Canada’s B.C. Pipeline Advances At The Expense Of Indigenous Reconciliation And The Environment

On August 24, 2024, construction will begin on the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline on Nisg̱a’a lands, following the Nass River through the Nisg̱a’a Memorial Lava Bed Park. Despite protests over the Coastal GasLink pipeline, this 800-kilometre project, soon to be acquired by the Nisg̱a’a Nation and Texas-based Western LNG, raises significant concerns. The pipeline will transport natural gas from northeast British Columbia to the proposed Ksi Lisims LNG facility but crosses Gitanyow Nation territories, creating conflicts. This development poses environmental risks and challenges to Indigenous sovereignty in British Columbia.

Strong opposition has been voiced by Indigenous leaders and environmental experts. Tara Marsden, Wilp sustainability director for Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs, stated to The Narwhal, “The project was already a risk in 2014, but today it poses extreme threats to our environment and way of life,” highlighting significant risks in the context of climate change and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Chief Norman Moore expressed concerns about potential police interventions, referencing past incidents and the government’s continued dismissal of Indigenous voices. Shannon McPhail of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, along with other environmental advocates, criticised the project for exacerbating climate crises and impacting critical ecosystems. Chief Simogyet Malii of the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs supported these criticisms, stating, “To claim their project will reduce carbon emissions is simply not credible.”

The continuation of the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline project represents a significant step backward for reconciliation with Indigenous communities and environmental sustainability in Canada. This strategy exacerbates historical tensions between the Nisg̱a’a Nation and the Gitanyow, diverting attention from critical issues of environmental sustainability and Indigenous sovereignty.

The Gitanyow have consistently safeguarded their territory. However, treaty processes favour early signatories like the Nisg̱a’a, which overlooks the intricate realities of Indigenous land rights and may inadvertently incentivise conflict. Additionally, the impact of faulty pipelines, even those transporting natural gas, raises further environmental concerns. For example, a recent rupture in a natural gas pipeline near Edson, Alberta, sparked a wildfire and highlighted the potential for catastrophic failures. Despite pipelines being generally safe, failures can result in significant environmental damage and safety risks, such as fires or explosions.

In short, instead of fostering unity and mutual respect, this approach perpetuates division and conflict, hindering progress toward reconciliation and sustainable development in Canada. Therefore, rather than prioritising economic development that hinders Canada’s goals, they should seek an approach that fosters unity and sustainability instead of division.

However, the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs have never ceded their territory through legal agreements, standing firm on their rights under both Crown and Indigenous law. This stance contrasts with the Nisg̱a’a Treaty, signed in 2000, which significantly expanded Nisg̱a’a land claims and led to overlapping territorial disputes. The Gitanyow argue that the treaty process favoured the Nisg̱a’a due to their earlier negotiations with the federal government, effectively pitting the two nations against each other rather than fostering reconciliation.

Additionally, large-scale energy projects like the Ksi Lisims LNG facility exacerbate the challenges of balancing economic development with the preservation of Indigenous lands and traditions. This ongoing struggle reflects a broader narrative of repression and marginalization of Indigenous culture, land, and practices, a theme deeply rooted in Canadian history and further exemplified by the trauma of residential schools and the continued disregard for Indigenous sovereignty.

The continuation of the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline project has profound implications for the future of reconciliation and environmental sustainability in Canada. If the project proceeds without addressing the legitimate concerns of Indigenous communities, it risks further eroding trust between the government and Indigenous peoples.

Furthermore, this conflict could lead to more legal battles and social unrest, undermining efforts to achieve long-term peace and security. Additionally, the environmental impacts of the pipeline could exacerbate the climate crisis, leading to significant ecological damage. Moving forward, the solution to deter this kind of conflict is for Canada to prioritise inclusive dialogue and collaborative decision-making that respects Indigenous rights and environmental protection. By adopting these practices, Canada can pave the way for a future that sets a global example in reconciliation with Indigenous communities and climate action.

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