Buy in? Or block it? That’s the question facing B.C. First Nations after the federal government announced it will buy Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion to ensure it gets built.
Cheam First Nation Chief Ernie Crey, who has been a vocal supporter of the project, says his Nation is talking about trying to buy a stake in the pipeline.
“I’ve made it plain now for a number of weeks that if that door opens to First Nations, we’ll be one of the First Nations through the door,” he told CKNW’s Simi Sara Show.
“Yeah, we would like to take out a stake in this pipeline. But it depends on the circumstances and what’s involved. So we’re not quite there yet but we anticipate that over the few weeks ahead of us that we’ll learn more about that, and it may well be that the Cheam First Nation takes out a stake in this pipeline.”
Kinder Morgan lists 133 First Nations with an interest in the pipeline route, 43 of which have signed benefits agreements with Trans Mountain. Thirty-three of them, including the Cheam, are in B.C.
“I was happy with Ottawa’s decision to proceed with the pipeline, to purchase it and to ensure that construction of it gets underway, because it means a tremendous amount to my community,” Crey said.
The project will bring job training and full-time employment to Cheam members, Crey said, and will cement partnership deals the Nation has signed with Fraser Valley businesses and other larger corporations.
LISTEN: The political fallout of the Trans Mountain decision
Opponents double down
But the Cheam aren’t the only First Nation intent on doubling down on their position. Opponents of the project are also digging in and pledging to block the pipeline.
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) is calling the decision a “bailout,” and says it will continue to fight the project.
“No means no – the project does not have the consent it requires, and we will not stand down no matter who buys this ill-fated and exorbitantly priced pipeline,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip in a statement.
First Nations on B.C.’s South Coast are also vowing to redouble their opposition.
“That Trudeau is going to go ahead with it, that is ridiculous and we’re going to stop you,” said Tsleil-Waututh Nation chief Rueben George.
Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby export terminal is in the Tsleil-Waututh’s traditional territory. They’re one of 53 Nations the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion lists as pipeline opponents.
George described the Liberals pipeline decision as “political suicide.”
“When we went to the Kinder Morgan AGM, it was apparent that they didn’t want to invest in something with so much uncertainty, they didn’t want to risk their shareholders’ money, but here you have Trudeau wanting to waste taxpayer money,” he said.
WATCH: Coverage of the Trans Mountain announcement on Globalnews.ca:
The Tsleil-Waututh are one of several applicants involved in a Federal Court challenge of Ottawa’s approval of the pipeline.
“You know we’ve got the 12 cases coming up at the Federal Court of Appeal, 60 arguments all together,” George said.
“Canada has to win all those arguments, and we only need one or two.”
A key argument in the court challenges focuses on the federal government’s alleged failure to properly consult First Nations, an argument the Federal Court of Appeal accepted in overturning government approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline in 2016.
In a legal setback for Indigenous opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline last week, the B.C. Supreme Court rejected a court application from the Squamish First Nation, which argued it had not been properly consulted.
That didn’t dampen opposition from the Squamish Nation on Tuesday.
“This is a continued betrayal of promises made to us by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,” Squamish Coun. and spokesperson Khelsilem said in a statement.
“He told Canada’s Indigenous people that our rights would be respected and upheld. He has broken that promise. He promised us he would put the pipeline expansion through a brand new review. He has broken that promise as well.”
Khelsilem said the Squamish Nation is particularly concerned about the project bringing a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic, which will pass by three of their communities. He said they have no plans to stop fighting its construction.
-With files from Emily Lazatin