The development of pipelines for transporting petroleum and natural gas have been stirring up relations with indigenous communities for decades. There are struggles over two pipelines in my region, British Columbia/ unceded lands of Coast Salish Territories. One is the expansion of the Transmountain pipeline and marine terminal to send bitumen from the Alberta tarsands to the Port of Vancouver and the other is the addition of a gas pipeline from the Peace River region of Northeast B.C. to the Port of Kitimat.
The first of these two struggles has been lead by coastal leaders of Coast Salish communities and nations and it garnered not a small amount of support from the general public. So strong has this anti-pipeline movement been that the US-based corporation 's major shareholders got discouraged and sold the project to the federal government of Canada, much to the chagrin of many people in Canada. The project is now suspended as a judge ruled that the National Energy Board must re-evaluate the prospects allowing full consultation to affected indigenous communities.
Farther north, however, pipeline construction is proceding. An encampment of indigenous people lead by hereditary chiefs long established in expectation of this construction, protests escalated determinedly. National police stopped the blockade of the construction roadway and raided the protest camp, which triggered a hot reaction from observers across the country. Preparation to lay pipe is proceeding while the Union of BC (hereditary) Chiefs talks with authorities and other interests involved, including indigenous groups who hope to benefit by the installation of the gas pipeline.
The conflict among indigenous peoples is a result of the chaffing co-existence of two systems of indigenous governance, traditional or hereditary and bands set up and authorized by the Canadian government through the Indian Act legislation. Many bands tend to be opportunist and corrupt, and contradict traditional and evolving indigenous values and aims just as labor unions often transgress traditional labour values and aims.
Who to side with? What is the just position on pipelines?
In the case of the Peace to Kitimat line, the issue is very clear. That is because the plan is to lay the pipeline through land already decided by law to be semi-autonomous, We'tswe'ten territory. This was the first land claim to be won in Canada. The question of rights and authority over this territory was settled in the 90s. Yes, the federal government has some authority over the indigenous territory, but land use questions are supposed to be up to the We'tswe'ten leadership. That is, the territory in question is no longer considered "Crown land" governed by regional and federal state authorities of Canada. The Canadian government is staunchly asserting authority over the question of pipeline construction, in a drastic violation of the prior legal arrangements and its overtly stated policy and programs of acknowledgement of indigenous rights and peaceful reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
I am siding with the indigenous people who oppose the construction of the pipeline in defense of We'tswe'ten rights and authority and indigenous rights in general. I am opposing pipelines and the fossil fuel industries in general because of their destructive approaches and impacts to people and nature.
It is time to switch from mass dependency on fossil fuels to more sustainable sources, anyway. It is time to modify the capitalist way of life which over-consumes and over-produces, puts less consideration to people and the environment than to profits and generates vast amounts of waste.