Agreement with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs was either crafty or naive

Over a year ago, governments rid themselves of a political problem and passed it on to the Wet’suwet’en people of B.C.’s northern interior.

image: Globe and Mail

Governments had to “do something” when protestors in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs blocked railways and shut down freight and passenger traffic for several weeks.

In Kamloops, traffic was held up at the intersection of Summit and McGill by 30 to 40 protesters on February 7, 2020, by supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Bronwyn, 12 years old, told NL News:

“I just think it’s really wrong to be destroying Mother Nature with all these pipes and everything,” she said. “We were here, we were brought here and then we are destroying our world that we live in. We only have one world.”

From the perspective of colonial governments, the politics are clear. In a court of public opinion, given a choice between pipelines through indigenous territory and hereditary chiefs, the hereditary chiefs will win every time.

For elected Wet’suwet’en chiefs who agree with the pipeline, it’s not that simple.

The governments of B.C. and Canada drove a wedge through the Wet’suwet’en nation when they settled on a memorandum of agreement with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Governments excluded elected chiefs from the MOU.

You can hear the frustration in the voices of people like Maureen Luggi, an elected chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, one of the six band councils within the Wet’suwet’en Nation. She complained about the lack of communication with the hereditary chiefs:

“We’ve tried and tried and tried to get information with no luck. Really, things seem to have come to a standstill and myself and the other five elected chiefs and councils believe this whole process needs to be stopped immediately.

This is an agreement that regards our rights and title and we weren’t consulted on any of it and it’s still the case. We did not give our consent to the original agreement. We have no information to go on about what is being agreed to on our behalf. It’s been absolutely terrible (Globe and Mail, March 5, 2021).”

From the perspective of a member of a colonizing people, I find it hard to understand why popular opinion would sympathize with traditional, unelected chiefs. The closest parallel I can think of would be a reversal of the Magna Carta in 1215 in which the rights of the monarchy were transferred to citizens.

But that’s what our governments did. They bypassed negotiations with the elected Wet’suwet’en chiefs.

“I can tell you that any ratification of an agreement that [the hereditary chiefs] pursue will be met with objection by the elected councils,” says Luggi. “It will not happen.”

Did they governments of B.C. and Canada really think that unelected hereditary chiefs would bring the Wet’suwet’en people together? Or did they cynically hand over their political problem to the Wet’suwet’en?

Either governments were being naive in thinking that the hereditary chiefs had the necessary skills and authority in consensus building, or were they being crafty in ridding themselves of the problem.

Future generations will regard the TMX pipeline as a curious monument

The Trans Mountain pipeline may be redundant. If it remains empty, future generations will wonder why it was built.

It’s a distinct possibility that the TMX pipeline, currently being built a short walk from my house in Kamloops, is unnecessary. At least, not in the near future according to a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Existing pipelines, and expansion of Enbridge’s Mainline and Line 3, will create “more than enough pipeline export capacity” through to 2040. By then, renewable energy sources will be in place.

image: The Public Library

I’ve often wondered why the Egyptian pyramids were built when they serve no practical purpose. Sure, they were a technical marvel but they seem a bit much for a Pharaoh’s tomb when a simple gravestone would suffice.

It turns out that the pyramids were a vital symbol in Egyptian society. The Pharaoh, regarded as someone human yet divine, was responsible for maintaining prosperity. Therefore it was in everyone’s interest to keep the king’s majesty intact in the elaborate pyramids built after his death.

Generations, centuries from now, will marvel at the technical aspects of the TMX pipeline but wonder why an unused pipeline was built. Did the civilization that built it collapse before it was put to use?

Future generations will learn of the mythical properties oil in the past; how oil played an important role in the prosperity and good fortune of oil-producing provinces such as Alberta. Oil was so important to the national psyche that the federal government financed the pipeline construction. Seeing the talismanic importance of pipelines, future archaeologists will conclude that shamans directed the construction of empty pipelines to attract more oil and maintain prosperity and good fortune.

Even further into the future, archaeologists who live millennia from now will wonder what those curious lines are that span the countryside that once was Canada. Radar imagining will reveal pipes buried below the surface. Now, the burning of fossil fuels will be not only be illegal but unthinkable. Organic solar receptors will provide energy too cheap to meter. The Egyptian sun god, Ra, will be restored to veneration.

These future archaeologists will compare the curious pipe lines with others built long ago, the so-called Nazca Lines. They will see a similarity between the pipe lines and the lines and patterns of animals and plants made in Peru three millennia ago. Both the Nazca Lines and the pipe lines are best viewed from above. Both placed in arid locations, they must symbolize the irrigation system that was so vital to the regions. The gods, viewing them from on high, would be prompted to provide water for irrigation.

This would be a natural conclusion for generations living on a planet heated from the rise in CO2 to 1,000 parts per million; the polar caps now tropical and the oceans 200ft higher than millennial ago. The Prairies parched and lifeless.

And this is the likely destiny of the TMX pipeline. The mountain glaciers in Alberta, B.C. and Yukon that feed the rivers of the Prairies, will be reduced by 80 per cent in 50 years. Eventually the rivers will dwindle to a trickle.

In the not-too-distant future, water will become revered. In a futile effort to combat rising temperatures due to the build-up of CO2, water will flow from the West Coast to Alberta through the TMX pipeline.

Empty pipelines spill no oil

The Kinder Morgan pipeline should be built for the same reason as the pyramids –as a national monument.

The pyramids employed workers but served no practical purpose other than an grand burial site for the pharaohs. The humble graves of the workers would have served the pharaohs just as well.

   Composite: David Charbonneau

Construction of the People’s pipeline will employ well-paid union workers. It’s supposed to carry crude oil to Asia but that market doesn’t exist. Therefore, it will serve as a wonderful monument to the “National Interest.”

The pipeline should be built because it serves political interests. Premier Notley’s hopes to be re-elected depend on completion of the pipeline. In her letter to Maclean’s, she said:

“And together, we are building this pipeline — with B.C. workers, using steel made in Saskatchewan, from ore mined in Quebec. Now, it’s time to pick those tools back up, folks. We’ve got a pipeline to build.”

While I’m less optimistic about the future of fossil fuels than Notley, I would rather see her re-elected than Jason Kenney, leader of United Conservative party of Alberta. A progressive premier with delusions about the future of oil sands is better than a retrograde one with similar delusions.

The People’s pipeline will bring the feuding NDP family members back into the fold where they can return to civility. This spat has been an embarrassment for the NDP for the new leader Jagmeet Singh.  Until recently, the NDP was one big happy family; unlike other parties, there is only one party provincially and federally.

The pipeline should be built to strengthen our federation. Prime Minister Trudeau is correct in asserting the nation’s right to move goods to market over the objections of provinces. One province should not have the ability to stop the national transport of commodities.

While the symbolism of the pipeline is strong, the financial rationale for the pipeline hinges on flawed logic. Finance Minister Morneau claims the pipeline is required to get oil to “tidewater” so it can be sold at higher prices than in the U.S.  Economist Robyn Allan is not so sure:

“The facts don’t support the argument. The economics aren’t there. This project is financially compromised and not commercially viable (Globe and Mail, June 2, 2018).”

The fantasy is that Asia will pay more for the goop than it could be sold for in North America. However, in recent years, heavy crude has consistently sold for significantly less in Asia than the U.S.  Refineries in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi are ready; they have been re-engineered to process the heavy crude of the oil sands.

Just one per cent of the oil in the existing pipeline flows to Asia. Another pipeline won’t change that fraction. Most oil goes to California and Washington State where it is refined and sold back to Canada as expensive automotive fuel.

The financial reality is that TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. is a better bet in getting crude oil to market. The off again/on again pipeline is breathing new life under the Trump administration.

The pipeline should be built and remain empty. Everyone will be happy, workers and environmentalists alike.