Once Again, the United Nations Gets It Wrong on Indigenous Support for Canadian Pipelines

Once Again, the United Nations Gets It Wrong on Indigenous Support for Canadian Pipelines

Once Again, the United Nations Gets it Wrong on Indigenous Support for Canadian Pipelines cover

Pro LNG Rally - Prince George, 2019

In all honesty, it wasn’t shocking to see the United Nations (UN) once again call for Canada to stop construction on two pipelines – Coastal GasLink (CGL) and Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) – until they obtain consent from affected Indigenous communities.

The last time I checked, both pipelines had widespread support from Indigenous communities along their routes. Did something change?

A quick Google search confirms that nothing has.

Also found online are new developments showing Indigenous Peoples actively seeking ownership in the pipelines, something that the UN seems to have blatantly missed in its statement last week.

In fact, it seems that Indigenous support for the two projects has never been higher as Indigenous-led coalitions attempt to purchase TMX while 16 First Nations have agreed to a 10 per cent equity ownership stake in CGL.

resource development is first nations opportunity for economic independence in Canada

Those developments are, of course, on top of the facts that we already know. For example, all 20 First Nations elected councils along Coastal GasLink’s proposed route support the project, including that of the Wet’suwet’en.

Also, of the 129 Indigenous communities potentially affected by Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, 120 either support it or do not oppose it. As of February this year, TMX had signed 69 benefit agreements with 75 Indigenous communities worth $580 million, and the project will generate over $2.7 billion in Indigenous-based contract awards.

Several Wet’suwet’en Chiefs and community members have stood up in support of Coastal GasLink. Some say 85 per cent or more of the Wet’suwet’en community is in favour of the pipeline project.

So then, why is the UN selective in which Indigenous voices it supports? If Canada did “stop construction” on CGL, for example, until consent was obtained from the handful of opposing Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, the project would never get built.

What’s really mind-boggling is that the UN completely ignores the wishes of all 20 First Nations along CGL’s proposed route who look to the project as a means to lift their communities out of abject poverty.

What about the rights of First Nations who are proponents of these pipelines? Don't they matter too?

Indigenous peoples in Canada are being used by non government organizations and environmentalists

To date, CGL has had hundreds of key roles held by local Indigenous Peoples, and over $1 billion in contracts have been awarded to local Indigenous businesses. In 2021 alone, CGL invested $550,000 in local Indigenous communities to support community initiatives, job training and education.

Yes, Canada and the UN should be listening to Indigenous voices who have the right to say “no” to natural resource development, but also to those who say “yes.”

The rift between Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and the elected council isn’t something any outsider should be involved in. The Wet’suwet’en people need to figure out the complexities of their governance and leadership structure on their own.

Hence, when the UN chooses to acknowledge and essentially support opponents of CGL and TMX, it leaves the overwhelming majority of Indigenous proponents behind.

120 out of 129 indigenous groups affected by Trans Mountain Expansion support or do not oppose the pipeline

In the case of CGL, many Wet’suwet’en have said their communities support the pipeline. For example, here are a few quotes from Wet’suwet’en leaders:

“I had our community vote and most of my community – 80 per cent – voted in favour of the gas line… There are very few opportunities now and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.” – Dan George, Chief, Burns Lake Band, Wet’suwet’en Nation 

“The protest organizers are conveniently hiding beneath our blanket as Indigenous People, while forcing their policy goals at our expense. This compromises our Nation’s social well-being and our people’s economic futures.” – Theresa Tait Day, Hereditary Subchief, Wet’suwet’en Nation

“You no doubt know that the elected council of the Wet’suwet’en supports the pipeline. And so do a majority of our people. But a small group of hereditary chiefs seeks to block the pipeline project.” – Karen Ogen-Toews, Councillor, Former Elected Chief, Wet’suwet’en Nation

“Being directly involved in expanding LNG in British Columbia presents our community with an opportunity to benefit from this new industry.” – Raymond Morris, Chief, Nee-Tahi Buhn Indian Band, Wet’suwet’en Nation

“This project will provide jobs, contract and financial benefits that Witset First Nation can use to enhance programs and initiatives for our citizens, such as language and cultural programs.” – Gary Naziel, Hereditary Subchief, Wet’suwet’en Nation

Coastal GasLink interactions with Indigenous communities

Why aren’t Indigenous pipeline proponents heard by the UN?

Perhaps the best thing the UN can do is to stay out of matters that it does not understand, much like outsiders should do who don’t understand the internal conflicts happening amongst the Wet’suwet’en people.

Canada is doing its best to advance Indigenous reconciliation. Providing Indigenous Peoples with equity ownership opportunities in pipelines, for example, is one of the best ways to do that. First Nations deserve the chance to generate own-source revenues that will help them pay for much-needed community initiatives while gaining economic independence from Canadian governments.

Let’s hope that the UN doesn’t make the same blunder next year. But, if it does, we will remind them once again not to get involved in matters without taking on a more balanced approach and listening to all sides of the conversation.