First Nations fear “the fix is in” on Trans Mountain pipeline
The conclusion of a weeks-long series of hearings that some have called a sham wrapped up at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre last week, with a rare break in the formal proceedings.
According to the National Post, three National Energy Board (NEB) panel members assigned to gather oral evidence from Indigenous leaders about the possible effects of marine traffic related to the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion were asked to assemble in the middle of the room to watch members of the nearby Snuneymuxw First Nation re-create a salmon-honouring ceremony.
Elder Gary Manson, covered head-to-toe in regalia and his face painted with ochre, delivered a solemn monologue that touched on his love of the ocean, his spiritual connection to killer whales and his fears about what could happen in the event of a tanker spill. At one point, he turned to introduce his young grandchildren and said he was compelled to share a phrase in his language — “thi qwum.”
“Have pity,” he said.
One of the NEB panelists bowed her head and appeared to wipe away a tear.
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But this moment of quiet rapture and human connection was, according to observers and transcripts of previous hearings, more the exception than the rule during three weeks of oral testimony that have already wrapped up. In fact, many participants were not shy in telling the NEB panel they had little faith in the process and feared it was headed for a “predetermined outcome.”
Complaints about the process have plagued the hearings, according to the National Post. Why weren’t any of the hearings being held in Vancouver? How was it possible to cover adequately in the given two-hour time limits their spiritual and cultural connections to the ocean?
“I know that this is just a formality. This is kind of like checking off that little box that’s there that we were consulted,” Elder Paula Giroux of the Driftpile Cree Nation told the panel in Calgary. “I hope that my words are not sitting on a shelf collecting dust like a lot of First Nations words do.”
Members of the Squamish Nation were upset the panel declined their invitation to attend a sacred ceremony in a longhouse so they could see first-hand their cultural and spiritual practices.
“When they’re engaging with First Nations, they need to do it in good faith and it needs to be meaningful,” Dustin Rivers, a Squamish Nation councillor who goes by his traditional name Khelsilem, told the National Post.
The new hearings, he said, were reminiscent of the initial consultations when “they met with us, they listened to us, but then nothing changed.”