All the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion talk seems to be about protests and what the prime minister is going to do about the British Columbia government.
But lost in the mix is Coldwater First Nation near Merritt, B.C., about a three-hour drive northeast of Vancouver.
Coldwater has refused to sign a deal with Kinder Morgan and that matters because for Kinder Morgan to reach Burnaby, and foreign markets with Alberta bitumen, it has to go through Coldwater’s territory.
After all, the old pipeline runs directly through the centre of the reserve.
And the main issue with the proposed pipeline route is it would run over the community’s aquifer, it’s main source of drinking water.
“It’s a huge concern for us that we protect that drinking water for our members and for future generations,” said Chief Lee Spahan on Nation to Nation.
Coldwater joined other nations and stakeholders last year in filing for a judicial review of the pipeline’s approval. That is now in the hands of the Federal Court of Appeal that is supposed to make a decision soon.
He’s hopeful the court agrees with them, but if not other measures could be taken as members of Coldwater have given him a mandate to protect the water and their future.
“If we have to it’ll be our Standing Rock,” he said, referring to the massive protest last year in North Dakota over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
His community has turned down a possible deal worth millions in the fight, while Kinder Morgan says 43 deals have been signed with First Nations and Indigenous groups.
Kinder Morgan appears to have given a deadline of May 31 for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to complete a deal with the British Columbia government that opposes the pipeline.
But for Spahan and Coldwater their fight has been about one thing.
“For us it’s not about the politics, but the future of our community and ensuring we have access to clean, safe water,” he said.
Meanwhile, the race to lead the Assembly of First Nations is heating up with a surprising name coming forward as a potential candidate for national chief.
Mohawk policy analyst Russ Diabo says he’s running to accomplish a few things: Take out incumbent Perry Bellegarde, who is running for reelection, go after Trudeau and fix the AFN.
“It’s lost its legitimacy to many of our people,” Diabo said of the AFN, adding he has many ideas to change it that he’ll announce in the future.
The election is scheduled to happen in late July in Vancouver.
Diabo also took aim at the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, which he opposes.
But said the grassroots needed a stronger voice.
“I would argue the Aboriginal title holders need to be involved in agreements like that where a pipeline spill of that bitumen could affect all the Indigenous harvesters,” he said. “They should have a say in any kind of agreements with oil and gas companies on projects that affect their rights. Shouldn’t be chief and council deciding through a band council resolution.”
As protests continued in Burnaby Thursday, with more arrests, a group in Ottawa has been bringing the fight to the doors of Parliament Hill.
And earlier this week they shut down traffic in front of the constituency office of Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna.
Emma Buchanan said her group thinks the pressure of the protests is working but doesn’t take Kinder Morgan’s decision to stop all non-essential construction as a victory.
“I think the fear is being put in, they’re a little scared. But I don’t think we’ve won. No, I think this is going to be a long hairy battle,” said Buchanan.