The Kinder Morgan pipeline through the eyes of UFV’s resident elder

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Nadine Moedt

The Kinder Morgan pipeline through the eyes of UFV’s resident elder

By Nadine Moedt (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: October 10, 2012

Eddie Gardner is the resident elder at UFV, and hails from the Skwah First Nation Village in Chilliwack. He talks frankly about the Kinder Morgan pipeline, what he sees as potential issues, some potential solutions, and how students can get involved.

First of all, could you tell us a little about yourself? How would you describe the role of resident elder at UFV?

My name is Eddie Gardner, my Halq’emeylem name is T’it’elem Spath. As resident elder, I provide support and encouragement so that our students can achieve the highest quality education they can.

We play a role in making this a very welcoming place for them, and with the support that the aboriginal access centre has for students both here and in Chilliwack. We want to increase the number of aboriginal people coming to university for some higher learning, so that they in turn can take those skills and credentials and make their own contributions towards healthy and strong communities.

I’d like to discuss some of your concerns regarding the Kinder Morgan pipeline. What effects does the pipeline and proposed expansion have on the Aboriginal community?

It’s a risk too high for the aboriginal communities all the way to Kitimat or to Burnaby with Kinder Morgan. This project poses a real threat to the land, the water and the air. What we hold very precious is our wild salmon. If there is an oil spill either along the coast or in the rivers and stream where wild salmon spawn, that could cause the demise of wild salmon. We don’t want to see that.

Aboriginal communities have taken fierce resistance to this, and they’re asking that they be involved in comprehensive consultations on the whole business of having this bitumen being piped to the coastal waters.

The Tsleil-Waututh band in Burnaby are quite fearful of the increase of the supertankers, being loaded with bitumen and shipping through to Asia or down in the states. With the increase of tanker traffic there is a risk of an oil spill in the pacific coast as well. It would take years and years for a proper cleanup to take place.

For the Fraser valley and especially Chilliwack, we boast about the cleanest water in Canada—and it is—which could go by the wayside if there’s a spill in this area. We’re quite concerned about that.

That’s essentially where aboriginal people stand: the risks are just too high. We have aboriginal constitutional rights to be properly consulted, which haven’t taken place yet.

The big concern is that proper assessments are not taking place. Christy Clark has abdicated her responsibilities and handed over the assessments to the National Energy Board, when she could have had more provincial control over the assessments. We look at Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying this is going to go through, this, he says, is in the national interest of all Canadians and we must get this oil to Asian markets. On top of that, he’s said that the NEB will make all of their recommendations and conduct their public hearings on the Enbridge project, and [despite] whatever recommendations come out of the national energy board, cabinet will have the final say. It really undermines any assessment that’s taking place, especially by our federal government.

Can you tell us about the background of Kinder Morgan from an aboriginal perspective?

Well, Kinder Morgan took over the Trans mountain pipeline about six years ago. But the Trans mountain pipeline was built in the 1950s.

In the 1950s the department of Indian and Northern affairs was very compliant about it all. At that time people weren’t as conscious about oil. They were shipping crude oil through those pipelines, not bitumen. Since they first constructed the pipeline, aboriginal peoples have started to gain more control and begun to establish stronger First Nations’ governance.

In the early 1990s, they lobbied when Trudeau repatriated the constitution of Canada, First Nations people stepped up to the plate and through their lobby efforts here in Canada and at the United Nations we successfully got Aboriginal rights and entitlements included in the constitution of Canada.

So the political and social landscape and the state of the economy are much different today. I see where First Nations people have more access to information and have much more political clout than they did back then. Those dynamics will play themselves out.

Obviously there are some people in favour of both of the pipelines. Economic benefits are a key point in their defence. Would you agree with these arguments to any extent?

It’s a legitimate concern; it’s realistic to acknowledge that the global economy as it is right now needs oil. The other side of the issue is that it’s a finite, non-renewable resource, and eventually we’re going to run out of this stuff. As we run out of oil, the exploration for new reserves of oil will cost a lot of money and be more invasive. The tar sands are getting more expensive to extract. That all goes to the cost of running the economy. Eventually there’s going to be a crash.

There are obvious dangers and pitfalls to the belief that there’s no end to growth. It’s an illusion and more and more people are waking up to that. We need to invest a lot more of money and energy into technologies based on renewable resources, rather than using it to extract oil. What we’re doing now is a short-term solution.

If we stop Kinder Morgan and Enbridge right now, there are a number of alternatives that can be looked at. Piping oil through BC is treacherous. Landslides, earthquakes, storms, high winds, all those different factors create an inevitable—not if, but when—disaster. Instead of going that route they could refine that oil in Alberta and ship it out east. If we refine the oil here in Canada, shipping it would be less dangerous to the economy than pumping bitumen through these pipelines to China and having them refine it there. I think that would be a better way to go.

Canada does generate enough oil from the oil sands, yet it continues to import our oil from other countries. It makes more sense to refine it in Canada. And at the same time, pick up the pace when it comes to looking at alternative energy.

How can students at UFV get involved in the cause?

It’s in their best interest to take a look at all the issues. It’s important to be as objective as possible and really take stock of the agenda that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has set for Canada.

The students really need to take a look at the politics of the issue. Where does the provincial government stand on it? How does that play out on with federal jurisdiction and authority?

Then there’s the whole business of Harper’s clearing the road as best he can to bowl these pipelines through by restricting who is entitled to be included in the consultation process; on one hand this is an issue of national interest, yet only certain people have a right to be consulted. If it’s of national interest then it should be open to the broader public, to inform themselves.

When we look at the future, students in all disciplines need to examine in their own study what the long term impacts are of an economy that is run on non-renewable resources, as those resources are heading towards scarcity.

This issue exposes everyone to some soul-searching questions to what their future looks like and what their children’s future will look like if we don’t take this to heart and really wrestle with these huge issues before us.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.