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Federal ruling emboldens Squamish Nation

After Federal Court of Appeal rules in favour of First Nations’ rights, Khelsilem says door is not shut on future negotiations
Khelsilem (also known as Dustin Rivers) giving a speech at Crab Park after the federal ruling came down Thursday morning.

Khelsilem had two speeches ready to go, but it was the losing speech he thought he was going to give.

But that was not to be the case, this time.

“I thought I was going to have to read the other one,” he said, with a laugh shortly after he gave a rousing victory speech at Crab Park in Vancouver.

“Today I stand before all of you, I stand with my people to tell the Trudeau government, to tell Prime Minister Trudeau, that they must listen to the courts. They must stop picking fights with Indigenous people. We will win. We won today. We will win again," he said to rousing applause from supporters at the news conference.


The newly-minted Squamish Nation councillor and spokesperson was celebrating the Federal Court of Appeal ruling in favour of the Squamish Nation and other challengers, including the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, that stated the National Energy Board (NEB) did not properly consult First Nations about Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain pipeline project.

In effect, this stops the project in its tracks. While the feds could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, Thursday’s ruling tells the Government of Canada to go back to the review phase of the approval process to consult meaningfully with First Nations and examine the impacts of tanker traffic.

“Meaningful for us means a lot of things, and the government is going to have to come to the table and really smarten up in how they approach us. They are really going to have to listen to us, is what it is,” Khelsilem (also known as Dustin Rivers) told The Chief shortly after the announcement came down.

“The Trudeau government failed in its rhetoric about reconciliation with First Nations and this court decision shows that. This decision reinforces our belief that the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX) must not proceed and we tell the prime minister to start listening and put an end to this type of relationship. It is time for Prime Minister Trudeau to do the right thing,” Khelsilem said in a news release Thursday.

“TMX would triple the capacity of diluted bitumen and is expected to increase the number of tankers passing through Squamish Nation Territory from five to 34 each month. The tankers pass by three Squamish Nation communities on the Burrard Inlet and a single significant marine spill could be catastrophic for those communities, the economy, and the Squamish people.”


Khelsilem said that the Federal Court of Appeal decision is important for First Nations and non-Indigenous people in the Sea to Sky Corridor as well as for those living in the Lower Mainland where the expansion would have more of a direct impact.

“I think this is a vindication of a lot of the feelings our people have had around this project and around our coast and that their faith in our Indigenous rights have been rewarded,” he said. “I think that is a huge victory for all of us.

In this Federal Court of Appeal’s case, the Squamish Nation was joined by a consolidation of various challenges from other First Nations, environmentalists and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby.

What united the diverse groups was the belief the way the federal government related to all First Nations was fundamentally flawed, according to Khelsilem.

“A lot of First Nations have a lot of their own issues that were specific to their territory, but what was consistent through the ruling and through our arguments across the board was that the government’s structure for engaging First Nations as it relates to our rights was completely inadequate, not just for one nation, but for all of us,” he said.

The Federal ruling came a few short hours before Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. shareholders voted more than 99 per cent in favour of the sale of the Trans Mountain pipeline and its expansion project to the federal government for $4.5 billion.


Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau said his government plans to go ahead with the buyout but has yet to decide exactly how it will respond to the ruling.

“We will analyze this decision and respond promptly,” he said. “We’re looking forward to moving forward with the conclusion of this process.”

Khelsilem called the minister’s response “disappointing,” but also said the door is not shut on the projec completely.

“The bottom line is we are looking for free, prior and informed consent,” he said. “We are definitely looking for our jurisdiction to be recognized and upheld. We are a government and within our territory, we want control over what happens in our territory.”

The full ruling can be read here:

—With files from The Burnaby Now and The Canadian Press


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