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Opinion: First Nations stewardship would benefit TMX through Indigenous purchase


Some of the earliest memories of many Indigenous people are of being taught to respect our environment, and to use our resources wisely, writes Michelle Corfield.

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What does a pipeline have to do with reconciliation with Indigenous peoples? Quite a lot, it turns out.

There’s a growing realization that to make the national discussion about reconciliation real, constructive steps are required. These include ensuring Indigenous communities have a seat at the economic decision-making table, and enjoy real partnerships that take into account Indigenous values.

It’s unique to Indigenous cultures that our values are seamlessly tied to traditional lands and waters, and that we’re closely connected to our surroundings in almost every way possible. This helps explain why First Nations people see ourselves as environmental stewards.

This care and conservation of our environment is at the heart of many First Nations’ cultural traditions; it goes to the core of our belief system.

When you consider some of Canada’s pressing needs — market access for our energy, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and enhanced environmental protection — you quickly see the relevance of Project Reconciliation, an Indigenous-led initiative that wants to buy a majority stake in the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion (TMX) for Indigenous communities in Western Canada.

Some of the earliest memories of many Indigenous people are of being taught by our families to respect our environment, and to use our resources wisely and sustainably.

We know these lands and waters best. And that’s why it’s critical that Indigenous peoples’ traditional roles as stewards of our environment be respected as TMX moves forward.

As Canada moves toward reconciliation, a key goal should be to enhance not only the economic opportunities for First Nations, but also our roles in environmental stewardship.

In fact, while a top concern of British Columbians is ensuring the marine safety of oil transportation, it’s important to note there’s been no significant pipeline incident in more than 50 years of the Trans Mountain pipeline. So who better to ensure Canada’s oil continues to be transported safely and responsibly than the Indigenous people who have known these lands and waters since time immemorial?

Project Reconciliation will engage Indigenous people, building technical capacity using the latest scientific techniques as well as traditional knowledge to further strengthen our role as environmental guardians.

In addition to tough federal and provincial regulations, Project Reconciliation is committed to supporting a Marine and Environmental Response Program to train and certify marine and environmental response workers in coastal First Nations communities.

Having Indigenous people leading this project is critical because it will ensure we play an active role in designing and carrying out crucial monitoring and environmental protections as we supply much needed energy to new markets in Asia — safely and responsibly. This has been central to my life’s work and it’s what attracted me to this project in the first place.

From operating the tugs that accompany tankers through B.C. waters, to monitoring and maintaining high-tech systems that ensure rigorous marine safety, First Nations have an important environmental role to play in our energy sector. And Project Reconciliation will strengthen that role.

By purchasing a majority stake in TMX, Indigenous people can ensure our voices are heard, our traditional role as stewards is reaffirmed and our future is more prosperous.

Michelle Corfield is an independent consultant, Marine & Environmental Advisor to Project Reconciliation and a federal Liberal candidate in Nanaimo-Ladysmith for the 2019 election. She is a member of the Ucluelet First Nation.

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