The vote was close and turnout was low but years of consultation has culminated in a group of local Sto:lo bands rejecting a mutual benefits agreement as part of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
Over the last few years, the Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe worked to negotiate a mutual benefits agreement with Kinder Morgan, but they decided to put a final decision on accepting that agreement to the membership.
Just 301 members of the nine bands — Aitchelitz, Skowkale, Shxwhá:y, Soowahile, Squiala, Tzeachten, Yakweakwioose, Kwaw kwaw Apilt and Skwah — voted in the April 22 referendum that asked the question: “Do you approve the Bands entering into this Mutual Benefits Agreement?”
At the end of the day 134, or 44.5 per cent, voted “yes” and 167, or 55.5 per cent, voted “no.”
And while the close outcome, along with news that other bands have signed agreements, seems to point to a deep division in Sto:lo country, long-time environmental activist and Soowahlie band member Larry Commodore said he is happy with the result.
“I was probably the most outspoken one in opposition to the mutual benefits agreement, so it was a good outcome from my perspective,” Commodore told The Progress.
After the vote, Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe board president Chief David Jimmie informed members of the outcome via online video.
“After four years of engagement and the request that leadership go to our membership and seek guidance on this important vote we have the results,” Jimmie said.
“We’ll start to develop our next steps and planning moving forward, but important that we know we have heard the voices of our people and this is the direction we will go in.”
Commodore said the reason why he and others opposed the agreement is not about the pipeline per se, but about the bigger picture.
“The anti-pipeline movement is not just about stopping a pipeline, it’s about transforming society, too,” he said. “We have to bring ecological sanity to our society. We just cannot continue along this road poisoning our land, our water, our air.”
As to the low turnout, effectively fewer than 10 per cent of eligible voters quashing the agreement, Commodore agreed it’s not good.
“It shows there is work to be done,” he said, adding that it is hard to engage band members particularly when no direct threat is seen.
After the vote, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip praised the decision and pointed to the way forward.
“We’re excited to report that the Ts’elxweyeqw Tribe has voted NO to signing a Mutual Benefits Agreement with Kinder Morgan!” Phillip wrote in a letter. “The small tribe from around Chilliwack is now free to pursue legal action against the pipeline approval.”
He invited people to celebrate the vote and walk in the People’s Climate March in Vancouver on April 29.
“This is our last chance to make the climate the focus of the election campaign before we go to the polls May 9, please join us,” Phillip wrote.
Some other bands in the Fraser Valley have already signed mutual benefits agreements. The Peters Indian Band near Hope did so, and in February the council voted to approve a payment of $30,000 to each band member.
Other nearby bands that have signed the confidential agreements include Shxw’ow’hamel and Cheam.
Speaking about political division in Sto:lo territory, Commodore argues that because of the nature of aboriginal rights and title in Canada, which are collectively held, even those agreements that have been signed are not legitimate.
“What should have happened is that all of us Sto:lo people should have had a vote on the Kinder Morgan deal,” he said. “Shxw’ow’hamel and Peters, I don’t see them as being legitimate because they didn’t address the issue of rights and title.”