In February, Canada’s National Energy Board released its final report recommending approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, in spite of devastating risks to the Salish Sea and the salmon, orca and tribal nations that rely on it. On 18 June, the government of Justin Trudeau is expected to issue its final decision.
The Trans Mountain pipeline, first proposed by oil giant Kinder Morgan in 2013, would transport Alberta tar sands oil to a shipping terminal in Vancouver, British Columbia. This would mean a massive increase in oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea, which comprises the water bodies of Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia. The marine species in these waters know no border, and the risks to Indigenous peoples in both Canada and the US also cross borders. As leaders of four sovereign tribes, we are calling on the Trudeau government to do the right thing and say no.
The National Energy Board’s findings laid out the potential damage in stark detail. The pipeline will result in a major increase in greenhouse gases, just as a climate emergency is being declared by governments across Canada. The report confirmed that the pipeline would cause significant harm to the endangered orcas that make their home in the Salish Sea, which is also the area where we and our Canadian relatives have lived, traveled and fished since time immemorial.
The Trans Mountain pipeline project would triple the amount of oil shipped from tar sands fields in Alberta to the British Columbia coast from its present level of about 300,000 barrels a day to 890,000 barrels a day. The resulting marine traffic would increase pressure on an already stressed marine environment, and an oil spill would probably lead to collapses in the remaining salmon stocks, further contamination of shellfish beds and extinction of the resident orca.
Despite these findings, the energy board recommended the oil pipeline be approved. Why? Because, according to the report, it is in Canada’s “public interest”.
In 2013 our tribes joined Canadian First Nations, conservationists, the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby, and the province of British Columbia in opposing this project. This opposition prompted Kinder Morgan to suspend work on the pipeline in April 2018. Then Trudeau’s government stepped in and purchased the pipeline for US$3bn.
Opposition to this project is part of a growing movement led by Indigenous nations on both sides of the US-Canada border, which is stopping new fossil fuel projects along the west coast and in the interior. Working together with Coast Salish Washington tribes and British Columbia First Nations, environmentalists, ranchers, local governments and others stopped the Gateway Pacific coal terminal, the Otter Creek coal strip mine, three proposed crude by-rail terminals on the Pacific coast and other projects. These victories have been described in the media as the “thin green line” that is stopping major increases in the export of fossil fuels to Asia, just at a time when the climate can least afford an escalation of carbon emissions.
In spite of the damages that will result from the project, the Canadian National Energy Board claimed that the Trans Mountain pipeline is in the public interest. Whatever Canada’s “public interest” may be, this clearly places the lion’s share of the burden on Coast Salish tribes and nations, and indeed all people and species that rely on the Salish Sea for nourishment, recreation and cultural and spiritual fulfillment.
The Tulalip, Lummi, Swinomish and Suquamish nations, along with our Canadian First Nations relatives, are inextricably intertwined with the ecosystem of the Salish Sea. The Coast Salish people are related through languages, bloodlines and lifeways. From white cap to white cap, our home is the mountains, shorelines and watersheds of the Salish Sea.
We are the Salish Sea. We have always relied on salmon, clams, halibut, shrimp and prawns. We have always considered the orca to be our relatives. We depend on the Salish Sea, and our cultural teachings compel us to protect it.
The energy board’s report puts the priority on the pipeline’s monetary benefits, which will go to the province of Alberta and giant fossil fuel corporations. Meanwhile, the harm and the risk of this project would be borne by the Salish Sea and our people, salmon, and killer whale relatives. Although Coast Salish tribes recognize that we all must make a living, the Energy Board’s purported balance of interests offered no balance at all to those who will bear the brunt of the project’s impacts. When an oil spill happens — as it surely will — we are the ones whose treaty and aboriginal rights, our food, values and culture, will be devastated by the disaster. The Suquamish Tribe experienced this tragedy on its territory in 2003 when an oil spill contaminated a cultural and spiritual gathering place, fouling a pristine estuary for many years.
In recommending a project that asks more than the Salish Sea can give, the Energy Board got it wrong, plain and simple. The orca, our southern resident relatives, are starving and dying in waters already crowded with ship and tanker traffic. The salmon fisheries, which both we and the orca need, are devastated and fading before our eyes.
This pipeline is a disaster, and its harms strike at the heart of our homelands. But Trudeau and his cabinet can still make this right.
The Swinomish Indian tribal community, Suquamish tribe, Tulalip tribes and Lummi nation join many Canadian First Nations communities and call on Trudeau to reject the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in light of his own energy board’s findings of the serious harms and significant risks this pipeline poses to the Salish Sea, and to us all.