The federally appointed Joint Review Panel began its hearings into the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Project this week. The twin pipeline project, anticipated to be $5.5 billion, would transport 525,000 barrels of oil daily from the Alberta tar sands, enough raw bitumen to fill 225 oil tankers yearly for export overseas. The review process has come under considerable contention.

On January 9, Joe Oliver, the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources, issued a statement on “the need to further streamline the regulatory process in order to advance Canada’s national economic interest.” In his missive, the minister suggested “environmental and other radical groups” were trying “to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth.”

His invective cast a pall over the initial review hearings, shredding the lingering legitimacy of an already suspect process. The panel began its hearings in Kitamaat Village, on the traditional territory of the Haisla people. Haisla Hereditary Chief Gupsalupus, Henry Amos, in his testimony before the panel, questioned how people could trust the Joint Review Process. He noted that the panel had no Haisla representation, and in fact not even any “representation from the Province of British Columbia.” Instead the panel was solely “appointed by the Federal Government … the same government that is telling the world that this project should go ahead.”

Chief Amos challenged how the review process had from its outset systematically disadvantaged Haisla people. The process was designed by and ultimately accountable to a federal government that felt the need to articulate its “commitment to diversify our energy markets” on the eve of hearings on an export pipeline. Given that the panel only provides recommendations to the natural resources minister, who has apparently already determined his government’s support for the project, the review process now appears little more than a farce.

Naming this bias was, however, ruled out of order. Joint Review Panel Chair, Sheila Leggett, chastised Chief Amos, informing him that their purpose was “to listen to your oral evidence that wouldn’t be able to be put in writing.” She elaborated that the Hearing Order and published JRP information indicated that the panel was looking for Aboriginal people to present “traditional knowledge.”

Sadly, Haisla traditional knowledge provides not simply a record of how their people used their lands, but also how government indifference to Haisla concerns has continually supported industrial development to the detriment of Haisla traditional lands. Ellis Ross, elected Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation Council, relayed how his father had been unable to continue generations of traditional harvesting on the Kitimat River due to pollution from the mill. “That is my traditional knowledge,” Ross stated.

Where the Haisla once taught their children to use their traditional resources, now the elders can only remember how they once used their lands and waters. These stories of environmental degradation and government neglect are now the traditional knowledge of the Haisla people. Speaking of his traditional knowledge and responsibilities, Ellis Ross described the need to continue to listen to and learn from these horrible stories of the destruction of their lands. This, according to Ross, was necessary so people would “make sure that doesn’t happen again.” Permitting the Enbridge pipeline would violate these responsibilities to Haisla tradition. A decision in favour of the Northern Gateway pipeline would render the review process not only a farce but a tragedy.

Tyler Shandro during a June 25 news briefing. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Tyler McCreary

Tyler McCreary is an Indigenous solidarity activist based in northern British Columbia. He is also currently working towards his PhD in geography at York University.