First Nations Takes on Canadian Government to Stop Trans Mountain Pipeline

By Nick Engelfried

Originally published by Waging Nonviolence

Tsleil-Waututh water protectors at the peaceful protest in Whey-Ah-Whichen, now the site of Cates Park in North Vancouver. (Photo Credit: WNV/Nick Engelfried)

For thousands of years, Whey-Ah-Whichen has been a site of importance to the Tsleil-Waututh people. This hospitable flat peninsula in the Pacific Northwest was home to one of their major villages, standing in the shadow of surrounding hills and mountains covered in towering Douglas-fir and other ancient trees. Today, Whey-Ah-Whichen is the site of Cates Park, so-named by the descendants of English colonists in what is now British Columbia. It overlooks Burrard Inlet, a finger-like extension of the Salish Sea separating the cities of Vancouver and North Vancouver. The Tsleil-Waututh still live nearby, many of them on a reserve just down the highway.

In July, Tsleil-Waututh community leaders brought together several hundred people for a rally on the site of the former village. Many carried signs with messages including “Water is Life,” “Stop Kinder Morgan Pipeline,” and “Protect the Water, Land, Climate.” They came to participate in a fight against one of the largest proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Canada, an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline that would transport tar sands oil from Alberta to a Kinder Morgan-owned storage facility directly across the inlet from Whey-Ah-Whichen. There, oil from the pipeline would be loaded into tankers for transport to the United States or across the Pacific.

The rally was only the latest manifestation of the indigenous-led resistance to the Trans Mountain project, which has grown in size and boldness this year. As more and more people arrived at the park, some prepared to take to the water in kayaks, canoes and other small vessels. Hundreds of others massed near the shoreline, watching as the boats headed across the inlet and gathered in front of the razor-wire fence erected by Kinder Morgan to keep people away from its facility. From one of the canoes, Tsleil-Waututh elder Amy George led a water ceremony expressing participants’ intent to care for and protect the inlet.

On the shore below Whey-Ah-Whichen, the smell of salt and slowly-drying seaweed permeated the air as the tide receded. Canada geese floated on the water among the kayaks, and tiny crabs scurried between pebbles on the beach. The crabs, a traditional food of the Tsleil-Waututh, were one reason people had gathered here today.

“The whales and fish, the crabs and lobsters, they need us to be their voices because they can’t speak for themselves,” said Amy George after her canoe returned to shore. George is credited with launching the resistance to the Trans Mountain pipeline in the Greater Vancouver area.

Protectors, not protesters

“We’re not protesters, we’re protectors,” George said earlier that morning. “We’ve been doing this since the first contact with Europeans, fighting to protect our land and water. Now some Europeans are joining our movement — we’re finally getting together. If the oil from this project spills, one dump will ruin the water from here to Prince Rupert, here to California.”

When the Tsleil-Waututh first learned about plans to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline, then backed by Kinder Morgan, not everyone was sure the nation of slightly more than 500 people could realistically take on one of North America’s largest oil infrastructure companies. Cedar George-Parker, a member of the extended George family that has led the resistance, described how Amy George convinced the community to oppose the project: “She told us we needed to warrior up.”

Kinder Morgan’s plan for Trans Mountain involves expanding an existing tar sands pipeline to triple its carrying capacity. Among other things, this would entail building 14 new storage tanks on Burrard Inlet and boring a tunnel through nearby Burnaby Mountain so that a new branch of the pipeline can deliver more oil to the facility.

According to the grassroots environmental group Stand.earth, the expansion project would lead to a 700 percent increase in the number of tar sands oil tankers plying the ecologically sensitive Salish Sea. An accident on a tanker, or at the Burrard Inlet facility, would be devastating for communities throughout the region.

“What we need is clean water for our children and grandchildren,” Cedar George-Parker said to the crowd. “For many years our people took our food from the water. Now it’s time for us to give back, to protect the inlet from the oil and bitumen that will kill it.”

A study commissioned by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation predicts a large oil spill in the inlet would expose over a million people to acute health effects from air toxins. “I don’t want my little brother to be one of those people affected,” George-Parker said, citing one of his main motivations to keep fighting.

The movement escalates

While resistance to Trans Mountain has been building for a decade, it heated up this year as Kinder Morgan started preliminary construction activity along the pipeline route. In March, members of the Tsleil-Waututh built a traditional watch house near the route of the pipeline in Burnaby just south of Burrard Inlet. Around the same time, 10,000 people gathered nearby for one of the most massive displays of opposition to the pipeline so far. Tsleil-Waututh water protectors and their allies have blockaded initial phases of construction, protested at Kinder Morgan’s annual shareholder meeting in Houston, and turned the watch house into a visible symbol of resistance. More than 200 have been arrested during nonviolent actions opposing the pipeline so far.

 

Then, in late May, with the deadline fast approaching, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Canadian government would spend billions to buy the Trans Mountain project from Kinder Morgan and build the expanded pipeline using taxpayer dollars. With the stroke of a pen, the Trans Mountain tar sands expansion turned from a private industry endeavor to an official project of the Canadian government. Trudeau, previously regarded as a progressive voice for action on climate change, emerged with his climate reputation in tatters. Within 12 hours of Trudeau’s announcement, thousands of people gathered for an impromptu rally in Vancouver expressing public outrage.

“In the beginning of this fight, we were trying to protect our land and water from Kinder Morgan,” Amy George told the crowd in Whey-Ah-Whichen. “We’ve made them give up, and they’ve gone back to Texas. I don’t care who’s still backing this pipeline, we’re still saying no. It would take until 2050 to pay off the taxpayer debt Justin Trudeau wants to use to finance this project. I’m a taxpayer, and I don’t want to be a shareholder in dirty energy.”

Sending a global message

Even as the movement to stop Trans Mountain has been forced to shift targets from Kinder Morgan to the government of Canada itself, members of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation — including the George family — have continued to lead the opposition. Will George, another family member who played a key role in organizing the rally, recently spent 40 hours with 11 other water protectors suspended from a bridge, blocking a tar sands tanker leaving Burrard Inlet. And in the years since Amy George first convinced her community to oppose Kinder Morgan, the movement to stop the pipeline has become a rallying point for indigenous leaders throughout Canada.

“The message we’re gathering is now getting out to the world,” said vice president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Bob Chamberlain, another one of the speakers. “We’re sending a message that we don’t need to build and capitalize on something that just isn’t sustainable, like this pipeline. Our opponents characterize us as ‘activists,’ as ‘radicals.’ Imagine, we’re radicals because we want clean air and water. Well, if that’s what a radical is, I’m glad to be one with you.”

Chief Bob Chamberlain (Owadi), Vice President of the Union of British Columbian Indian Chiefs. (Photo Credit: Wilderness Committee FB Page)

The movement to stop Trans Mountain has drawn comparisons to the encampment that delayed construction of the Dakota Access pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in 2016. During the waning days of the Obama administration, that movement brought together tribal representatives from across North America to oppose a major oil pipeline that threatens the Standing Rock Sioux’s drinking water and right to control their natural resources. As happened at Standing Rock, the Trans Mountain opposition has been joined by thousands of non-indigenous activists concerned about everything from endangered species to climate change.

In the Trump/Trudeau era, when national governments on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border have firmly allied themselves with the oil industry’s expansion plans, countless people across North America have taken inspiration from Standing Rock. And from Burrard Inlet to the Gulf of Mexico, indigenous peoples continue to lead the way. Indigenous-led encampments have sprung up in the paths of the Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana and the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. And if construction begins on the Keystone XL pipeline next year — as TransCanada, the owner of that project, predicts it will — the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has sent clear messages that its members intend to stand in the way.

Nor will the resistance to Trans Mountain be going anywhere. As the possibility of major construction work beginning on the project grows imminent, and with the watch house already serving as a permanent base for water protectors along the route of the pipeline, the potential exists for a confrontation on the scale of Standing Rock. If that happens, protectors like Amy George believe they will simply be upholding their nation’s long tradition of caring for the land.

“We’re not doing something new by carrying on the fight for the inlet,” George said. “During thousands of years that we were here, there were no endangered species. We cared for the streams and didn’t overpopulate to tax our food sources. If there’s a spill, it means death to everything in the water. It means saying goodbye to the few orcas left in the Salish Sea.”

Even a recent heart procedure won’t stop George. “I’m still here saying no,” she said. “We’ve been saying no to Kinder Morgan all along, and it doesn’t change things now that we have to fight the so-called leader of the country.”

Waging Nonviolence is a source for original news and analysis about struggles for justice and peace around the globe.

Opinion: Every Farm Counts

Per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 56,092 farms and ranches operated by 71,947 Native Americans sold a total of $3.24 billion in agricultural products raised on 57.3 million acres.

By Zach Ducheneaux, Intertribal Agriculture Council

In spite of notable efforts on the part of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and others, American Indians continue to be one of the most underrepresented groups in the Census of Agriculture. The number of American Indian producers participating in the Census has increased tremendously since the questionnaire became the responsibility of the USDA in 1997, and especially since 2007 when every American Indian farm and ranch began reporting individually. But we still have a lot of work to do to get everyone represented in the data.

Indian Country is faced with many challenges created by policy – some of which was created without our input. When federal, state, and local farm policy and programs are contemplated, NASS data are what policymakers reference to inform their decisions. Programs developed based on crops grown, conservation practices used, and even agri-finance opportunities can all be adversely affected if we don’t tell our story through participation in the Ag Census. If we, as a community, do not fill out the Census of Agriculture, the data will not reflect our numbers or our needs and that could have a negative economic impact on our communities.

Zach Ducheneaux advocating on behalf of Native American farming communities. Photo Credit: American Forum

A stark example of this adverse impact lies in the 2012 Census data which showed that the 56,092 farms and ranches operated by 71,947 Native Americans sold a total of $3.24 billion in ag products raised on 57.3 million acres. The average size of a farm or ranch operated by Native Americans (1,021 acres) was over 200 percent larger than the national farm average (434 acres) while receiving only 67 percent ($6,698) of the amount of farm program payments received by others ($9,925). When you contemplate the per acre disparity, you can clearly see the reason we need to be more active.

Another example of the importance of the Ag Census is demonstrated by what it doesn’t count. As a result of the failure to recognize subsistence production, tens of thousands of our Alaskan Native relatives go totally uncounted. As a result, there is virtually no mention of subsistence agriculture in federal farm policy.

The Census of Agriculture aims to be a complete count of all U.S. farms, ranches, and their operators, and remains the only source of uniform, comprehensive, and impartial agriculture data available at the state, county, and Tribal level. Embrace the opportunity to be heard. Take advantage of one of the important ways to help our communities. Your response will provide data that will absolutely be used to make decisions on our behalf, like funding for loans, conservation efforts, disaster relief (e.g. drought), and education.  

The future is ours to shape. It is not too late to complete your 2017 Census of Agriculture. The paper questionnaire is due by June 15. However, the Ag Census can be completed online at www.agcensus.usda.gov through July. For questions about or assistance with your form, call (888) 424-7828.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zachary Ducheneaux (Cheyenne River Sioux) heads the Technical Assistance Program for the Intertribal Agricultural Council  and serves as Secretary of the Great Plains Region.

Cover Photo: Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture

Tribes and the U.S. Forest Service: Walking in Both Worlds

by Bobby Gonzales and Lou Thompson, Tribal Energy Resource, LLC

The Forest Service has a legal obligation to engage with Native American tribes. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) mandates that federal agencies “…consult with any Indian tribe that attaches religious and cultural significance to historic properties that may be affected by the agency’s undertakings”. The Forest Service policy is to establish and maintain effective relationships with tribes with respect to cultural resources.

The key to effective tribal engagement between the Forest Service and Native American tribes is to manage tribal interests while improving the stewardship of national forests. For the Forest Service or any federal agency, improving trust and collaboration with Native American tribes can be a daunting task. In order to meet that challenge head-on, the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest developed a Programmatic Agreement (PA) to simultaneously facilitate their management of heritage resources and engage tribal governments. Provisions in the NHPA allow federal agencies to use a PA to formalize and facilitate the tribal consultation process.

 As part of the PA, the Forest provided a cultural resource training and certification program to several Native American tribes of the region. The Forest trained “tribal heritage technicians” to participate on archaeological crews performing archaeological field survey work required for Forest Service projects. By training tribal heritage technicians, the Forest began developing long-term, meaningful relationships with those tribes. Tribes have a wealth of traditional environmental knowledge which has been passed down through generations. The Forest has increasingly recognized the unique value of this knowledge, as some tribes are not opposed to forest management (tree harvesting, etc.), and many of them are highly effective forest managers providing thousands of jobs to tribal members.

The Ozark-St. Francis National Forest’s approach to tribal engagement is founded on our values and the principle of developing and maintaining collaborative, long-standing relationships. The Forest Service’s relationship building with Native American tribes is based on trust and respect and applying a flexible approach which respects the diversity of Native American cultures, their historic relationship to the land, and their unique legal status.

Editor’s Note: “Lessons from a Programmatic Agreement and Heritage-Based Consultations between Tribes and the National Forests of Arkansas and Oklahoma” recently published in the Journal of Forestry is available online.

Forest Service using new tech for post-fire work in Montana

By Perry Backus

From Missoulian

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) _ The work is only beginning for the U.S. Forest Service when the last wisp of smoke disappears from any large wildfire.

After more than 700,000 acres of national forest lands burned in Montana this summer, the agency decided the usual way of doing business wasn’t going to cut it this year.

Somewhere close to 2,000 fires were reported on national forest lands.

Thirty-six of those grew large enough to require what the agency calls a burned area emergency response (BAER). Those efforts consider everything from replacing culverts and reshaping roads to keep sediment from roaring down hillsides, to deciding which burned trees can be salvaged for timber and where trees will need to be planted.

The bulk of that work has to be done quickly in order to be ready for spring runoff and to ensure the timber that’s set aside for harvest retains its value for local mills.

In a normal year, most of that work would be accomplished by employees working on the individual forests where the fires started.

But more than 700,000 acres burned in a single season in one region isn’t normal.

Regional Forester Leanne Marten recognized that when she formed, for the first time, a regional post-fire response incident management team and charged it with using the most up-to-date technology to rapidly zero in on areas where both emergency work to protect the landscape and timber salvage could be accomplished.

Mike Elson led the 20-member team.

“The employees that normally do the BAER work are also the same employees who respond to the wildfires,” Elson said. “It was a really grueling and hard year. Employees are typically working 16 days, getting one day off every two weeks. They were breathing smoke and dealing with the anxiety that large fires bring just like everyone else. People were really wiped out at the end of the year and then they were faced with this huge workload.”

By taking a regional approach, Elson said the team could help those forests, like the Lolo, that faced work on numerous large fires and provide a consistent way of getting it accomplished.

“Like it or not, everything we do is highly scrutinized and we have to explain to a judge why we did it,” said the team’s deputy incident commander, Steve Brown. “If we are all doing it consistently, it becomes a whole lot easier to explain.”

With time of the essence, the team turned to technology to help it pinpoint the places needing emergency work to manage runoff, and places where burned timber could be salvaged.

“With so much devastation, we had to make decisions on where to put our attention,” said Vince Archer, the regional BAER coordinator.

During the past decade or so, the Northern Region has developed a vegetation database through satellite imagery and bio-physical modeling that was used in deciding where timber could be salvaged.

“That helped us identify, in a consistent manner on different forests, what the fire had burned through and where some of the opportunities for salvage might be found,” Brown said.

The maps allowed the agency to create a coarse filter that could identify areas that wouldn’t either be economically or environmentally feasible for timber salvage.

For instance, the Sunrise fire burned about 26,000 acres southeast of Superior.

Brown said when the team used the mapping resource to exclude areas that weren’t national forest lands or were considered wilderness, roadless or protected riparian areas, the potential acreage for salvage dropped to about 17,000.

The next filter looked at accessibility and marketability of the timber. The slopes adjoining roads couldn’t be more than 35 percent above road. The timber needed to be no more than 1,500 feet from the road. That cut the potential area down to about 9,000 acres.

Finally, the acreage that was left had to hold enough trees to make a salvage sale worthwhile to local mills.

Those areas that have a road to them are places where the agency has done previous timber management, which cut into the potential for salvage sales. To be considered, the team decided there had to be at least 5,000 board feet per acre with a minimum average stand size of a 10-inch diameter.

That reduced the amount of acreage available for salvage down to 2,400 acres, with the potential of about 22 million board feet.

After completing the analysis, the team determined that about 48,000 acres, or about 6.7 percent of what burned, had the potential for salvage timber sales, which could provide up to an estimated 516 million board feet.

But after working with the local wood products industry representatives about what they could actually harvest in the shortened time period that salvage timber would remain merchantable, Brown said the number dropped to somewhere between 250 million and 370 million board feet.

At this point, 11 fires have been selected for salvage projects, including Rice Ridge near Seeley Lake, Caribou near Eureka and Sunrise near Superior. Nine of the fires will require an environmental analysis before any salvage work will begin.

The region is applying for an emergency situation determination that would shorten the environmental analysis by 90 days by removing the objection period.

There are some fires where salvage isn’t being considered, including the Lolo Peak fire.

Brown said the main reason is capacity of both the Forest Service and industry.

“Once it went through the whole ranking process, it didn’t rank out as having high opportunity,” Brown said. “There are limited roads and where the roads are, there’s not a lot of merchantable timber.”

Most of the timber that could be harvested would require a skyline system. That’s the same system that will be used on other salvage sales in the area.

“With the ultimate goal is be able to sell these, Lolo Peak wouldn’t compete well with the other ones that will be offered,” Brown said.

It also takes good deal of time and effort to complete an environmental analysis.

“We already have to contract some of the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis to handle just what we have now,” Brown said. “We could call in all the troops from across the region to focus just on this, but that would create a big impact to other work including the increases in expected output we are getting from Washington.”

Elson said industry representatives weren’t interested in making that tradeoff.

“They don’t want to see a boom and bust cycle either,” Elson said.

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Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

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