The People vs. TMX: Meet Erin Hanson

Since 2016, RAVEN has stood together with Indigenous Nations in opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX). The pipeline would run through salmon-bearing streams, parks and Indigenous communities before loading ships with toxic diluted bitumen. The Pull Together community has raised an amazing $650k to support legal challenges to the project.

Through its Sacred Trust Initiative, Tsleil-Waututh Nation has set a powerful example of ecological restoration of the Burrard Inlet, comprehensive impact assessments, consent practices and guidelines in negotiations, and the daily assertion of Indigenous governance.

For RAVEN’s In Conversation Instagram Live series, we spoke with Erin Hanson, who works as a Policy Advisor at the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s Treaty Lands and Resources Department. Hanson’s particular focus is on matters relating to Tsleil-Waututh laws, jurisdiction, rights and title. She also manages the Sacred Trust Initiative, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s response to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The Sacred Trust initiative furthers the Nation’s mandate to restore the health of Burrard Inlet so future generations can thrive. Erin is a settler of European descent who was born and raised in the territories of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish people.

You can watch the full conversation here and catch some of the highlights below: 

RAVEN: A lot of people are familiar with the Sacred Trust Initiative through the fight to stop TMX, but a lot of the Nation’s work goes beyond stopping the pipeline. Can you tell us about some of those efforts?

I think sometimes if we aren’t careful, if we put our attention on these big mega development projects they have the potential to suck the life out of the room and what goes unseen is a lot of beautiful other work. Tsleil-Waututh is not just saying no to the pipeline, but they are saying yes to upholding Tsleil-Waututh law which includes restoring the health of Burrard Inlet so future generations can thrive. In 2005 the community mandated Chief and Council to address the restoration of the inlet which resulted in the marine stewardship practices. Restoring the inlet so Tsleil-Waututh can harvest healthy seafood and practice their culture. To uphold those obligations from the ancestors in the present community and for future generations to come. We have fisheries crews who are on the water everyday restoring eelgrass beds, counting fish. Tsleil-Waututh’s creation stories are in Burrard Inlet, there is a long standing, important relationship that is central to identity. 

My boss grew up on the beach having clam bakes and being able to harvest food from the waters, his kids have never experienced that. The shellfish harvest stopped in 1972 when the federal government declared that the waters were too polluted and it was in the span of one generation that the ability to harvest seafood stopped. 

Can you explain the vision Tsleil-Waututh has for the Inlet?

I think a lot of us see the Burrard Inlet as this industrialized environment but when Tsleil-Waututh talks about restoring the Inlet, they aren’t talking about a 2 year funding cycle or a 4 year election cycle, they are envisioning the next 100 years to do the work to get this Inlet back. With this perspective the Nation is upholding their laws to restore the health of the waterways. A few years ago, the nation was able to have their first safe clam harvest for the first time since 1972 and there was a feast for the first shellfish harvest in a generation. 

A few years ago we saw the return of the herring which was the first time since the 1880s and following that we saw the return of the killer whales. That is a huge testament to what it means to enact Indigenous law and governance even when so many colonial structures can try to impede that. 

How has Tsleil-Waututh asserted their approach to consultation and environmental assessments?

The Nation has been getting an onslaught of consultation requests and instead of waiting for the court to define what meaningful consultation is, Tsleil-Waututh set out a stewardship policy that outlines what meaningful consultation would mean to the community. A commitment to having a dialogue, a resolution mechanism and also a substantive element of Indigenous law. Tsleil-Waututh as a Coast Salish nation has standards for what is acceptable development. 

We wanted to also do impact assessments that are recognizing Tsleil-Waututh ways of life and culture. You aren’t going to find that in a federal or provincial Environmental Assessment. 

Tsleil-Waututh has disrupted the narrative that we have to accept sacrifice zones. 

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