Michael LeBourdais is the chief of Whispering Pines Indian Band, which is part of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation.
For my community of Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band and others like us, pipelines are about First Nation jurisdiction. Our goal has been and always will be to renew our jurisdictions and establish our governments within Canada. First Nations are the only governments in Canada that do not receive fiscal benefits from resource development on their lands. We are focused on righting this wrong.
The Kinder Morgan pipeline crosses a reserve our community was moved to in 1972. Years ago, we discovered Kinder Morgan didn’t have an unrestricted legal right-of-way to use our lands, which they needed for both their current and expanded use.
We negotiated a resolution we hoped would provide benefits to our children, grandchildren, elders and community. We provided multiple opportunities for community input during the negotiations. Our community voted unanimously in favour of the agreement at a community meeting.
From our perspective, it was a mutually beneficial good-faith business deal between our government and a company using our land. It did not expand or reduce our jurisdiction.
Our story is the story of all First Nations in Canada. We had jurisdiction and land precontact. These were replaced through legislation, policies and the Department of Indian Affairs. The result has been poverty and dependence and since then, we have struggled to renew our jurisdictions.
In 1910, our ancestors provided a mandate and strategy for our leadership through a letter to then-prime minister Wilfrid Laurier. The letter states our grievance with respect to our lost jurisdiction and land: “… force their laws on us without consent and irrespective of whether they are good for us or not … they have taken possession of all the Indian country and claim it as their own … we find ourselves without any real home in this our own country … it is their government which is to blame.”
The letter also conveys our determination: “So long as what we consider justice is withheld from us, so long will dissatisfaction and unrest exist among us, and we will continue to struggle to better ourselves.”
The letter also provides us a path for resolution: “We must be the same as brothers [and sisters] to them and live as one family. We will share equally in everything.”
That letter serves as a touchstone in regard to resource projects in our territories. These projects are our chance to renew our jurisdiction and reconcile with Canada.
That’s why our First Nation, along with others, is proposing First Nations impacted by resource projects in their territory should collect some of the tax revenue generated from those projects. This tax should be co-ordinated with other governments so it need not impact the investment climate. We could use our tax revenue to implement improved environmental management. We could use it to build water systems, roads and other community infrastructure to the national standard. We could use it to implement our other independent jurisdictions and reduce the role of the Indian Act and the Department of Indian Affairs in our lives.
Implementing our jurisdiction is a long-term solution. There will be more interprovincial resource projects in Canada. Pitting neighbours, communities and provinces against one another in emotional shouting matches is not how problems should be solved.
We are proposing a way to make Canada work better together. It is not a plea for special rights. The social framework for other Canadians is paid in large part by revenues from resource development. Why shouldn’t we benefit from resource tax jurisdiction in our territories like other Canadians?
We are asking for what is right. This pipeline shouldn’t be a crisis of national unity. It should be a chance to renew Canada by securing a place for our governments in this federation. It should be a chance to realize a new national dream that implements our jurisdictions and helps us begin to heal from our colonial past. It should be a chance, in the words of my ancestors “to help each other be great and good.”