Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended a meeting with some of the Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee in the Stó:lō community of Cheam on Tuesday, and dozens of protesters stood waiting.
Environmentalists and Indigenous groups have been quick to mobilize ever since Trudeau announced last week that the federal government was buying Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 million — and many activists have condemned its expansion over the past year.
The committee was created in response to the news of the approved expansion, consisting of 13 Indigenous representatives and six federal representatives.
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"This committee has been set up so that all the different communities along this Trans Mountain expansion pipeline route … are able to weigh in and participate in decisions that are made that will affect them as we move forward with this project," the prime minister said in his opening remarks, according to CBC.
According to the Canadian Press, Trudeau argued the purchase of the pipeline is "an investment in jobs here in Alberta but also jobs right across the country, in construction in BC."
He believes the pipeline can be built without negatively impacting the environment.
"There's still folks out here who think there's a choice to be made between protecting the environment and growing the economy. We know that a responsible government needs to do both of those together and that's exactly what we're doing here," he said.
But many feel as though the government has broken promises of Indigenous veto power made over the last few years.
"We have not been informed properly and we have not given consent," Denise Douglas of the Cheam First Nation told the Canadian Press.
While some First Nations members are for the pipeline, like Cheam First Nation Chief Ernie Crey, who is the co-chair of the pipeline committee, many others are not.
"[Trudeau] did not have a political mandate to buy a pipeline at this huge price in terms of taxpayers’ dollars, but also in terms of the destruction of what sustains us," Eddie Gardner with the Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance told the Canadian Press.
The Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee released a statement after the meeting, asking Ottawa to make them a co-manager rather than an adviser, given the impact the pipeline purchase will have on Indigenous communities.
"If the government is going to build the (pipeline), then it must build it better than Kinder Morgan would have — safer, more respectful of Indigenous rights and title and treaty rights, and fairer in its distribution of economic benefits to affected Indigenous nations," the statement said.
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