ot­tawa this week, sev­eral lead­ers is­sued a blis­ter­ing news re­lease de­mand­ing the gov­ern­ment “en­gage in real con­sul­ta­tion that lis­tens to Indige­nous peo­ples.”

NEB of­fi­cials have said they were un­able to find a suit­able venue in the Van­cou­ver area to hold hear­ings in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber. While ac­knowl­edg­ing that trav­el­ling from the main­land to the is­land was a bit of drag, they didn’t feel it was placed an un­rea­son­able bur­den on main­land First Nations. Plus, they said, in­ter­ven­ers had the op­tion to pro­vide oral ev­i­dence through recorded au­dio or video.

Given the num­ber of peo­ple wish­ing to ap­pear be­fore the panel, the NEB said it had to set a cap of two hours on each of their tes­ti­mony. And, NEB panel mem­bers said, while they ap­pre­ci­ated the Squamish Na­tion’s in­vi­ta­tion to visit a long­house, if they ac­cepted one re­quest they would have to do the same for all other re­quests.

An of­fi­cial with Nat­u­ral Re­sources Canada told the Post this week that Ot­tawa was “def­i­nitely hear­ing the con­cerns,” but stressed that the con­sul­ta­tions didn’t stop with the NEB hear­ings and that the gov­ern­ment is sep­a­rately plan­ning fur­ther con­ver­sa­tions with Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in the months ahead.

For­mer Supreme Court jus­tice Frank Ia­cobucci will lead con­sul­ta­tions with all 117 Indige­nous groups af­fected by the pro­ject. Those con­sul­ta­tions have no fixed end date, and are just get­ting un­der­way, said the of­fi­cial, who agreed to speak only on back­ground. Ia­cobucci is now hold­ing round­tables to sort out what the process will look like, and con­sul­ta­tion teams are begin­ning to sched­ule meet­ings with in­ter­ested com­mu­ni­ties.

“As soon as you set a dead­line, you’re kind of pre­de­ter­min­ing … the is­sue,” the of­fi­cial said. “We’ve been very clear that the out­come is not pre­de­ter­mined.”

Chris Bloomer, head of the Cana­dian En­ergy Pipe­lines As­so­ci­a­tion in Cal­gary, said it is the hope of in­dus­try that the gov­ern­ment doesn’t al­low these con­sul­ta­tions to stretch on in an open-ended fash­ion, ar­gu­ing there need to be time con­straints on the process.

“Some­body’s go­ing to have to step up and say, ‘No, that’s suf­fi­cient time, we’re not go­ing to keep it open-ended.’ Be­cause open-ended doesn’t serve any­body’s pur­poses.”

Oil and gas lobby groups have been in­creas­ingly crit­i­cal of the reg­u­la­tory ap­proval process in Canada, say­ing that a fail­ure to build ma­jor pipe­lines has re­stricted for­eign in­vest­ment into the in­dus­try.

Bloomer said pipe­line op­po­nents have con­tin­ued to de­lay ap­provals through reg­u­la­tory and le­gal means, some­times push­ing pro­ject start dates years be­yond their ini­tial tar­gets. He said many other ju­ris­dic­tions in the world — not just Canada — also aim to en­force reg­u­la­tory time­lines for ma­jor projects.

“What we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced is that within these pro­cesses, there’s sim­ply too many ways to stop the clock,” he said. “That has not cre­ated the clar­ity and cer­tainty that we need.”

Mean­while, the gov­ern­ment of Al­berta and other pro­po­nents of the pipe­line ex­pan­sion have seized on the fig­ure of $80 mil­lion, the amount of money they say Canada is los­ing ev­ery day the pipe­line ex­pan­sion isn’t com­pleted.

Not all Indige­nous lead­ers who ap­peared be­fore the NEB panel over the past three weeks were op­posed to the pro­ject.

“I think with proper tech­nol­ogy that we can get this pipe­line built and also with proper mon­i­tor­ing. We want to mon­i­tor what’s go­ing on here in our ter­ri­to­ries,” said Chief Calvin Bruneau of the Pa­paschase First Na­tion at the Cal­gary hear­ing. “And also we want to be in­volved in the con­struc­tion of this thing.”

In Vic­to­ria, mem­bers of an Indige­nous ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee that in­cludes Cheam First Na­tion Chief Ernie Crey, a vo­cal sup­porter of the pro­ject, spoke about the need for Indige­nous peo­ple to be in­volved in mon­i­tor­ing and spill re­sponse, if the pipe­line is built.

“By not in­clud­ing the Indige­nous voice in some of these plans and in some of these re­sponses, you’re miss­ing a wealth of tech­ni­cal, de­tailed knowl­edge on a very spe­cific place that needs that pro­tec­tion,” said Caitlin Kenny, chair of the ma­rine sub­com­mit­tee.

Other Indige­nous lead­ers, how­ever, ex­pressed grave con­cern about the pro­jected in­crease in ma­rine traf­fic and spoke at length about their ties to sal­mon and clean wa­ter.

“I’m re­ally not sure if you folks can even con­ceive of that con­nec­tion that we have with those sal­mon peo­ple, that it’s more than a pro­tein, it’s more than a healthy oil,” Chief Ty­rone McNeil of the Sto:lo Tribal Coun­cil told the panel. “It’s in our DNA. It’s in our spirit.”

Steven Teed, a coun­cil­lor with the Adams Lake In­dian Band, im­plored the panel to “re­mem­ber that not if, but when an in­ci­dent oc­curs in our wa­ters — or­cas, gone. Sal­mon, gone. Clean wa­ter, gone. Our cul­ture, gone. Our peo­ple, gone.”

Chief Wayne Spar­row of the Musqueam First Na­tion, whose re­serve sits within Van­cou­ver city lim­its, told the panel there have al­ready been “close en­coun­ters” be­tween fish­er­men and large freighters and wor­ries that smaller fish­ing boats could get “swamped” — or cap­sized — by big wakes.

De­spite the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s pledge to pro­tect Canada’s coasts through its $1.5 bil­lion ocean pro­tec­tion plan, Spar­row said the Musqueam com­mu­nity has been pro­vided few tools to re­spond ef­fec­tively to an oil spill emer­gency that spreads into its ter­ri­tory. The only thing they’ve re­ceived so far is a trailer con­tain­ing a boom that can be de­ployed in the wa­ter to ab­sorb the oil. But the boom stretches for only 50 yards, he tes­ti­fied.

“When our band mem­bers are say­ing, ‘If a spill hap­pens, what’s go­ing to hap­pen?’ and we look pretty fool­ish as po­lit­i­cal peo­ple when I can only re­spond, ‘I don’t know,’ be­cause I don’t know,” Spar­row said.

Asked what im­pact an oil spill would have on the peo­ple of Snuney­muxw, Man­son, the el­der, said it would be “unimag­in­able.”

“I would carry that sad­ness to my grave. … I can’t imag­ine it. It would be — for me, it would be like los­ing my chil­dren.”

Sim­i­larly, if the killer whale was to dis­ap­pear from coastal wa­ter­ways, Man­son, who brought to the hear­ing an in­tri­cately carved stick with a killer whale at the top, said he would grieve “a long, long time.”

“I can’t go there,” he said. “It’s — I can’t imag­ine that. If a peo­ple’s go­ing to dis­ap­pear, how far be­hind am I? It scares me.”

Fol­low­ing his sub­mis­sions, the NEB panel, as was of­ten the case dur­ing these hear­ings, didn’t ask a sin­gle ques­tion. But Man­son was re­luc­tant to ques­tion their en­gage­ment or crit­i­cize the process.

“I be­lieve in the power of the plea that I’m mak­ing,” he said. “I want them to go home with a thought.”



Mem­bers of the Snuney­muxw First Na­tion per­form a sal­mon cer­e­mony for mem­bers of the Na­tional En­ergy Board panel dur­ing hear­ings on the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion on Wed­nes­day in Nanaimo. The panel’s task was to gather oral ev­i­dence from the lead­ers about pos­si­ble harm­ful ef­fects of ma­rine traf­fic re­lated to the ex­pan­sion.

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