Canada’s thirst for oil pitted against its commitment to First Nations.
As police in riot gear swept the last protesters from camps near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in late February, two dozen men and women arrived in this small ranching and lumber town 1,200 miles to the northwest. They were armed with maps, posters, doughnuts and coffee, and hoped to sell locals on an oil pipeline—one larger and potentially more hazardous than the Dakota Access.
They wore its name on their matching green jackets: Trans Mountain.
Town officials were already on board. They had signed on in exchange for about $330,000 (420,000 Canadian dollars) from the pipeline’s American owner, Kinder Morgan Inc. But a few miles downriver, the Lower Nicola Indian Band was putting the company’s offer to a vote the following day.
The 14 other First Nations directly on the pipeline route already had agreed to welcome crews onto their reserves in exchange for money and jobs from the company. By voting yes, the Lower Nicola could get a similar deal—a tempting offer in a remote community where many live in poverty.
Voting no would send a powerful message—a boost for the coalition of indigenous people and environmentalists battling Trans Mountain. But it likely would be largely symbolic: In November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared no First Nation would have veto power over this pipeline.
Some Lower Nicola members came to the Trans Mountain open house in Merritt. Two men were looking for construction jobs. One elderly woman asked about cleanup plans if something were to go wrong. She struggled to find a polite way to describe such a disaster until a company official helped her out. “An incident,” the official suggested. The room turned tense when another woman wondered why nobody had told her that an alternate route, apparently still under consideration, would run through her backyard.
The following night, at a similar meeting in a hotel ballroom in nearby Kamloops, Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Lizette Parsons Bell told a reporter from Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that these events generally draw people interested in jobs or work contracts. Where people have concerns, she said, the team is there to listen with respect.