Northwest Tribal Leaders Testify in Opposition to Canadian Pipeline Expansion

Threats to Coast Salish peoples, orcas, and the Salish Sea too great to approve


Leonard Forsman, Suquamish Chairman, (360) 340-0986


Tony Hillaire, Lummi Nation Chief of Staff, (360) 393-0890


Debra Lekanoff, Swinomish Governmental Affairs, (360) 391-5296


Francesca Hillery, Tulalip Tribes, (206) 395-4048


Rebecca Bowe, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2093

Opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline from Coast Salish Tribes on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border continued today with indigenous people of the Salish Sea region testifying before the Canadian National Energy Board. Four U.S. Coast Salish Tribes — the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, Lummi Nation, and Suquamish Tribe — shared their concerns alongside Canadian First Nations as part of a Canadian federal government review of the proposed pipeline expansion.

The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would dramatically increase the number of oil tankers moving crude oil shipments through the Salish Sea, greatly increasing the risk of oil spills. An oil tanker disaster would unleash toxic pollution into a sensitive marine environment and devastate struggling Southern Resident Killer Whales, which hold great cultural significance for Tribes. The project also threatens to violate Tribal communities’ treaty-reserved fishing and shellfishing practices.

“The Suquamish people have shared the waters of the Salish Sea for thousands of years,” said Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman. “We have an obligation to protect our people from increasing threats of vessel traffic and oil spills that may irreparably damage orcas, salmon, shellfish, and our cultural lifeways. It is our duty as stewards to maintain clean water and a healthy ecosystem by opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline.”

“The Coast Salish people are separated by an international boundary, but the reality is that our people have lived as a connected whole throughout the waterways of the Salish Sea since time immemorial. Our waters are sacred to us, and our culture is dependent on the integrity of these waters. The Trans Mountain pipeline is a threat to our future,” said Marie Zackuse, Tulalip Tribes Chairwoman.

The killer whales of the Salish Sea and the Indigenous Coast Salish cultures have a common bond. “Our connection to the killer whale is personal, is relational, and goes back countless generations,” according to Lummi Chairman Jay Julius. “Our name for them, qwe ‘lhol mechen, means our relations below the waves.”

Lummi Nation hereditary Chief Bill James (“Tsilixw”) offered testimony at the hearing. “We all saw the grieving killer whale mother carrying her dead calf,” Chief James said. “These are messages from our relatives below the waves. It is our Xa Xalh Xechnging (sacred obligation) to listen and learn from them, and honor them.”

“Our Coast Salish way of life, economies, culture, and values are intertwined throughout the Salish Sea. Our Coast Salish people share bloodlines, cultures, and heritage, and like the water, salmon, and her resources, it recognizes no border,” said Swinomish Tribal Chairman Brian Cladoosby. “In my 34 years of serving at Swinomish Senate and in my lifetime as a fisherman, I see a fatal future ahead of us. Unless we address the elephant in the room together as governments and citizens, that the reality is the Salish Sea is dying, she has too much pressure from growth, pollution, and vessel traffic, and we need to take bold action together. Just as the salmon and killer whales don’t recognize a border, neither will a fatal oil spill.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, stated, “We are absolutely grateful to our relatives for making the trip north today to stand with First Nations in B.C. in support of Salish Sea killer whales, whose continued existence will be greatly threatened if the Trans Mountain pipeline is expanded. We have a responsibility to do everything in our power to protect these whales, and we will continue to do so, no matter what it takes.”


The proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline would be built alongside the existing line, connecting Alberta tar sands oil fields to an oil-shipping terminal in Burnaby, B.C. The project would roughly triple the volume of oil delivered via pipeline, from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day. The tar sands crude would be placed on oil tankers and shipped through the Salish Sea, running through the U.S.-Canada maritime border.

Earlier this year, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal overturned prior approval of the crude oil pipeline expansion, finding that the Canadian government had failed to adequately consult with and address the concerns of First Nations opposed to the project. The Court also faulted the National Energy Board for ignoring the impacts of marine vessel traffic, including undisputed and grave threats to imperiled southern resident killer whales (protected as endangered species in both the U.S. and Canada). The proposed project is now owned by the Canadian government, after a purchase from Kinder Morgan. The National Energy Board will make a recommendation to approve or reject the pipeline in the spring of 2019; the final project decision lies with the Canadian federal government and the Trudeau Administration.

Reporters can tune into the Nov. 28 National Energy Board testimony via an audio-only livestream. Audio may also be downloaded a day later.

The press conference was captured on livestream via Facebook at

Coast Salish Tribe speakers at National Energy Board hearing
Aurelia Washington, of the Swinomish Tribe, speaks at a press conference held before First Nations and U.S. Coast Salish Tribes address the Canadian National Energy Board in Victoria, British Columbia. (Alex Harris for Earthjustice)

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