Native Tribes lead the environmental effort to oppose pipelines

On October 15, Washington state tribal leaders testified before Canada’s Nation Energy Board in opposition to the impending expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

Kinder Morgan Canada has proposed a $5.6 billion development of the pipeline which streamlines oil supply between Alberta’s tar sands and Vancouver, British Columbia. This expansion would increase the flow of oil from 300,000 barrels per day to 900,000. Some estimates assert the number of oil tankers running through Washington waters could increase by seven times the current amount to accommodate this change.

Washington Native tribes, along with neighboring Canadian tribes such as the Coast Salish, fear this advancement could have vastly negative impacts on their culture, as well as the environment at large.

Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Kitsap Peninsula’s Suquamish Tribe, states, “We’re concerned about the catastrophic impact that an oil spill can have on the ecosystem.”

According to Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians, “We are salmon people and it is very, very important to us. It’s central to our culture.”

The likelihood of devastating oil spills would certainly increase along with tanker activity. Tribes of the Pacific Northwest who depend on fishing as a means of economic livelihood and cultural unification cannot afford oil run-over.

Lead of aboriginal engagement for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project Gary Youngman says, “We will continue to be committed to minimizing impact and protecting the marine environment.” He claims the company strongly values tribal communication and strives to move forward respectfully.

Testifying tribes are represented by Earthjustice lawyer Jan Hasselman. A final report of their testimony is expected to be released in January 2016 along with a formal recommendation to the Canadian government regarding which action to take.

The Trans Mountain Pipeline debate is far from its conclusion. Pacific Northwest tribes are adamant about reaching environmental justice and are taking the steps necessary to reach it.

These efforts mirror those of the Lakota people, who stand firmly against TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Just weeks ago, Nebraska’s “Harvest the Hope” concert brought in performers such as Willie Nelson and Neil Young to raise money and awareness for Native activists working against oil activity.

Natives are at the front line of environmentalists speaking out against threats in North America. We are inspired by the actions being taken by tribes across the country to preserve natural resources and the cultural significance that exists within it.

What are your thoughts on this pipeline expansion? Do you think there is any way to satisfy both parties?

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