Protection. Solidarity. Justice. These are the principles around which the Pull Together community has mobilized for years in unwavering support of the First Nations who have persevered in the courts for justice in the fight to stop the Trans Mountain Pipeline and Tanker Expansion project (and the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline before it).
Yet on June 13, what we had collectively dreaded in fact occurred: over 150,000 litres of oil spilled from the Trans Mountain pipeline in Abbotsford, British Columbia. The crude oil has contaminated the reserve land of the Sumas First Nation, specifically an area draining into an aquifer that supplies the Nation with drinking water. Sound familiar? This is exactly why Coldwater Nation has been in court these past three and a half years: the old pipeline runs right through Coldwater reserve, and the proposed expansion also endangers their aquifer and the sole source of drinking water for the community.
According to Chief Dalton Silver of the Sumas First Nation this is the fourth time in 15 years that the pipeline has spilled on his community’s land.
The inevitable reality of oil spills and ruptures for TMX is here, as communities have warned for years. And this is just with the old pipeline. If the proposed expansion goes through the number and severity of such incidents can only increase.
“We conducted our own assessment of Trans Mountain using leading science and Tsleil-Waututh’s Indigenous law that concluded that oil spills are inevitable, can’t be fully cleaned up, and have devastating effects,” stated Chief Leah George-Wilson, Chief of Tsleil-Waututh Nation. “This most recent spill is another reminder that the risk is too great to accept. The Trans Mountain pipeline has already spilled more than 80 times since it began operating. This is why we continue to fight the Trans Mountain Expansion in the courts.”
Even amidst the pandemic and ongoing First Nations-led legal challenges against Trans Mountain, the government has persevered with construction of the $10 billion pipeline and tankers project that would spell environmental disaster and economic blunder. Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, Secretary-Treasurer of the Union of BC Indian Chiefsstated, “Trans Mountain put in the existing line without the consent of impacted First Nations and we have said no countless times to the proposed expansion. As Indigenous peoples we are stewards of our lands and waters. We have jurisdiction over activities that happen in our territories, and we don’t want them ruined by oil spills.”
Meanwhile, across Turtle Island, there have been ongoing demonstrations calling for an end to racism and the systemic oppression of colonialism. Just in the past month we’ve seen the largest civil rights movement in the United States taking place, and an unprecedented fundraising response for Beaver Lake Cree Nation, with over $140,000 raised for the Tar Sands Trial. All this came on the heels of nation-wide solidarity for the Wet’suwet’en that lasted for months. Citizens are putting fierce action behind their unwavering resolve for human rights and environmental justice. That fierce determination is needed – the governments are obviously not getting the message.
“We are getting tired of having to constantly remind Canada and BC of their commitment to uphold and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which clearly articulates that Indigenous peoples impacted by a project must provide their free, prior and informed consent before the project can proceed,” said Chief Don Tom, Vice-President of the UBCIC.