Reconciliation in the time of pipelines

“This decision was based on science, traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples and other relevant scientific evidence.” – Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change[1]

On September 27th, the federal government announced it had approved the Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas (PNWLNG) project in British Columbia. Catherine McKenna pointed to the 190 conditions that govern the project as proof environmental and cultural concerns will be adequately dealt with, despite the fact that this $36 billion mega-project will become the largest greenhouse gas emitter in Canada.[2] In March of this year, over 130 scientists urged McKenna to reject what they called a “scientifically flawed” draft report issued by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).[3] Serious doubt has also been cast on whether the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation actually voted in favour of the project after previously rejecting $1.15 billion over 40 years in exchange for their consent.[4] Nonetheless, McKenna insists that consultation with Indigenous peoples was meaningful – three months was spent “understanding impact on fishery”[5] – and that the project is “consistent with the government’s reconciliation agenda”.[6]

Reconciliation agenda?

In December of 2015, Trudeau promised to implement all 94 calls to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC), including implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). “We need nothing less than a total renewal of the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples,” he stated, “I give you my word that we will renew and respect that relationship.”[7] Only 7 months later, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould claimed that implementing UNDRIP into Canadian law was “unworkable” and a “political distraction”.[8] This about face is particularly significant, as UNDRIP is touted as the primary vehicle through which the TRC sees reconciliation being undertaken in this country. That vehicle has been abandoned by the side of the road in favour of the equivalent of a Humvee with truck nuts.

So what exactly is the government’s reconciliation agenda that McKenna is referring to? McKenna clarifies this for us in a tweet, stating that, “together”, presumably with Indigenous peoples, “we”, presumably Canadians, “will grow the economy, create good middle class jobs”, and of course “protect the environment for future generations”.[9] The economic focus is clear, stated as an obvious good, while lip service is paid to environmental stewardship. That claim rings particularly hollow when one discovers (as Greg Horne of ricochet media did)[10] that in 1973 the Department of Fisheries and Oceans issued a report on an earlier LNG plant proposal in the same area, finding that it would represent an unacceptable risk it posed to fish habitat.[11]

Next to Lelu Island, which is the proposed site of a gas liquefaction facility, is Flora Bank which will be dredged in order to build a suspension bridge. These shallows are a vital habitat for a variety of fish and shellfish, including juvenile salmon, and is considered to be one of the most biologically significant areas in the Skeena river system, if not in all of British Columbia.[12] Despite vigorous opposition from First Nations in the area, and well documented, scientific concerns that are not adequately met by the 190 conditions attached to approval, it is clear that reconciliation as understood by the federal government is much more about “the economy” than building real relationships with Indigenous peoples. Ultimately, the narrative is going to be that First Nations consent to these projects, no matter how that consent is acquired. Free, prior, and informed consent; arguably the backbone of UNDRIP, has been roughly yanked out and discarded, because when the economy is king, reconciliation itself is just “unworkable” and a “political distraction”.

A version of this article was published by the Ottawa Citizen on Sept. 29, 2016.

[1] “Catherine McKenna on Twitter: ‘This Decision Was Based on Science, Traditional Knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and Other Relevant Scientific Evidence. Https://’” Accessed September 28, 2016.
[2] “Pacific NorthWest LNG, Environmental Impact Statement and Environmental Assessment Certificate Application Section 7: Greenhouse Gas Management Microsoft Word – rep_pnwlng_ea_2014_final.docx – 98681E.pdf.” Accessed September 28, 2016.
[3] “Scientists Urge Catherine McKenna to Reject Pacific NorthWest LNG Report.” The Globe and Mail. Accessed September 28, 2016.
[4] “Divide and Conquer.” Toward Reconciliation. Accessed September 28, 2016.
[5] “Angela Sterritt on Twitter: ‘McKenna Answering to Indig Ppls Concerns of salmon: ’We Provided Meaningful accommodation.We Took 3 Months to Understand Impact on Fishery.” Accessed September 28, 2016.
[6] “Ottawa Approves Pacific NorthWest LNG Project for B.C. Coast.” CBC News. Accessed September 28, 2016.
[7] “Trudeau Promises Full Federal Action on Final TRC Report | National Observer.” Accessed September 28, 2016.
[8] “Ottawa Won’t Adopt UNDRIP Directly into Canadian Law: Wilson-Raybould.” iPolitics. Accessed September 28, 2016.
[9] “Catherine McKenna on Twitter: ‘Together We Will Grow the Economy, Create Good Middle Class Jobs and Protect the Environment for Future Generations Https:// Https://’” Accessed September 28, 2016.
[10] “The Stand at Lelu Island: B.C. First Nations Vow to Halt LNG Project.” Ricochet. Accessed September 28, 2016.
[11] “A_biological_Assessment_of_Fish_Utilization_of_the_Skeena_River_Estuary.pdf.” Accessed September 28, 2016.
[12] “Flora Bank Eelgrass Survey.” Accessed September 28, 2016.
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11 Responses to Reconciliation in the time of pipelines

  1. Pingback: Reconciliation in the time of pipelines | Ecocide Alert

  2. Ruth Pickering says:

    Thank you for this article. It seems that our dynamic, curly-haired Prime Minister is just a jaded politician …. We had hoped that some of his promises to us would be kept …. apparently not.

  3. DougB says:

    Had a lot of hope for this government. As it turns out, my belief that politicians are all the same, is confirmed. They tell you what you want to hear to get elected, then do what they want anyway.
    Thank you for all the work you do.

  4. cynthiajoanmorrison says:

    Excellent article. We have it posted into our group. Link here:

  5. Pingback: Canadian History Roundup – Week of October 9, 2016 | Unwritten Histories

  6. Ls Todd says:

    It isn’t so much that the economy is king – it is the type of economy that is king. BC has been at the mercy of a resource extraction economy since when BC became BC. It is boom and bust – with a few people getting very rich and a few others getting enough “middle-class” jobs to oppress the others who aren’t getting anything, except the mess afterwards. Thanks for this.

    • I think we need to face the fact that Canada, in its entirety, has always been at the mercy of a resource extraction economy. You can see this more obviously in BC, and now in Alberta, but even when we had a manufacturing industry worth mentioning, the raw materials used in those urban south factories came from Indigenous lands.

  7. Phil says:

    Well, that apple really didn’t fall very far from the tree. In 1969, Trudeau senior attempted to end the special legal relationship between First Nations and the Invader State. However, as Harold Cardinal wrote in “The Unjust Society”:
    “In spite of all government attempts to convince Indians to accept the white paper, their efforts will fail, because Indians understand that the path outlined by the Department of Indian Affairs through its mouthpiece, the Honourable Mr. Chrétien, leads directly to cultural genocide. We will not walk this path.”
    Now the deception is couched in terms of energy sovereignty, but it amounts to the same place of irrelevance for First Nations cultures and millennial wisdoms in the vision of the Canadian State.
    We’ve all heard the joke that you can when a politician is lying, because s/he’s speaking, and despite all the gimmickry of a “gender/ethic balanced” group of ministers “because it’s 2016”, it seems that politicians of all stripes continue in that “grand tradition”. They open their mouths, and their hell continues on Earth.

  8. sameo416 says:

    Had some hope when Trudeau said the UNDRIP would be signed…now just have reconfirmed cynicism about settler politics in Canada. “In the end the land won’t care; which one was rabbit and which one was bear…”

  9. Joe McKay says:

    I would like to add that it costs money to run a country. Social programs while not always successful have to be paid for somehow. The relationship between the dominant Euro culture and that of the aboriginal has never been good. Being native we often think that our problems are the ones that matter the most and they do to us, however, to some black kid in the inner city of Toronto this may not be the case. Resources have to be moved to markets and pipelines are a better solution the rail environmentally and safety wise. Everybody enjoys the level of education they receive, the opportunities available but they have to be paid for somehow. When you offer solutions or alternatives your making progress. LNG sales are a great source of income and something that we have plenty of. If it is going to go ahead which it is eventually whether you like it or not how can you put in your two sense in such a way that it’s to your advantage

    I don’t like them ripping up the earth anymore then the next person and I wish there were more green energy alternatives but right now there isn’t. Before you start harping on how hard things are I enjoyed the traditional native lifestyle and what comes with that culture, poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism. I was raised in the NWT.

    In regards to this political body I have seen more movement on native issues then I have in the last 30 years. At least native problems are on peoples minds these day thanks to Trudeau and the tragically hip. I know that it looks like nothing is being done but not to me. I actually get feeling that there is some movement albeit slight. Yes the relationship has to be improved and social and living conditions must be improved so that our northern communities can get off the endless cycle of what I had to live through. I think this starts with revamping the educational system so that my kids learn the truth about colonialism and stop idolising villains like Sir John A MacDonald ( who was just a product of his era). This will take generation or two before constructive empathy is in place and mainstream society takes responsibility for the mistakes of our forefathers. Sorry that this will not work overnight.
    I get so very tired of they did this to us and they did that. Yes they did, don’t get over it but you have to face the fact it happened and channel that anger/resentment in a way that is going to do your kids some good. I am trying my best in whatever small way I can, what are you doing?

  10. rightojibwe says:

    We have seen how our voice has no power in Canada. Let’s look at the route Harper took. He emasculated the old boys Indigenous Leadership by way of funding cuts. The Indigenous population didn’t cry foul as there is no relationship between AFN et al and the Indigenous community. The Leadership whimpered a little when they got de-balled by Harper but nothing else happened. He has shown to the provinces and Canada the split between the Indigenous people and the Leadership. So now Trudeau and of course the ultra right wing provincial Liberals in BC know they will not be solidly questions by the Indigenous mouth pieces. Reconciliation is a cool buzz word and sound bite but there is no reason to act on it. Thank you for this piece.

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