On Saturday, July 7 2012 the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Squamish Nation signed onto the Save the Fraser Declaration. In doing so, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish joined more than 100 First Nations in asserting their own Indigenous Laws which effectively ban Tar Sands projects throughout their territories (See: First Nations from North, South and Interior stand against oil tankers and pipelines). The Save the Fraser Declaration represents a united voice of opposition towards Tar Sands projects which threaten the health of the Fraser River, its tributaries and the life it sustains.
These projects not only include the high profile Enbridge Pipeline and Tanker project, but also the quieter proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline which would more than double current oil tanker activity throughout the ocean migration routes of the Fraser River salmon and substantially increase the risk of an oil spill disaster.
The decision of the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations to sign the Declaration is particularly relevant for the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker traffic, since both Nations claim lands likely to be impacted by the project. Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby oil port is located within the traditional territory of the Tsleil-Waututh directly across from their home community on Burrard Inlet.
Against the backdrop of the Kinder Morgan tanker oil port, the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish invoked the spirit of the Save the Fraser Declaration by conducting a ceremony at Whey-ah-Wichen (Cates Park) prior to formally signing. The ceremony was conducted in accordance with Coast Salish Law to welcome the Yinka Dene Alliance onto Tsleil-Waututh territory and to acknowledge them for their ongoing efforts in protecting the Fraser River and its watershed.
As required by Coast Salish Law, several witnesses were called upon and ceremonially compensated to carry the responsibility of observing and passing on the important work taking place; the honoured guests to the territory were blanketed and acknowledged; and speakers from all First Nation groups present were called upon to speak to the occasion and its importance. The ceremony was a poignant expression of the vitality and authority of Indigenous Laws which serve as the basis for the Save the Fraser Declaration. It was an affirmation of the responsibilities and obligations held by Indigenous peoples to themselves, their ancestors, all Canadians and future generations. It was an affirmation that these responsibilities and obligations, as a matter of Indigenous Law, are second to none.
The ceremony that took place and the signing by the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish further established the strength and unity displayed by all signatories and supporters of the Save the Fraser Declaration. This continued renewal of strength and unity comes on the heels of the enactment of the federal government’s omnibus Bill C-38 which has severely undermined the environmental review process for projects such as oil pipelines, fisheries habitat protection and the inherent Rights and Title of First Nations. In stark contrast to these recent developments in Canadian law, the expressions of Indigenous Law that took place at Whey-ah-Wichen demonstrated to the many in attendance that Indigenous Laws serve to benefit all of us. The diversity of Indigenous Legal Traditions spanning across Canadian soil have a place in the social, political and legal origins of Canada itself and they continue to have a place for all us of today.
By Kris Statnyk, Legal Intern
West Coast Staff, including Kris, are honoured to have been invited to attend the Tsleil-Waututh Ceremony and Signing.