In 2018, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal ordered the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project to stop construction. The National Energy Board (NEB)–who had approved the government-owned project–had made a “critical error,” the court said. They had failed to consider the impact more tankers would have on First Nations communities who rely on the ocean for food.
There had been no consultation with the Coast Salish people or the marine protection groups (including other government bodies) whose warnings about increased tanker traffic had been ignored.
Hoping to gather evidence to change the court’s ruling, the NEB asked First Nations to testify at the end of November or beginning of December. Each nation was given two hours to describe to them how the pipeline expansion would impact their communities.
There were 26 hours of public testimony for the Coast Salish and Nuu-chah-nulth nations who would be affected the most by an increase in oil tanker traffic. These audio testimonies and transcripts are now available online.
This post is a synopsis for anyone who hasn’t had the time to read the transcripts or listen to the audio testimony. It will include 30 screenshot quotes from the transcripts, seven photos, three maps, and a graph. There will also be three audio files including the sample above. Two are short, while the one at the end is over an hour long. I’ll provide a link to a Dropbox folder at the end of this post for access to all of the files (including more audio and transcripts).
Some Context: Ten Coast Salish nations testified independently and four nations from the United States testified together. Two collectives of Fraser River (Sto:lo) nations also testified: the Sto:lo Collective represented eleven nations and the Sto:lo Tribal Council represented seven. The Maanulth collective testified as well, representing five Nuu-chah-nulth nations (the opening of the Juan de Fuca Strait is Nuu-chah-nulth territory).
These are the 37 nations the NEB felt would be the most impacted by an increase in tanker traffic.
Other Coast Salish and Kwakwaka’wakw nations were not invited, or did not have enough time to prepare, even though the whole Salish Sea would be affected by an increase in tanker traffic due to tides, sea currents, and the migration of fish and birds.
Except for one point, which will be discussed at the end of this post, all of the nations were strongly opposed to the Trans Mountain project. The same points were made over and over again regarding the impacts their nations were experiencing from current tanker traffic. The large volume of additional tankers being proposed, they said, would devastate communities, as current traffic levels are already unmanageable without regulations and necessary infrastructure.
The audio version of the oral testimony often includes songs and prayers, which take place at the beginning and/or closing of the testimonies. This is not indicated in the transcripts other than “(native prayer)” or similar. Due to the sacred nature of these songs and prayers, some nations requested that these be redacted from the audio files as well.
The testimony evidence is a treasure trove of information for anyone interested in Coast Salish traditional knowledge or spiritual lore. I particularly liked this quote:
It’s important to note, that culturally, the Coast Salish people are spiritual. This means that access to food is sacred and seen as a reflection of living with gratitude. Preservation of the environment is spiritual. Salmon and shellfish are respected as they’re essential for survival. The killer whale is especially sacred, as can be seen in crests and works of art.
I included the last non-highlighted portion because of its relevance to the Southern Resident Killer Whales, who are facing a serious risk of extinction. The two main culprits have been deemed to be boat traffic (which interferes with their sonar hunting abilities) and a lack of salmon.
The threat to the Killer Whale is one of the main reasons a lot of the environmental groups, provincial and municipal governments, the State of Seattle, religious leaders, educational leaders, scientists, etc. have been fighting the expansion.
The next audio clip is hard for me to listen to. I was an intern for Elder Geraldine Manson at Vancouver Island University. I’ve also listened to her brother-in-law Elder Gary Manson speak as he is an Elder at Vancouver Island University as well. I know some of what their family has already experienced at the hands of our government who were trying to assimilate Indigenous people across Canada by destroying their cultures. Geraldine Manson is a strong woman, someone I respect, so to hear her upset like this is difficult. Her First Nations name is C-tasi:a and Gary Manson’s First Nations name is Xulsimalt. Their lawyer addresses them by these names as well.
Before we return to the possibility of an oil spill, or the legal issues surrounding the proposed tanker traffic, it’s important to look at the damage being done by tankers anchoring (called bunkering) in unauthorized waters all over the Salish Sea. Some of these concepts might be difficult for people unfamiliar with the ocean to understand. If 60 tankers a year can’t find places to park as they wait to load and unload then where will 400 a year park?
According to the testimony there is no room. There aren’t enough safe places. Unlike land machinery, where you find a patch of ground to park large equipment on, the Salish Sea has limited sites that are protected (depth, tides, currents, reefs, etc.). Those that do exist, are being taken without permission from people who rely on these same grounds for much-needed survival food.
Also to consider, one mechanical component of ocean vessels is the bilge pump, which pumps contaminated water regularly into the ocean–essentially into people’s sea gardens and/or fishing areas. A Coast Salish saying that was quoted repeatedly was, “When the tide is out the table is set.” This makes unauthorized bunkering an unsafe practice for food security reasons.
There are also environmental damages being caused by the tankers’ idling, machinery, people on board, and lights.
Here’s an Instagram post from Christmas Eve illustrating what he means.
If an oil spill happens the effects will be felt by everyone, but the First Nations who rely on the ocean for food will be hit the hardest. As the Snuneymuxw audio clip above explained, it will be the death of the Coast Salish culture.
Several legal points made by the Coast Salish and Nuu-chah-nulth people who testified have already been quoted, but here are a few more:
Other issues raised by multiple nations were:
- a short period of time to prepare.
- only two hours to describe entire nation’s history and culture.
- a thousands-of-years-old title to the Salish Sea.
- a spiritual and religious obligation to protect the Salish Sea and its living occupants.
- some cultural practices too sacred to share in detail, like the spiritual bathing performed in areas polluted by tankers.
The original pipeline’s land had been taken unlawfully, as well, often through violent means and colonial tactics as the Trans Mountain pipeline was originally laid in the 1950s, before First Nations people had the right to vote, before the sixties scoop, before Treaties were being recognized, and almost half a century before the residential schools were closed. Legally, the original pipeline should never have been allowed.
People who speak up are afraid of repercussions though. Many who have protested have been arrested and given criminal records. The greatest infringement of their rights is the use of Bill C-51, which implies that First Nations people who oppose a business violating their legal rights can be spied upon and potentially labeled as terrorists:
Here’s an open letter from the UBCIC (Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs) regarding Bill C-51.
Was There Actual Consultation? The National Energy Board didn’t come across as taking the oral evidence seriously. They didn’t know how to pronounce the names of the Nations who were offering evidence, for example. Anytime I’ve given speeches or book readings on Vancouver Island I’ve spent the few minutes it takes online to learn how to say the name of the Nation whose territory I was presenting in. It’s basic respect.
The chairpeople didn’t sound like they were very concerned about what they were hearing either. “Interesting” isn’t how I’d respond when someone was describing the death of their people. And I’m not sure what “different perspectives” he was commenting on as there was little deviation between any of the Nations.
The exception I’d mentioned earlier was the Sto:lo Tribal Council. They had all the same concerns about the salmon run–because it effects them where they live further up the Fraser River–but weren’t as concerned about the Killer Whales or the Salish Sea. They said they would support the pipeline through their territory if they were in charge of environmental assessments and monitoring.
The NEB also allowed the Indigenous Caucus for Trans Mountain (IAMC) to take one of the time slots and testify on the very first first day (ahead of most of the Coast Salish nations). The IAMC “does not represent any Indigenous nations.” They are a body made up of foreign First Nations individuals who should not have been allowed to testify.
It appears that the NEB hopes to take their testimony and plant it into the Coast Salish testimony to create the illusion that the West Coast nations aren’t in consensus. Culturally, this in itself is a “critical error” as it’s an insult to the nations who came to testify, and even more so to those who weren’t allowed to.
The transcripts are problematic. There might be intentional errors in the transcripts. Here’s one example with my comment:
As my comment is pretty small I’ll reiterate: This is a critical error in transcription. Elder John Elliott is talking about the death of his “nation” (not nature) if the killer whale is destroyed. This changes the meaning drastically in the NEB’s favour.
A judge skimming through the oral evidence transcripts would miss this plea for help as it’s been removed. There are several errors like this that I came across (like Tribal Journeys renamed “travel journeys”, etc.) in the transcripts.
Regarding the Environment. There are a few more quotes I’d like to share. The first is about the destruction of First Nations culture and way of life. The last two are about the environment:
One point that was brought up earlier was that the reservations were intentionally made small because they included water area-usage promises. Climate change was also mentioned repeatedly. Something that wasn’t raised, however, was the effects of rising ocean levels.
The reservations are almost always close to sea level. This makes British Columbia’s coastal First Nations particularly vulnerable to storms and natural catastrophes such as tsunamis, windstorms, and earthquakes. It also means their reserve lands are shrinking as the glaciers melt.
“Not All First Nations Agree”: This statement has been promoted repeatedly by corporations, government oil investors, and media supporters of the project. The Coast Salish Nations who testified are in consensus, however, that the pipeline is a threat to their existence. The only variation is the Sto:lo Tribal Collective, who don’t live near the Salish Sea. They believe the pipeline should only go forward if they are responsible for environmental assessment and monitoring.
Foreign First Nations who will profit if the Coast Salish and Nuu-chah-nulth people are destroyed have been paraded across media platforms as supporters of this project because many Canadians don’t know that First Nations is a plural term. These pipeline supporters are from other nations. They have no more claim to Coast Salish treaties and title than someone from Slovakia or Kurdistan does. They were separate nations and cultures before contact and they still are. A person in traditional dress does not automatically represent their own nation either.
There are insulting names in many First Nations languages for those who betray other Indigenous people, because this tactic has been used so often by governments in Canada.
Since contact, Europeans have first recruited First Nations or other Indigenous people and then used them as tools against nations that they still needed to subdue or conquer. The Salish Sea has a particularly long history of this.
Many of the first colonizers were non-white or of mixed heritage. Our first Governor was James Douglas, whose mother was Creole. The first treaties were named after him. When he was knighted he became Sir James Douglas and his half-Cree wife became Lady Amelia Douglas. Many of the first landowners were Metis including BC’s first woman landowner Isabella Ross (who Ross Bay is named after). Metis and mixed First Nations children became prominent people in BC’s early history.
There are also records of eastern First Nations scouts, warriors, and translators. This is because eastern North America had been colonized much earlier. There were so many Indigenous Hawaiians on Vancouver Island (they were labourers and were used to fight the Coast Salish and other First Nations) that there was a Hawaiian consulate in Victoria.
There were also Chinese, Japanese, freed African American slaves, and many other non-white landowners. They lost some of their rights and faced legal discriminations later on, which is why some people falsely believe colonization on the West Coast was just carried out by white settlers. The only people who couldn’t own land on the West Coast–it would seem–were First Nations people who already lived here.
One notable Snuneymuxw man was Coal Tyee, who betrayed his people by showing Governor Douglas’ blacksmith where coal could be found in his territory. He was rewarded with a bottle of rum, had his rifle fixed for free, and was mockingly made a chief by the colony without the consent of the Snuneymuxw people. Then he was given his new name. There’s a bust-statue honouring him in Nanaimo. Ironically, the black rock (coal) he led the colonizers to was considered sacred by the Snuneymuxw people, as it represented the Killer Whale.
Media Reports: Mainstream media sources have been underreporting numbers at protests and ignoring the Coast Salish people’s pleas for help. Thousands have protested in Seattle (because they’re in harm’s way as well), but this rarely makes the news in Canada. I’ve taken photos at several protests now and have seen this first hand. Protests all over the world have also been ignored.
There were 37 Salish Sea First Nations giving testimony. This should have been huge news considering the national division over this pipeline project, but no one on Vancouver Island reported it that I’m aware of. One out-of-town oil worker came to Nanaimo to protest them and the media covered it. Here’s the reporter’s Tweet with my commentary. The Tweet claims he was getting honks of support, but I can’t find a single person to verify there was anyone other than Nanaimo’s press who supported him. There were, however, a lot of people who were choked.
Nanaimo’s news sources have a long history of racism towards First Nations people. The city’s newspaper made national news twice in 2013 for publishing racist letters to the editor of the paper. A suburban portion of the reservation was finally given access to tap water in 2015 after the Snuneymuxw Nation footed half of the bill. Being close to the ocean, the land the people had been forced to live on couldn’t be drilled for freshwater. The river is tidal so it’s undrinkable as well. Yet, people across the road have been watering their lawns, washing their cars, filling their pools, and having lemonade stand sales for decades. This, of course, never made Nanaimo news either, though I found one mention of the ground being broken on the project here.
First Nations on the coast are often ignored by the mainstream media. They’re not deemed news-worthy or interesting enough to cover. As a result, much of the rest of Canada is unaware that any of this is even happening, that in British Columbia the Coast Salish people feel that it’s their “last hour.”
What Will Happen Next? This is difficult to answer.
A global movement called the Yellow Vest Movement has been embraced by oil workers and truckers in Alberta. Besides being anti-immigration and anti-United Nations, they’re asking for the removal of First Nations rights so the pipeline can be pushed through. Some of them wear Soldiers of Odin patches as the movement is supported by far-right extremist groups.
Many people follow the movement blindly out of frustration, as they’ve been given a false narrative. They might not be aware they are part of a racist movement. Others feel that “jobs” and “national interest” are both worth abandoning legal agreements with First Nations groups. The protests are large enough that politicians have taken notice.
Alberta has been overproducing oil while laying people off due to modernization for years, even though the sector is heavily subsidized on multiple levels to keep people employed. Workers are paid high wages that could, in theory, be spread out between multiple employees.
Albertans also pay less at the pump, which is another hidden tax for Canadians in other provinces. Taxpayers pay billions to keep the industry running. The companies don’t reinvest this money on employment innovation but continue to operate with fewer and fewer workers while simultaneously increasing profits. Short term Trans Mountain pipeline-construction jobs were promised, even though this would cause further job losses over time.
The ruling on the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project has been viewed by many Albertans as a culprit for recession and unemployment in their province, rather than decades of mismanagement and poor decision-making by government. BC’s blocking of the Trans Mountain Pipeline is viewed as the reason people are struggling because that’s what they’ve been told. None of the oil sector’s stats have withstood expert scrutiny though. Companies are actually reporting huge profits, while people are being manipulated with slogans like, “Keep Canada Working” to pressure them into supporting corporate agendas.
CN Rail is proposing a pellet method of shipping oil, which could be a more realistic solution for modern transport of oil products, but this still doesn’t address the issue of tanker traffic.
British Columbia has its own interests to protect, such as fishing, tourism, and real estate, as well as serious safety concerns about an oversized pipeline that would run through one of the most populated cities in Canada (relative to Calgary and Edmonton combined).
Current tankers fail to demonstrate safe practices in much smaller numbers, which is the core problem. The oil sector and invested governments won’t acknowledge that the courts have already said no. Instead of finding another route, or a suitable compromise, the pushback against BC has been hostile and entitled from day one. It’s the worst stance to take in a business negotiation, especially one where your parties stand to benefit the most while the other side takes all the risks.
All of this before we even acknowledge that First Nations people have the right to exist.
The Trudeau Government purchased the pipeline last year. The courts have since reaffirmed that the construction project is illegal, but the Federal Government’s involvement makes many people uncomfortable.
The First Nations testimony that you’ve read here has been gathered so that the NEB can claim that coastal First Nations people have now been consulted. If the NEB is a non partisan legal body, like it says it is, then listening to these horrific accounts should be the end of the project.
Many people believe the NEB’s only agenda, however, is to push the pipeline through by any means necessary. The Liberal Government has stated this is their intention. It is not consultation if a decisions has already been made. So why do they think they can push the pipeline through the courts? Will the judicial branch of government remain loyal to the rule of law? Or will it feel obligated to serve the executive branch of government? What if the next court has negative biases based on race or culture? With Canada’s history, this feels like a possibility.
Some people still consider Trudeau’s Liberal government as actually being liberal or on the left, though clearly they aren’t. During press conferences they often speak about human rights and Indigenous rights, but for First Nations communities the reality has been startlingly different.
To get elected, Trudeau promised coastal First Nations communities that the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion would not be built. Then he bought the project. He also promised Indigenous communities clean water, but spent the money on the pipeline instead.
Recently, the United Nations Committee on Torture asked the Canadian Government to make coerced and forced sterilization of Indigenous women illegal (with one case as recent as 2017). The Liberal government ignored the UN’s request and said it would take “a public health approach” instead. As NDP member of Parliament Romeo Saganash said, it’s time Trudeau admitted “he doesn’t give a fuck about Indigenous rights.”
The strongest and most popular parties in Canada are pro Trans Mountain Pipeline, even though an increase in tanker traffic threatens the existence of the Coast Salish people, as well as other First Nations who call the Salish Sea home.
The genocide in Canada has been much slower, cunning, and more subtle than most, but like many others it has always been motivated by economics and greed. Every single step of the way.
This Tsartlip audio clip is a longer file if you’d like to hear more testimony. I chose this sample because four people cover various topics brought up repeatedly by others.
Here are the transcripts (with highlights), screenshots, and audio files. I gave each audio file an image representing the First Nation who testified first. These should be visible in media players. The image choices aren’t meant to disrespect other nations, but were chosen based on who testified first. I created a shorter MP3 file which only has the Snuneymuxw Nation on it because I live in Snuneymuxw territory and have connections to the Elders through VIU.
There are 26 hours of Coast Salish and Nuu-chah-nulth testimony, including Adam Olsen’s session (Adam Olsen is a Tsartlip MLA). Other First Nations’ testimony is available online and can be accessed through the “00 – NEB” file.
This review was a huge project. I chose to focus on Vancouver Island and the Salish Sea because I’m more familiar with the history and nations involved. It was hard to condense so many hours of evidence into one post. I chose quotes that I felt best represented what the Nations were saying collectively, but there could have been many more.
To Download a file: 1) open file 2) choose the download option in the top right corner.
About Me: I’m a published writer, researcher, and investigator. I’m also a member of the Writer’s Union of Canada. I’ve taken multiple criminology and First Nations studies courses. For over a decade, I wrote and reviewed legal documents and attended court as part of my job. As an Afghanistan veteran, I’m familiar with the basics of international law. I grew up in Saskatchewan and was stationed with the military in Alberta. I’ve lived in Vancouver and Burnaby, but now reside on Vancouver Island. I have friends and family who are First Nations and those who are not. I know oil workers and people with every possible opinion on this issue. Those who support the pipeline expansion are either uninformed or believe that Coast Salish lives and culture are not worth protecting.