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Kinder Morgan Woes - Trudeau: First Nations have no veto power; Tribal opponents declare war

Some First Nations oppose the Canadian government's purchase of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Challenging Trudeau’s veto claim, Indigenous Rights Bill passes in House of Commons.

Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced Tuesday that the federal government will purchase the Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline -- a controversial pipeline that runs from the Alberta oil sands to the country’s pacific coast -- for $3.45 billion (C$4.5bn).

See related coverage: Canadian Government announces it will purchase Kinder Morgan Pipeline for 3.45 billion

The announcement, which caused a flurry of activity on social media and outrage from protestors on the ground, was also met by comments from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who gave an interview to the Financial Post stating First Nations people did not have veto power to block projects that cause environmental concerns.

Though the Canadian government recently adopted a United Nations resolution recognizing the right of Aboriginal groups to “free, prior and informed consent” on economic projects in their territories, Trudeau told the Financial Post that “Ottawa doesn’t recognize the unconditional right of First Nations to unilaterally block projects.”

“No, they don’t have a veto,” he said of the three major nations — the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh — who oppose Kinder Morgan.

Trudeau outlined that there are dozens of tribes along the Kinder Morgan Pipeline route who have signed more than $300 million in economic benefit agreements. He also acknowledged that protesters have the right to voice dissention, but they must do so within the letter of the law.

“...We’re a country of rule of law. We’re a country where we have processes for consultations. We have regular elections. We have ways of protesting to make your feelings heard, and that is all par for the course and that will happen… And that is something that is important in our national discourse as a country,” Trudeau said to the Financial Times.

More than 5,000 people protested in Vancouver on November 19 against a Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion that would triple capacity.

More than 5,000 people protested in Vancouver on November 19, 2016 against a Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion that would triple capacity.

One First Nations opponent to the pipeline is Kanahus Manuel, from the Secwepemc Nation. Manuel, whose territory has 518 km of Kinder Morgan Pipeline running through it, says she feels the agreement of the Canadian government to purchase the pipeline is a declaration of war.

“They are declaring war on our people because we have said no. We have said no, no passage. You cannot bring this pipeline through our lands,” she said to IPolitics. “I’m willing to go into a death, with my death song, into battle against Kinder Morgan right now.”

Manuel, who was arrested at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest at Standing Rock, isn’t alone.

At a press conference at the Assembly of First Nations on May 2, Squamish Nation council member Khelsilem, echoed Manuel’s sentiment, stating, “Our people are willing to put our lives on the line.”

The opposing sentiments have Canadian politicians concerned. Nathan Cullen, a Canadian federal politician, told IPolitics he was worried the plan could escalate tensions between the government and opponents of the pipeline.

“I think rather than make things the same or better, it’s made things worse,” he said. “That’s my concern, is that this is Mr. Trudeau ramping up the tension and picking a fight that I don’t think I can win… I have faith in people who are peacefully protesting because they’ve been able to do it for this long, but Mr. Trudeau has just turned the temperature up dramatically.”

Not so fast Justin Trudeau

In a challenge to Trudeau’s statements regarding First Nations have no say in environmentally-based decisions and federal policies, the Indigenous Rights Bill (C-2-62) has just passed in House of Commons.

As just reported in the CBC, the Indigenous Rights Bill (C-2-62) which is aimed at ensuring Canada's laws are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, has earned the approval of the House of Commons. The bill was voted on and won by a margin of 206 to 79 and is now en route to the Senate.

A First Nations New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash told the CBC he believes his legislation is the most important bill Parliament has considered in a long time. He says Canadians believe it is now finally time to formally recognize that Indigenous rights are also human rights.

Saganash, who spent 10 years in a residential school, said to the CBC that rather than spend his life being bitter about that forced experience, he set out to reconcile with the people who put him there — and he says his bill reflects that same spirit of reconciliation.