The Tsleil-Waututh Nation is encouraging the public to attend information sessions this month on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in hopes that most of those who attend will be critics of the project.
But Tsleil-Waututh members say they will keep their distance while the information sessions are under way in various parts of Vancouver, Bowen Island, Burnaby and Belcarra. The Tsleil-Waututh has decided to keep its distance because it expects to be consulted by the federal government on the $4.1-billion project.
The Coast Salish community of about 500 members along the shores of Burrard Inlet indicated Thursday it deems itself a sovereign government with constitutionally protected rights and title. Participating with Kinder Morgan in anything that would be deemed as consultation with respect to the pipeline would be counter to that position, it says.
"We, as a nation, expect to have a meaningful consultation – government to government," Carleen Thomas, an elected council member of the Tsleil-Waututh, said in an interview on Thursday.
"We are clear that the government cannot delegate this obligation to consult to third parties such as Kinder Morgan."
The Tsleil-Waututh is opposed to the proposal to twin the 1,150-kilometre pipeline from Alberta, allowing a daily increase of oil shipped from 300,000 barrels to 750,000 barrels.
"I really can't say how members of the public will respond. I would hope we have the same goals and aspirations in thinking about our future generations," she said.
Kinder Morgan has said it hopes to consult with first nations as part of its project outreach with landowners, communities and stakeholders.
In a statement Thursday, project representatives said they are interested in a dialogue with the Tsleil-Waututh.
"We have been seeking the opportunity to meet with the Tsleil-Wauthuth for some time now. While they have advised they are not ready to meet with us yet, we stand ready to provide information to them and to meet with them at any time," said Gary Youngman, project lead for aboriginal engagement.
"Their position isn't characteristic of our engagement with other first nations. We have been in many discussions with other aboriginal groups along the line and many of these discussions are positively progressing."
Mr. Youngman thanked the Tsleil Wauthuth for spreading the message about the public-information sessions.
Enbridge Inc., proponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline, have had challenges reaching out to first nations, but NDP MP Kennedy Stewart said they are further advanced on that front because they are further along in the process of their $6-billion project, which is now under federal joint review.
By contrast, Kinder Morgan has yet to formally apply for their pipeline effort or publish a map of the route, said Mr. Stewart, the critic for science and technology. Both steps are expected next year, and will happen in a political environment where the mayors of Vancouver and Burnaby are opposed.
The governing B.C. Liberals and oppositon NDP have yet to take a position.
Mr. Stewart, who represents Burnaby-Douglas, said the Tsleil-Wautuith has been wary about being caught up in consultation.
"[They] are a small group of people and doing everything they can to encourage opponents to go to these meetings without subverting their constitutional rights," he said.
He added: "A number of chiefs have said to me in the past, 'We're not the local snowmobile club. We're not the local rod and gun club. We're an independent nation of people.' Because of the lack of treaties, there's a requirement for them to deal with the federal government, with the Crown."