U.S. Tribes Applaud Court Decision Rejecting Trans Mountain Pipeline

Massive increase in oil tanker traffic would threaten U.S. Tribes and Canadian First Nations


Rebecca Bowe, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2093

A landmark court decision issued today casts doubt on whether Kinder Morgan’s troubled and controversial Trans Mountain pipeline project can go forward. United States Coast Salish Tribes — including the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, Lummi Nation, and Suquamish Tribe — are celebrating the decision, which finds that the permits for the pipeline were issued illegally.

The proposed tar sands pipeline expansion is one of several projects that would dramatically increase the passage of tankers and bulk carriers through the Salish Sea on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.

“Over the last 100 years, our most sacred site, the Salish Sea, has been deeply impacted by our pollution-based economy,” said Swinomish Tribal Chair (and Co-Chair of the Coast Salish Gathering) Brian Cladoosby. “The place that we’re living now is where we have been since time immemorial. All of our roots go deep and our bloodlines are woven throughout the Salish Sea. Coast Salish and all native peoples are what you call a place-based society. What that means is, we just can’t pick up and move to Ottawa or Montana or Texas. We are where we are.”

In 2014, the four U.S. Tribes intervened in the Canadian National Energy Board proceeding considering whether to issue permits for the pipeline. They joined their Canadian First Nation partners in vigorously opposing the project due to its impacts on treaty rights, livelihoods, and culture. The project would move close to 900,000 barrels of toxic tar sands crude adjacent the sensitive waters of the Salish Sea, where much of it would be shipped through shared U.S. and Canadian marine waters.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
Dana Wilson and Jim Kelly, members of the Lummi Nation, pull a chum salmon from the Salish Sea. “What are we going to have left for our future generations if we don’t start managing and watching where we’re at and the direction we’re going in?” asks Wilson. See more videos.

The almost seven-fold increase in oil tankers would have triggered a seemingly inevitable increase in groundings, accidents, incidents, leaks and oil spills. Experts agree that a serious oil spill in the Salish Sea would devastate an already-stressed marine environment and likely lead to collapses in the remaining salmon stocks and further contamination of shellfish beds, wiping out Indigenous fishing rights.

In today’s decision, the Federal Court of Appeals rejected the Canadian government’s approval on two grounds. First, it held that the Canadian government failed to adequately consult with and address the concerns of First Nations who were opposed to the project. Second, the Court faulted the government for ignoring the impacts of marine vessel traffic, which included undisputed and grave threats to already-stressed resident orcas. As the Court found, “Project-related tankers carry the risk of significant, if not catastrophic, adverse environmental and socio-economic effects should a spill occur.” These are precisely the risks brought to the NEB’s attention by the U.S. Tribes.

The court case was brought by a coalition of Canadian First Nations, cities, and conservation organizations. The U.S. tribes were not a party to the court case.


Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
Chairman Leonard Forsman (left) and Kassia Smith and Shaylene Jefferson of the Suquamish Tribe pour water on the banks of the Fraser River during a ceremony in 2014 signifying the unity of the water. Learn more.

Chairman Leonard Forsman, Suquamish Tribe: “The Suquamish Tribe is pleased that the Canadian Courts have ruled in favor the First Nations and their U.S. relatives in rejecting the permits for the Kinder Morgan pipeline. The proposed pipeline would put more oil on the Salish Sea thereby increasing the threat of damage to our fragile and sacred ecosystem, not only for oil spills but also interference with our fisherman working to maintain our ancient way of life. Now is the time to invest in the health of our marine waters, as we try to save the orca and the salmon, rather than trying to expand investment in the fossil fuel industry.”

Chairman Jay Julius, Lummi Indian Business Council: “We congratulate our relatives in British Columbia and are pleased to see that the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal recognizes the obligation to meaningfully engage with Canadian First Nations. Like our relatives across the border, we have a sacred obligation to protect [Xa xalh Xechnging] to the Salish Sea [Xwullemy] and to all our relations, including the qwe lhol mech ten [killer whales], who are telling us in their suffering to stand up, to show up, to warrior up and fight against pollution for profit, and for the health of Xwullemy.”

Ray Harris, Co-Chair Coast Salish Gathering and Chemainus First Nation: “Our Coast Salish namesakes, bloodlines, teaching and tradition laws are intertwined through out the Salish Sea and all that is hers. Today I stand with our ancestors and our children’s children to come with a victory that our voices have been heard. We are honored to have our Coast Salish brothers and sisters fighting for what we love the most, the Salish Sea. Today is a victory.”

Marie Zackuse, Chairwoman, Tulalip Tribes: “The Tulalip Tribes applaud the Court’s finding that Canada failed to meaningfully consult with the First Nations and U.S. Tribes that would be affected by the Trans Mountain Pipeline. A massive increase in oil tanker traffic will affect Salish peoples in both sides of the border and our voices need to be heard.”

Brian Cladoosby, the elected Chair of the Senate of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, during a ceremony at the Fraser River.
Brian Cladoosby, the elected Chair of the Senate of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, during a ceremony at the Fraser River. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

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