Indigenous Representation in the Politics of Energy and Resources in British Columbia

From UBC Wiki

Indigenous peoples in British Columbia, consisting of First Nations, Inuit and Métis, have fought a rough battle with government at all levels, specifically in regard to the politics of energy and resource projects, within British Columbia. Recently these projects have been put in the spotlight, yet little has been done for Indigenous peoples in British Columbia. Some recent notable cases where Indigenous Groups have opposed energy and resource projects are; the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. See below for a detailed examination into each project and the negative effects on the Indigenous peoples of those areas.

It is important to note that energy and resource projects with negative effects to the Indigenous peoples of Canada go outside Pipelines. The most notable cases are pipelines however and that will be the main focus of this article.

Indigenous Groups in British Columbia

Those with Indigenous heritage (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit) make up approximately 5% of the total population of British Columbia.[1] There are 198 distinct First Nations in British Columbia, each with their own unique cultures, heritage, language, etc.[2]

Representation in Politics

MLA's of Indigenous Heritage

There are currently four members of the BC Legislative Assembly that have indigenous heritage. Melanie Mark (First Nations - Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Cree and Ojibway) and Carol James (Métis) of the NDP, Ellis Ross (First Nations - Haisla) of the Liberal Party, and Adam Olsen (First Nations -  Tsartlip) of the Green Party.[3] With 87 seats available, these four members account for 4.6% of the total representation in the Legislative Assembly.

Notable Cases

Crude Oil Pipelines

Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Project

An aerial shot of northern coastal BC (where the proposed pipeline will end) near Haida Gwaii

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines was originally proposed in the early 2000's to transport diluted bitumen from Alberta to the BC Coast for cross-pacific transport. The pipeline was heavily opposed by the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, an organization of seven First Nations. The Council released a 30 page paper authored by Anthony Swift, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz and Danielle Droitsch of the Natural Resources Defence Council, as well as, Nathan Lemphers of Pembina Institute, and Katie Terhune of Living Oceans Society. The paper starts by addressing the fact that the proposed pipeline would carry bitumen across important salmon rivers, coastal rainforests and sensitive marine waters.[4] Furthermore, the proposed pipeline would cross within the territories of more than fifty First Nations[5]. The waterway's and environment where the pipeline was proposed to run is an essential part of First Nations land and way of life. These Indigenous peoples live off of the land for their resources, economies and communities. It is a fair assumption to say a bitumen spill on these unceded lands would be detrimental to the First Nations of the area. With land being such an important part of Indigenous heritage, opposition to the pipeline was both expected and voiced.

In March 2010, the Coastal First Nations (The Coastal First Nations is an alliance of First Nations on the North and Central Coast of British Columbia and Haida Gwaii) announced their opposition to tanker traffic stating:

" upholding our ancestral laws, rights and responsibilities, we declare that oil tankers carrying crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands will not be allowed to transit our lands and waters."[4]

This was a very important milestone in this pipeline's potential construction. A rough and detrimental history with the Canadian Government has resulted in all Indigenous peoples within Canada having little or no voice on political issues. This is especially clear within energy and resource projects. This declaration from First Nations should be both celebrated and put into action. Within a two year period, 130 First Nations opposed the potential pipeline due to its potentially harmful risks on the environment as well as to the unceded lands of the First Nations. To again reference a paper from the Sekani Council:

"While not exhaustive, some of the key concerns include: impacts to the Skeena and Fraser Rivers’ salmon and habitat, impacts to the endangered Nechako White Sturgeon, and impacts to shellfish and other seafood from the mainland coast to Haida Gwaii."

It is important for people to realize these concerns should not only affect Indigenous peoples in Canada. The environmental risks that could damage food supplies would affect all. In November 2016, the pipeline project was rejected. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement saying:

"It has become clear that this project is not in the best interest of the local affected communities, including Indigenous Peoples..."[6]

As much as the rejection of the Northern Gateway was a win for First Nations, it was short lived due to the simultaneous approval of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion.

Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project

The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion project was proposed in 2013 with intentions to triple the amount of diluted bitumen travelling along the already existing Trans Mountain pipeline. The expansion would add a second pipeline running parallel to the first that would increase transportation from 300,000 barrels a day to 890,000 barrels a day. [7]

With clear benefits to Alberta's Economy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government approved the project in November 2016. Prime Minister Trudeau's decision was highly criticized as it was in potential contradiction to his campaign promises. During the 2015 campaign, Trudeau stated the process on the pipeline "needed to be redone":

“No, they’re not going to approve it in January. Because we’re going to change the government. And that process needs to be redone.” – Justin Trudeau[8]

This language used by Trudeau is extremely alarming. It makes his audience assume a Liberal government would put an end to the project by stating it would not be approved and that the process would be redone. Once sworn into office, Trudeau proceed to not approve the project in an effort to "re-do" the process. After limited consultation his government moved ahead with the expansion hiding it behind the rejection of the Northern Gateway proposal.[6] After being approved on 29 November 2016, protests started within British Columbia. Indigenous peoples, specifically the First Nations in who's land the pipeline would cross were furious and marked this as a betrayal from the Canadian government. The Liberal Party ran on a platform to repair relationships with Indigenous Peoples. The following was posted on the Liberal Party of Canada website during the 2015 campaign:

“Canadians recognize the urgent need for a renewed nation-to-nation relationship between the federal government and Indigenous Peoples – one built on respect, rights and a commitment to end the status quo,” said Mr. Trudeau. “A Liberal government will recognize Aboriginal governments as full partners in the federation, and will work with Indigenous Peoples to create fairness and equality of opportunity in Canada.”[9]

A protester holding a sign stating "No Pipeline, No Consent" in protest of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project

The Westridge Loading Dock in Burnaby, BC is the final point on the Trans-Mountain pipeline. It is here bitumen is loaded onto oil tankers and sent out into the Pacific Ocean. This site saw many protests over the course of 2017 and early 2018. Many activists were arrested here and even some politicians. Elizabeth May, MP, the leader of the Green Party was arrested opposing the pipeline project. Many Indigenous peoples attended these protests and one activist was even arrested for standing up against the Canadian government. The Indigenous activist was Kanahus Manuel, a member of the Secwepemc First Nation. The First Nation released a statement shortly after calling the arrest a "declaration of war". [10]

Protests expanded outside just British Columbia. In Quebec, three First Nations Chief's gathered alongside hundreds in downtown Montreal to protest the Trans Mountain expansion project.

"We have to band together, and we have to force the governments to become a little bolder when it comes to investing in the future," - Mohawk Chief Serge Simon[11]

On 30 August 2018, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned Ottawa's approval of the Trans Mountain expansion stating the government needed to examine tanker impact in the area and more deeply consult First Nations people. This was a huge win for First Nations, and all Indigenous peoples. The pipeline directly affected the unceded territories of the First Nations and the right to be properly consulted and have a say in this project is extremely important.

It is important to note that this project is only one of many. There are still many energy and resource projects within BC where Indigenous peoples are not being properly consulted. It is important we learn from the examples of the Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain projects and properly consult Indigenous peoples. They deserve proper representation in the politics taking place on their land.


  1. "Aboriginal Peoples: Fact Sheet for British Columbia". Statistics Canada. 14 March 2016.
  2. Columbia, British. "B.C. FIRST NATIONS & INDIGENOUS PEOPLE". Welcome BC. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  3. Paling, Emma (10 May 2017). "B.C. Election 2017 Brings In Record Number Of Indigenous MLAs". Huffington Post.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Swift, Casey-Lefkowitz, Droitsch, Lemphers, Terhune (November 2011). "Pipeline and Tanker Trouble" (PDF). Carrier Sekani Tribal Council. Retrieved 30 November 2018.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. McCreary T.A., Milligan R.A. (January 2014). "Pipelines, permits, and protests: Carrier Sekani encounters with the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project". Cultural Geographies. Vol. 21: 115–129.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Tasker, John Paul (29 November 2016). "Trudeau cabinet approves Trans Mountain, Line 3 pipelines, rejects Northern Gateway". CBC. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  7. "Expansion Project". Trans Mountain. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  8. Dogwood (20 August 2015). "Justin Trudeau on Kinder Morgan". YouTube. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  9. "TRUDEAU PRESENTS PLAN TO RESTORE CANADA'S RELATIONSHIP WITH ABORIGINAL PEOPLES". Liberal Party of Canada. 7 July 2015. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  10. Harwood, Spencer (14 July 2018). "Indigenous activist arrested at Trans Mountain protest in B.C." CTV News.
  11. Lowrie, Morgan (27 May 2018). "Indigenous chiefs, activists attend Kinder Morgan protest in Montreal". The Canadian Press.