When Ken Hansen was elected as chief of Yale First Nation three and half years ago he immediately had a financial gun to his head.
Hansen said his nation was broke and on the brink of third-party management.
So he had two choices.
Take a deal with Kinder Morgan and use that money to maybe lift his community out of poverty. It would be just enough, he said, to buy him a year to turn things around.
But then he would also be ignoring his own beliefs that his people are guardians of the land.
Or he could implement the treaty that had taken years to negotiate between Yale and the federal and British Columbia governments.
Doing that would have meant giving up his community’s rights and title.
Hansen said he refused to implement it.
“The treaty has not come into force,” he said.
So he went with Kinder Morgan.
“I was in a financial place where I had to accept (the Kinder Morgan) money,” said Hansen on Nation to Nation that traveled to British Columbia this week to speak with chiefs that signed deals with Kinder Morgan.
Those deals allow the Texas company to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline through their First Nation or traditional territory. For many that suggests support for the project.
That’s not how Hansen sees it, even if his administration sent a letter of support to the National Energy Board.
It’s just a piece of paper he said.
It was take the deal with Kinder Morgan or what he said is the worst treaty in Canada.
“I literally had my hands tied. I was handed a failed treaty … it drove us right down into despair,” he said. “We couldn’t afford housing; we couldn’t afford food.”
He said even the local plumber wouldn’t come do work at Yale.
It was recently revealed that support for the project dropped among First Nations. Shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the Trans Mountain expansion project in late 2016, Kinder Morgan said it had 51 deals. But that number dropped to 43, where it stands now, after eight First Nations didn’t ratify an agreement about a year ago.
Yale members did vote to accept a deal, which was another factor that played into Hansen’s decision.
But he said the treaty negotiations and generations of being squeezed under the Indian Act, as well as nearly being destroyed by residential schools, have nearly broken his people.
“I think our community has become dependent on our band office for cash handouts. It’s a learned behavior created from the past. I do understand where they are coming from,” said Hansen. “Now when the word ‘Kinder Morgan’ is spoken (my) phone lights up and they ask how much money are we getting.”
But Hansen said he wants to help his people change that frame of mind.
Watch Chief Ken Hansen’s full interview here:
Hansen used portions of the Kinder Morgan money to hire qualified staff that could help his administration that has led to better housing.
He said Yale wouldn’t be hurt if the pipeline deal fell through and that’s what many are beginning to think may happen with Trudeau having to recently offer to pay and pass new law to get it built after Kinder Morgan gave a May 31 deadline to ensure the project can go ahead. His government also hasn’t ruled out using force to get the pipeline in the ground as it is faced with fierce opposition by Indigenous land protectors and cities, like Burnaby and Vancouver.
There’s also the matter court cases, like the judicial review that is expected to have a decision soon and involves several First Nations, including Coldwater that is about an hour north of Yale.
Their brothers and sisters over at Lower Nicola Indian Band also have a deal with Kinder Morgan but it’s conditional.
Chief Aaron Sumexheltza said his council will decide within the next month or two whether to accept it. Members narrowly accepted to sign a deal with Kinder Morgan just over a year ago. Of 964 eligible voters only 187 cast a ballot.
Sumexheltza said while he and his council have concerns for the environment and the salmon, he’s had other concerns.
“Regardless of what happens, whether it goes ahead or not we don’t want to be left behind,” he said.
Meanwhile, the man who drafted section 35 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the section that every Indigenous person is affected by, said Indigenous rights are being left out of the debate between Trudeau and the British Columbia government.
“The sleeper behind this is the First Nations rights,” said Jack Woodward. “Mainly we are talking about section 35 rights.”
He said there are treaty rights, as well as Aboriginal rights and title.
“All three are at play with respect to the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion,” he said.
He said those rights are greater than the debate between Canada and provinces.
And could stop the project in its tracks.