Tag Archives: race and ethnicity

These Stunning Photos Show the Real Cost of a Pipeline

Mother Jones

This story was originally published by Reveal and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As police in riot gear swept the last protesters from camps near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in late February, two dozen men and women arrived in this small ranching and lumber town 1,200 miles to the northwest. They were armed with maps, posters, doughnuts and coffee, and hoped to sell locals on an oil pipeline—one larger and potentially more hazardous than the Dakota Access.

They wore its name on their matching green jackets: Trans Mountain.

Town officials were already on board. They had signed on in exchange for about $330,000 (420,000 Canadian dollars) from the pipeline’s American owner, Kinder Morgan Inc. But a few miles downriver, the Lower Nicola Indian Band was putting the company’s offer to a vote the following day.

The 14 other First Nations directly on the pipeline route already had agreed to welcome crews onto their reserves in exchange for money and jobs from the company. By voting yes, the Lower Nicola could get a similar deal—a tempting offer in a remote community where many live in poverty.

Voting no would send a powerful message—a boost for the coalition of indigenous people and environmentalists battling Trans Mountain. But it likely would be largely symbolic: In November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared no First Nation would have veto power over this pipeline.

Some Lower Nicola members came to the Trans Mountain open house in Merritt. Two men were looking for construction jobs. One elderly woman asked about cleanup plans if something were to go wrong. She struggled to find a polite way to describe such a disaster until a company official helped her out. “An incident,” the official suggested. The room turned tense when another woman wondered why nobody had told her that an alternate route, apparently still under consideration, would run through her backyard.

The following night, at a similar meeting in a hotel ballroom in nearby Kamloops, Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Lizette Parsons Bell told a reporter from Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that these events generally draw people interested in jobs or work contracts. Where people have concerns, she said, the team is there to listen with respect.

Kinder Morgan workers, dressed in matching green outfits, host an information session about the Trans Mountain pipeline project in Kamloops, British Columbia. Patrick Michels/Reveal

“Do we have every single landowner that’s in favor of it? No,” she said. The goal is “to come to a point where there is an acceptance of the pipeline going through their property.”

To gain such acceptance, the company has sent letters to and held meetings with not just the small group of First Nations along the pipeline, but with 118 others nearby. Fifty-one have signed agreements. Although the deals are confidential, the company has said they are worth nearly $300 million combined, a cost dwarfed by the pipeline’s price tag: $5.5 billion.

Hours into the Lower Nicola vote, elder Maria Savage walked slowly down the icy dirt road from the band office to her home. She’s against the pipeline, worried about the land and wildlife if there’s a spill. But the negotiations struck her as familiar, reminding her of her childhood, when the federal government forced indigenous children into boarding schools.

“I heard they’re going to go through with the pipeline whether we agree with it or not,” Savage said. “You know, why ask us for our vote if they’re gonna put it through anyway? … That’s the same thing when they took us away and put us in the residential schools. Didn’t matter what we said or what we did.”

As in the U.S., by law, the Canadian government must consult with First Nations about major development on their land. Those consultations haven’t been the same as asking for permission. But recent rulings in Canada’s courts have said indigenous people could stop a project by withholding their consent—especially in British Columbia, where First Nations never signed their land over in treaties.

The Canadian court cases are grounded in a growing recognition of the moral imperative of reconciliation between indigenous and non-Native people. At the same time, though, the government sees its untapped oil reserves as a key economic engine.

Just in time for the country’s sesquicentennial, the Trans Mountain project is forcing Canadian officials to decide how far they’re willing to go to honor First Nations’ rights.

Oil’s journey begins in Alberta

Kinder Morgan’s new pipeline is the middle step in the journey from Canada’s oil fields to the world market. Tanker ships will complete the trip from Vancouver to Asia.

Steam from oil production facilities blankets the horizon along a highway near a Fort McKay First Nation reserve in Alberta. Since the band began doing business with the oil industry in 1986, its corporation’s annual revenue has grown to $73 million. Darren Hauck/Reveal

But the journey begins in northern Alberta, about 2,000 feet below a thick forest of birch, fir, spruce and pine, in a layer of oily bitumen—a remnant of marine life that sank to the bottom of the sea that once covered the province. This tarry paste is what will fill the new Trans Mountain line, unrefined and diluted with a light mix of chemicals to ease the flow.

Bitumen from these oil sands fueled a boom a decade ago, when high oil prices made it profitable to mine. Mining bitumen is expensive and energy-intensive, so with oil selling for about $50 a barrel now, there is less incentive to hurry it out of the ground. Kinder Morgan is betting on a future when the price of oil goes up again.

Far northern regions feel the effects of climate change first. In winter, truckers driving north from Fort McMurray to the village of Fort Chipewyan rely on a road of frozen rivers and wetlands. Lately, the road has been melting away earlier each winter.

This stretch of boreal forest has long been home to caribou, deer and black bears, and indigenous Canadians who hunt and fish to survive. Around the mining operations that will supply Trans Mountain, road signs suggest great deference for wildlife: They warn of caribou crossing the highway and not to feed the bears. To some who knew the place before industry moved in, the signs are a joke: They don’t see much of those animals anymore.

Violet Clarke lives on a Fort McMurray First Nation reserve about a half-hour drive southeast of the city. Her grandfather ranched and trapped on this land. She grew up here in the 1930s, when just one struggling plant processed bitumen alongside the Athabasca River. As more companies have moved in, she said, the foxes that her grandfather used to trap on this land have disappeared. The frogs remain, but they’re often slicked in oil. The water has become so polluted that she said she’s been warned not to eat more than three fish a week.

Violet Clarke, a member of the Fort McMurray First Nation, lives on a reserve in the Athabasca River oil sands area in Alberta. She says the water has become so polluted that she’s been warned not to eat more than three fish a week. Darren Hauck/Reveal

In 2010, a study led by University of Alberta researchers, and prompted by concerns from elders such as Clarke, traced a number of carcinogens in the river to oil sands production. The most obvious evidence of trouble in the water is evident to fishermen who catch whitefish or burbot with back tumors and bulging eyes.

“There’s an awful lot of people that don’t want to talk about it, because an awful lot of people live off of the resources. And you can’t blame them in a lot of ways,” Clarke said. “Because industry, it’s first, because it brings your bread home.”

“But,” she added, “we had our bread before we got oil.”

Trans Mountain is one of four pipelines planned from the oil sands, along with TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL and Energy East and Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3. Thirteen oil producers have contracts for the new Trans Mountain line, lured by the promise of higher prices in Asia. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers projects that by 2030, annual oil sands production will increase 55 percent from 2015, adding 1.3 million barrels a day.

That much business could fill the huge worker dormitories posted along remote stretches of Alberta’s highways. It could keep Fort McMurray’s extended-stay hotels and bars as busy as they were a decade ago. Canada’s official statistics agency says unemployment in Alberta has tripled in the downturn, from a low of 3 percent in 2006 to 9 percent in last fall.

The recession had a pronounced effect on indigenous Canadians, who already face severe disadvantages. Less than half of adults living on reserves are employed. Indigenous people account for about 4 percent of Canada’s population but almost a quarter of its prisoners and nearly half its foster care system.

Fort McKay First Nation, a reservation in northern Canada, is home to nearly 400 indigenous people. It began as a trading post for fur trappers, and the land continued to be used that way until the mid-20th century. Then trapping became less profitable, as petroleum operations started to surround the community. Rachel de Leon/Reveal

One local chief says conservationists, not industry, are holding back progress.

In a December speech, Chief Jim Boucher of the Fort McKay First Nation told his counterparts that environmentalists were “the ones who, at the end of the day, were successful in creating poverty in northern Canada.”

“Please don’t buy into the environmentalist argument,” he said.

The Fort McKay First Nation is blessed and cursed with reserve land on the banks of the Athabasca in the heart of oil sands production. The wind blows a pungent smell from surrounding strip mines. Since Boucher’s band began doing business with industry in 1986, its corporation’s annual revenue has grown to $73 million. Even in the downturn, unemployment is close to zero.

Trans Mountain’s eastern end is anchored here in Alberta, where oil has built metropolises on the prairie. Strathcona County, near Edmonton, is a way station from the oil sands to the rest of the world, with pipes and tanks and towers tangled up like a huge high school chemistry project. Twenty pipelines converging underground at the Kinder Morgan terminal will feed the new Trans Mountain line.

One peculiarity of the fight over Trans Mountain is that it’s not a new route, but an expansion of an existing line. A larger pipe laid alongside the first will nearly triple the oil-carrying capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.

Trans Mountain was a source of national pride when it opened in 1953. It was Canada’s second major pipeline and its first one west across the Rockies. Tourists marked its debut with a bus and train journey to see where the pipe had been buried. Thousands toured the storage tanks near Vancouver. Politicians compared it with the first railroad across the Rockies and even “the first white man to traverse the northern continent from ocean to ocean.”

Kinder Morgan, a Houston firm once part of the fallen energy giant Enron, acquired the pipeline in 2005. By buying existing pipelines and expanding them, the company has become one of the largest operators in North America today, with 84,000 miles of pipe. The Trans Mountain project would add 615 more.

Skirting Edmonton to the south, the pipeline route cuts straight through fields and forests to the Rockies, where it crosses Jasper National Park. Kinder Morgan already expanded a stretch of pipeline there in 2008, a project that the company says demonstrates its approach to consultation with First Nations and its environmental stewardship. It was among the EcoHeroes of 2010 named by the industry-funded Alberta Emerald Foundation, in a class with BP Canada and a dozen others. In February, a company representative told a reporter with the Jasper Fitzhugh that the pipeline had never spilled in the park.

In truth, the company’s record has been mixed. As the Fitzhugh noted, the pipeline has leaked in the park at least six times, according to the company’s own reports, including a 1966 incident that released more than 290,000 gallons of oil. Since Canada began collecting reports in 1961, Trans Mountain has spilled its cargo 82 times, 12 of them since Kinder Morgan bought the line.

In 2007, a city contractor accidentally pierced the pipe in suburban Vancouver, opening a fountain of oil in the middle of the street. Sixty-two thousand gallons of crude oil ran to the sewer and into waterways. According to a government investigation, “a number of shore birds were contaminated after coming into contact with the oil.”

Kinder Morgan paid a $250,000 settlement that time, some of which went to an oil spill cleanup fund. Workers recovered most of the oil by scooping up soil and skimming the water’s surface.

Diluted bitumen from the new pipeline would be tougher to clean up. The largest test case so far is a 2010 spill from an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan, which released dangerous levels of benzene into the air and forced 150 families out of their homes. Unlike crude oil, bitumen sinks in water. Seven years later, over a million gallons of oil were cleaned up, yet clumps of bitumen still sit at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River.

Oil companies’ payments to communities are meant to smooth over concerns about risks like these.

But when the first Trans Mountain line went in, neither the company nor the government was obligated to consult First Nations. Indigenous Canadians weren’t allowed to vote in federal elections then and had only just gained the right to hire lawyers.

Today’s consultation over Trans Mountain bears the weight of that history. Many land defenders wonder how much has changed if construction plans can roll right along even though—as the resistance slogan goes—their answer is still no.

Chiefs make unilateral decisions for all

The president of Kinder Morgan Canada, Ian Anderson, has made an enthusiastic show of his outreach campaign with chiefs and councils. The company’s deals, Anderson has said, “represent not only an agreement to share opportunity and provide prosperity, but a symbol of recognition of a shared respect.”

But the chief-to-chief negotiations behind those deals are fraught from the start, rooted in the colonial system that carved up indigenous nations into legally recognized bands and appointed a single chief to decide for the people.

Last year’s federal filings from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc nation showed about $2.2 million in a trust account labeled “Kinder Morgan mutual benefits agreement.” With fewer than 1,400 registered members, the deal is worth around $1,600 a person. First reported by the local paper Kamloops This Week, it’s the only deal amount that’s been made public.

In an interview, Chief Fred Seymour said the final amount could change. He said the deal includes a clause that would raise the payment to match any larger agreements Kinder Morgan might make with another nation.

But there was no vote on the deal. Instead, Seymour said he consulted about 100 people who spoke for families within his nation.

In the Alexander First Nation, near Edmonton, Kinder Morgan’s negotiators parachuted into a fiery internal conflict. Shortly after signing an agreement with the company, Chief Kurt Burnstick was tried for the sexual assault of another band member. He was cleared in January, but activists within the nation had marched through the reserve calling for his removal.

According to two activists, Janet Campbell and Rodney Yellowdirt, council members agreed to use First Nation money—including proceeds from its deals with oil and gas firms—to pay Burnstick’s defense team.

Burnstick would not comment for this story. For their part, Campbell and Yellowdirt supported the Trans Mountain agreement but said their experience exposes the fact that oil wealth doesn’t always benefit the community. Companies, they said, should keep track of where their money goes.

From Jasper, the pipeline runs westward down the Rockies along the Yellowhead Pass pioneer trail. It’s about 250 miles to Kamloops, where the line makes one of its two major river crossings, under the Thompson. Just north of the city sits the Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band reserve, home to a 162-person First Nation where Kinder Morgan negotiated its first deal for the project three years ago.

Michael LeBourdais, who was chief at the time, said the agreement is “equal to or greater than what we get now from the federal government.” In 2011, the most recent tally published by the government, the band received nearly $470,000 from Canada’s indigenous affairs office. Kinder Morgan also agreed to extra safety precautions, LeBourdais said, such as laying thicker pipes where the line crosses waterways.

Michael LeBourdais, chairman of the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics and former chief of the Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band, is organizing a group of First Nations on the Trans Mountain pipeline route to fight for the right to tax the oil. Patrick Michels/Reveal

“There wasn’t a ‘Do you approve of this pipeline?’ question because they would never ask that,” LeBourdais said. “They asked about our thoughts, because we don’t have the right to say no.”

Today, LeBourdais is chairman of the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics, which offers financial skills training. He sees Trans Mountain as a teaching moment: He’s organizing a group of First Nations on the pipeline route to fight for the right to tax the oil, which he believes could yield an extra $73 million a year.

He said the plan would let his nation profit off its land while remaining good stewards.

“My grandfather always said, ‘There is no right and wrong in nature,’ ” he said. ” ‘There’s only balance.’ “

Most importantly, he said, these financial arrangements are opportunities to force industry and government to recognize First Nations’ land rights—empowerment through bureaucracy.

“Tax represents jurisdiction,” he said.

A brutal history

LeBourdais’ office sits in a century-old building that stands as a testament to how brutally Canada has used its bureaucracy against indigenous people. The steeple-topped brick behemoth was once the Kamloops Indian Residential School, one of 130 state-funded and church-operated facilities that carried out what the government called its “aggressive assimilation” program from the 1840s until 1996. While the city of Kamloops grew on the south side of the Thompson River, the school dominated the north bank.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was once part of the Canadian government’s “aggressive assimilation” program for indigenous children. After the school closed in 1977, local First Nations took ownership of the building. Patrick Michels/Reveal

Attendance was mandatory; over the decades, officials made sweeps to collect about 150,000 children. The system was modeled on similar U.S. boarding schools, which housed around 100,000 Native American children through the 1960s.

After the Kamloops school closed in 1977, local First Nations took ownership. Some hoped to see it torn down, but leaders decided to keep it for practical reasons—lots of office space—and to remind people across the river of the horrors that took place as they and their ancestors looked on.

LeBourdais is in his early 50s and attended a neighborhood public school. But his parents were taken from home and brought to residential school. Even with LeBourdais working out of a big third-floor office, his father wouldn’t set foot inside.

“It’s creepy when you work here at night, that’s for sure,” LeBourdais said.

Men and women have come forward over the past decade describing beatings and sexual assault by priests who ran the schools. Thousands of children taken to the schools disappeared and are presumed dead. In the 1940s, federal researchers withheld rations from children at six schools to study the effects of malnutrition.

Much of what’s known about the schools came out in the final report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which delivered its conclusions in 2015. By then, Canada had established a $1.4 billion fund for survivors of the residential schools. But the commission called for deeper change:

“Reconciliation is not about ‘closing a sad chapter of Canada’s past’ but about opening new healing pathways of reconciliation that are forged in truth and justice,” it said.

Aaron Sam, chief of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, was an early critic of the way Canadian officials handled the Trans Mountain pipeline project. He’s worried about the environment and believes the government’s consultation was too cursory. Patrick Michels/Reveal

Aaron Sam represented hundreds of residential school survivors in their legal claims as a lawyer in Kamloops. He was 40 years old when the Lower Nicola Indian Band elected him chief in 2013.

“Residential school was a terrible place,” Sam said in an interview in the band office. “It was a place where our children were beaten down.”

Sam was raised on the reserve by parents and grandparents who attended residential schools.

“What happened at residential school … still affects all aspects of everything that happens in our communities politically, in the family and in places like this—in our offices—and even in our negotiation tables with these big multinational corporations,” he said.

Sam was an early critic of the way Canadian officials handled the Trans Mountain project. He was worried about the environment and believed the government’s consultation was too cursory. But he decided it was important that his nation reach a communal decision.

“The current pipeline’s been in the ground for over 60 years and, you know, if this one actually gets built, it’s going to probably be in the ground longer than that,” Sam said. “The decision we make, I believe, is going to affect our people for generations.”

So Sam and the Lower Nicola council negotiated a deal with Kinder Morgan, including cash payments, a new bridge and a new power line. It would take effect only if members approved it in a vote. This is the decision that Lower Nicola members were weighing at the company’s open-house meeting in Merritt.

The Lower Nicola have an activist streak, which surfaced in a 2015 fight against a program that trucked treated waste from suburban Vancouver into their valley. The campaign was successful, and “No Sludge” signs around the reserve still serve as reminders of that victory.

Signs around the Lower Nicola Indian Band Reserve remain from a victorious 2015 campaign to stop a program that trucked treated waste from suburban Vancouver into their valley. Patrick Michels/Reveal

Near the end of the three-day vote, Sam wouldn’t guess the outcome or, if it failed, whether the Lower Nicola would file a court challenge, following the example of the nearby Coldwater Indian Band. But he explained why many probably would vote no.

“A lot of our people are still very, very reliant on our traditional foods, through hunting and fishing salmon in our rivers,” he said.

The pipeline and the river might run downstream to Vancouver, Sam said, but the fallout from a spill would ripple back up if the salmon died in an oil slick before coming upstream.

At the same time, he acknowledged many would welcome Kinder Morgan’s money. One of Merritt’s two big lumber mills closed in December, leaving hundreds jobless. For some, pipeline construction couldn’t start soon enough.

Protests along the way

In the late 19th century, government officials in most of Canada and the U.S. were busy applying a veneer of legality to their claims to native land. But British Columbia remained an outlier. Colonial Gov. James Douglas signed a few land treaties on Vancouver Island, but no others in the province. Most of British Columbia remained “unceded territory,” a fact that people often recite at the start of community meetings.

Indigenous activist and author Arthur Manuel wrote that while the government and private owners could buy and sell this land, their claims would only ever sit on top of the immutable indigenous title. Manuel died in January, having spent his last months organizing to stop Trans Mountain.

A Kinder Morgan Canada sign marks the spot where the Trans Mountain pipeline crosses the Thompson River in Kamloops, British Columbia. Patrick Michels/Reveal

Now his daughter Kanahus Manuel and her siblings have a plan to oppose the pipeline by establishing villages that run on a traditional way of life. Manuel lived at a protest camp near Standing Rock and wants to bring that spirit to the territory of her people, the Secwepemc. Their land once reached from Kamloops to Jasper National Park, an area larger than Missouri.

“That’s how we want to fight the pipeline … is being an example,” she said.

North in British Columbia, indigenous protesters have spent seven years in a camp organized on those same principles, called Unist’ot’en. In practice, it has stood in the way of a series of pipelines planned through the forest, but its organizers describe it is a “homestead” and “not a protest or demonstration.”

“Every single man, woman and child has a right, and a say, about whether we consent to a pipeline or not. But right now, there’s no process for indigenous peoples to say no,” Manuel said. “When we go out and say, ‘Let’s assert it. Let’s go out and occupy the land to stop the ski resort or the mining,’ then we are criminalized.”

Clashes between police and indigenous protesters have turned violent before, famously at a golf course in Oka, Quebec, in 1990 and at Gustafsen Lake, northwest of Kamloops, five years later. A 2015 report revealed that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have targeted indigenous environmental activists for surveillance.

Kinder Morgan Canada President Ian Anderson knows protesters are eyeing his project.

“They’ll look for soft spots in the system,” he told reporters last fall, “and it’s my job to make sure there aren’t any.”

As the Trans Mountain pipeline nears Vancouver, it runs underneath increasingly resistant communities. From Kamloops and Merritt, it crawls down sheer cliffs and canyons, emerging into the farmland of the Fraser Valley, and then heads west toward the sprawl of Vancouver. It ends in the waterfront suburb of Burnaby, where contractors pierced the pipe a decade ago and residents are wary of another spill. The mayor has tried to bar the company’s workers from city land.

If demonstrators do make a stand against the pipeline, many people expect Burnaby will be the spot. Recent history offers a lesson in how the company and police might respond.

In August 2014, Kinder Morgan wanted data on the geological makeup of Burnaby Mountain, where the company plans to bore a tunnel connecting its storage tanks to its shipping terminal near Vancouver. When workers began clearing trees to make way for drilling equipment, a few locals began a protest. Within days, it was an occupation.

One of the early demonstrators was Stephen Collis, a poet and writing professor at Simon Fraser University, which sits atop Burnaby Mountain. His writing often touches on themes of resistance and revolution. He helped rally the crowd by posting updates in a Facebook group.

In late October, Collis received notice that Kinder Morgan was suing him and four other demonstrators for disrupting its work. The company wanted more than $4 million from the protesters for getting in the way.

Separately, Kinder Morgan requested a federal court order to clear demonstrators from its work site. An environmental advocacy firm filed a challenge to block it, but before a judge ruled, Mounties began clearing the camp.

The arrests began early on a Thursday morning, roughly at first, as officers in yellow vests dragged demonstrators from their tents.

After two days, the police operation took on a ceremonial air. Mounties hung police tape from the trees, and protesters volunteered each morning to cross the line. A video from the last day of arrests shows Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, British Columbia’s highest-ranking chief, carefully ducking under the tape and onto the protected work site, holding on to an officer’s hand for support.

He and more than 100 others were arrested. Their charges later were dismissed because the company had listed the wrong coordinates on its court order.

Collis and four other protesters watched from behind bulletproof glass in a downtown Vancouver courtroom as Kinder Morgan’s attorney, William Kaplan, argued why the five owed the company millions. At one point, he said protesters had intimidated pipeline workers by making angry faces.

At another, Kaplan read one of Collis’ recent poems as evidence of his complicity: “As barricades were assembled from garbage dumped down a hillside from a parking lot in Burnaby Mountain … an old rusted oil barrel was uncovered and rolled up the hill. It’s a talisman, a symbol of the old world we are trying to resist and change. It is, we hope, the last oil barrel that will have anything to do with this mountain forest.”

“So,” Kaplan told the judge, “underneath the poetry is a description of how the barricade was constructed.”

Collis and other protesters remember the ordeal as a darkly comic time – but the company’s show of legal force offered enough cover to let workers finish their job. On the day Kinder Morgan’s lawyers argued that Collis and the others were disrupting their work, the job was done. Helicopters were lifting the drilling gear off the mountain. Kinder Morgan dropped its suit soon after.

Legal challenges ahead

Through Burnaby Mountain, the oil will run one last line before being loaded onto ships to take it across the sea.

After a journey that began on the prairie, in the shadow of smokestacks and office towers, the Trans Mountain line emerges into a different world. Tankers load the oil at a terminal in the still Burrard Inlet, surrounded by forested hills and expensive homes. Today, about one tanker loads up each week; if the second pipeline opens, the rate will increase to one a day.

Tankers load oil in the Burrard Inlet, a port of Vancouver. Today, about one tanker loads up each week; if the second Trans Mountain pipeline opens, the rate will increase to one a day. Darren Hauck/Reveal

This new traffic is at the center of opposition here to Trans Mountain.

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, whose name means “people of the inlet,” sits about a mile across the water from the terminal.

“When this project came into our territory, it was not a matter of whether we could profit off of it economically, but just really preserving who we are or what we are,” said Tsleil-Waututh council member Charlene Aleck. “We reached out to our community, and everybody just saw no huge benefits, even though there was millions of dollars offered.”

Thousands of Tsleil-Waututh once lived in villages on the water around Vancouver, but their population was cut to dozens amid 19th-century conflict and epidemics introduced by white settlers. They survived by adapting to life in the growing port city, working as longshoremen. Much as Fort McKay leaders have capitalized on resource extraction, Tsleil-Waututh leaders have built a tourism company, a driving range and real estate developments with waterfront views.

With the money from those projects, they’ve teamed with other First Nations nearby to buy more land. They’ve led initiatives to restore the salmon population that has suffered in polluted port waters. And they’ve repeatedly fought back plans, such as the Trans Mountain expansion, that would industrialize their coastline.

“A project like this would totally decimate any kind of work that we had been doing for the last 15 years,” Aleck said.

Charlene Aleck, council member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, whose name means “people of the inlet,” says her community has adapted to life in a growing port city with some development, but collectively, the Tsleil-Waututh “saw no huge benefits” from the Trans Mountain pipeline. Darren Hauck/Reveal

She and other Tsleil-Waututh leaders have become some of the pipeline’s most outspoken opponents. But they mostly stepped aside during the Burnaby Mountain protest in 2014, and Chief Maureen Thomas has made it clear she doesn’t want to see “another Standing Rock” here.

“We each have a piece of the puzzle,” Aleck said, “and Tsleil-Waututh has always been trying to go by legal means.”

They’ve joined other First Nations in legal claims accusing the government of approving the pipeline without proper consultation.

It’s a claim similar to one the Standing Rock Sioux made in American courts. But in Canada, a series of landmark Supreme Court rulings suggest there’s a chance for success. The Tsleil-Waututh’s challenge is one of nine currently pending against the pipeline in British Columbia’s federal courts, seven of them from First Nations, that could build on recent legal precedent.

The Canadian Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that bands in British Columbia had the right to stop a logging operation on land occupied by their ancestors. Last year, a federal appeals court threw out the government’s approval for another big pipeline through British Columbia, called the Northern Gateway, agreeing that indigenous people on the route hadn’t been consulted adequately.

On the campaign trail in 2015, Justin Trudeau pledged that as prime minister, he’d honor the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including that “aboriginal peoples need to become the law’s architects and interpreters where it applies to their collective rights and interests.” Trudeau also said he’d implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires that indigenous people consent to development on their land.

On Trans Mountain, though, Trudeau’s decision wasn’t so simple. Noting that there are First Nations on both sides of the issue, he has said no single group can block it. His approval of the project at the end of last year was part of a political compromise on climate change, combining new pipelines with mandatory carbon caps across Canada.

Ian Campbell, chief of the Squamish Nation near Vancouver, said that the decision seemed like a foregone conclusion—and that Trudeau delegated the government’s consultation to Kinder Morgan.

“We felt that that was inappropriate because the duty of consultation lies with the crown,” he said.

The Squamish also have challenged the pipeline approval in court, claiming the government failed in its constitutional duty to consult them. Campbell believes more should have joined the cause.

“I’m certainly disappointed that some of the First Nations would accept what I equate to be some trinkets,” he said.

Squamish First Nation Chief Ian Campbell says his band thinks that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline was a foregone conclusion and that the government shirked its duty to consult First Nations. Darren Hauck/Reveal

How much consultation is enough? What should that consultation look like? And how many First Nations must support a project before it can proceed? These questions are part of a rapidly shifting area of Canadian law—a delicate dance between the competing goals of development and reconciliation.

The Tsleil-Waututh and the other First Nations challenging the Trans Mountain approval could be the ones that set the next precedent.

Along a beach near the Tsleil-Waututh reserve, smooth rocks and weathered shells crunch underfoot. The shells are remnants of mussels and clams eaten by Tsleil-Waututh ancestors. Since the oil tankers began arriving 60 years ago, Aleck said, their wakes already have washed away some of the beach.

“There was no consultation that happened,” she said. “They just kind of came into the territory and told us that they would make our land prosperous for us and that we would see jobs come out of it. Kind of like what they’re saying today.”

On the Tsleil-Waututh reserve, a totem pole overlooking the inlet stands as a symbol of their resistance to the pipeline. Four salmon swim in a circle around the pole’s base, signifying their charge to protect the water. The main figure is a wolf, the symbol of the Tsleil-Waututh. According to the band’s origin legend, the creator transformed a wolf into its first member and made him protector of the land.

In between the salmon and wolf, two men and a boy are standing up, carrying the fight from one generation to the next.

‘Our voice is important’

Voting on the Lower Nicola deal with Kinder Morgan ended Feb. 25. By the time Chief Aaron Sam arrived that night at the meeting hall, the votes already had been counted. One-fifth of the nation’s 964 registered members had weighed in: 111 in favor and 75 opposed.

Kinder Morgan now could claim support from all of the First Nations directly on the pipeline route.

After the vote, Sam was as careful with his words as he’d been before. He and the council would get to work finalizing the deal, he said. “Sometimes, you have to put your personal feelings aside.”

But the results put him in the mind of the recent past, when his people’s stewardship of the land wasn’t even in question, and of a future—not here yet, but drawing nearer—when they can claim that role again.

“In our territory, it was 1808 when Simon Fraser first came down the Fraser (River),” Sam said. “And the area didn’t have a lot of settlers in here until the middle or late 1800s. And back then, it was our land.

“And I think as people become educated and learn and realize that we have a real voice, and that what we decide actually matters, then people are going to say, ‘We have a voice. Our voice is important.’

“And we’re not going to ask people to listen to us, right? They’re going to have to listen to us.”

Excerpt from – 

These Stunning Photos Show the Real Cost of a Pipeline

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More Than One in Three Black Students in the South Attend an Intensely Segregated School

Mother Jones

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the progress made toward dismantling segregated schools in the South, once the most integrated region in the country, seems to be steadily falling apart.

A report released this week by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project and Penn State University’s Center for Education and Civil Rights finds that in 2014, more than one in three black students attended a school in the South that was intensely racially segregated, meaning a school where 90 percent of students were racial minorities—a 56 percent rise from 1980. The report also finds that the number of Latino students enrolled in public schools in the South surpassed black enrollment for the first time ever, making up 27 percent of the student body. That’s significant, as the percentage of Latino students in the South attending an intensely racially segregated school is also on the rise—42 percent in 2014, up from 37 percent in 1980.

The result, the report notes, is that the typical student faces decreasing exposure to a race other than his or her own. The average black public-school student in the South in the 2014-2015 school year went to a school that was 27 percent white, while the average white public-school student attended a school where black students made up 15 percent of those enrolled. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, segregation doesn’t get any better when poverty is taken into account: Black, Latino, and low-income students saw a rapid increase in exposure to poverty in the last decade as compared to their white and Asian peers.

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While the problem is getting much worse in the South, it’s far from confined to the region. Last year, a US Government Accountability Office report concluded that nationally the number of high-poverty public schools—or those where at least 75 percent of students were black or Hispanic and at least 75 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-lunch—more than doubled between 2001 and 2014. The GAO report also found that the country saw a nationwide rise in the percentage of schools separated by race and class, from 9 percent to 16 percent, in the past decade and a half. These stats are further supported by a new report released on Thursday by the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, which finds that black and Latino students in the 2014-2015 school year disproportionately attended high-poverty schools; while 8 percent of white students attended high-poverty schools across the country, nearly half of black and Hispanic students did so.

This is a massive problem as research has shown that students who attend integrated schools score higher on tests and are more likely to enroll in college. Moreover, as the GAO report notes, high-poverty schools have tended to provide fewer resources and opportunities to minority students.

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Erica Frankenberg, co-director of Penn State’s Center for Education and Civil Rights and the co-author of the report, says that as court oversight of school districts has diminished, some have returned to relying on neighborhood schools, an act that could perpetuate segregation if housing around the neighborhood is also divided. Consider a place like Charlotte, North Carolina, where a 1971 Supreme Court decision resulted in the implementation of a mandatory busing program for kids in Mecklenburg County in an attempt to make schools there more racially balanced. Over three decades, the district became a model for integration across the country. That lasted until 2001, when a legal challenge resulted in the program’s end. The district turned to a student-assignment plan that let students attend schools in their neighborhoods, confining them to institutions in areas long shaped by housing segregation.

Making matters worse are recent efforts from communities to break away from larger metropolitan school districts. The break-away communities tend to be whiter and wealthier than the larger district, and when they leave, they take funding gained from property taxes, in turn negatively impacting the students left behind. Most recently, for instance, a federal judge in Alabama allowed members of the city of Gardendale to establish its own school district, beginning with two elementary schools, despite concluding that race motivated the community’s actions. A forthcoming report by the non-profit EdBuild finds that of the 45 successful attempts to split from larger school districts since 2000, 17 occurred in the South.

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What sticks out most to Frankenberg, however, is the rapid growth of charter schools in the South. She noted that growth of enrollment in charters in the region outpaced that of the rest of the country. The number of charter schools in the region has actually quadrupled to more than 700,000 in the past decade, enrolling 4.4 percent of all students in the South in 2014. While black and Latino students make up most of the students enrolled in charters in the region, the percentage of charters’ white students has fallen over the past decade. Mirroring what’s happening in traditional public schools, black and Latino students in charters are, on average, less exposed to white peers. The average black student in a charter school, for instance, attends a school with 16 percent white student enrollment.

That lack of exposure, coupled with the pace of charter-enrollment growth, Frankenberg says, has helped drive the overall pattern of segregation in the region. In the 2007-2008 school year, just Florida and Louisiana had more than 3 percent of students enrolled in charters in the region. Now, they are joined by North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, and South Carolina. And though private school enrollment in the South and nationally has been declining since 2001, 1.2 million kids in 2011, the most recent year of available data, were still enrolled in private schools in the South—70 percent of whom were white.

So, as the Trump administration doubles down on an investment in promoting school choice nationally—at the expense of after-school programs, subsidized loans, and other deep proposed cuts—the report recommends state officials not let communities break away from school districts and suggests policymakers ensure school-choice programs are implemented in such ways that encourage integration. Unfettered choice without careful design could lead to further segregation, just like it did in the South decades ago and, more recently, in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ home state of Michigan.

“Our lost progress on segregation for southern black students, and our failure to ever confront segregation for Southern Latino students, has to be a wakeup call for the region’s leaders,” Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and a co-author of the report, said in a statement.

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More Than One in Three Black Students in the South Attend an Intensely Segregated School

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Black Lives Matter is Bailing Out Women for Mother’s Day

Mother Jones

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Black Lives Matter has a big gift for some moms this Mother’s Day—their freedom. Groups affiliated with the police and criminal justice reform movement have been bailing black women out of jail ahead of the holiday on Sunday. The nationwide effort, dubbed National Black Mamas Bail Out Day, seeks to reunite the women with their families and raise awareness of the disparate impact of incarceration and the bail system on black women.

So far, more than 50 women around the country have been bailed out by the Mother’s Day effort. Organizing groups in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, Oakland, and 13 other cities, have been raising money through an online fundraising campaign. So far, they have brought in nearly $500,000 for the campaign, with $25,000 set aside for use in each city. The average bail paid off has varied widely; organizers in Atlanta bailed out 19 women with their pot of money, whereas 4 women have been bailed out in Oakland.

Activists have also raised money individually as well. Members of the Atlanta chapter of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), an LGBT-focused racial justice group, canvassed neighborhoods and collected small donations in a hat, according to Mary Hooks, an organizer with the chapter who came up with the idea for the nationwide initiative. “Black people have a tradition of using our collective resources to buy each other’s freedom,” she says, referring to the slavery-era practice of free black people saving money to purchase the freedom of their enslaved family members and friends. “We have an opportunity to do that when we understand how the cash bail system works. The sooner we can get folks out, the ability for them to mitigate their cases increases and the less collateral damage they are likely to incur.”

The organizers have drawn on their existing relationships with other criminal justice organizations to identify women to bail out of jail. In Oakland, the public defender’s office sent organizers names of women in jail, says Gina Clayton, an organizer with Essie Justice Group. Essie Justice organizers also sat in on arraignment hearings to identify women who would need to be bailed out. One of the people bailed out in Oakland was a mother of two who was jailed on a $10,000 bail about a week earlier, Clayton says. When organizers visited the woman to tell her they were paying her bail, she cried. Organizers with the Oakland office of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, an immigrants’ rights group that focuses on black migrants, bailed out a Haitian woman who had been held in a detention facility in Southern California. The woman had fled domestic abuse in her home country, according to Devonte Jackson, an organizer with the group. BAJI bought the woman a bus ticket to Florida so she could visit her family for Mother’s Day.

The term “mama,” as it’s used by the National Black Mamas Bail Out Day campaign, is broadly defined to include not just women with biological children, but all women—including trans women—who are linchpins for their families and neighborhoods. “It’s about knowing and naming that black women play such a critical role in our communities,” Hooks says.

The number of women behind bars in the United States has increased 700 percent since 1980, according to the Sentencing Project. More than 100,000 women are currently in jail. Many have not been convicted of anything but are unable to make bail, and a disproportionate number of them are black. Eighty percent of incarcerated women are mothers, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

Nationally, the median bail set for a felony charge is $10,000, almost a year’s income for the average person unable to meet bail, according to the Sentencing Policy Initiative. Nearly 90 percent of inmates awaiting trial can’t afford bail; The average bail amount in felony cases has nearly tripled since 1990.

Bail reform is a key part of the national policy platform released last summer by the Movement for Black Lives, a broad coalition of groups affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement. Many of the groups bailing out women this week are also working on efforts to pass local and state legislation that would abolish cash bail in their jurisdictions. Earlier this year, New Orleans and New Jersey eliminated cash bail requirements for a range of low level offenses.

This weekend, organizers in some cities are holding events to welcome newly freed women back home. In Atlanta, organizers are hosting a picnic for the women and their families on Mother’s Day. Volunteers will help connect the women with resources for housing, employment, and legal assistance, Hooks says. The groups are also raising money for a possible bail-out effort to commemorate Father’s Day on June 18.

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Black Lives Matter is Bailing Out Women for Mother’s Day

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Will Forcing High School Kids to Make a Post-Graduation Plan Actually Help Them?

Mother Jones

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel got a lot of attention two weeks ago when he announced a new graduation requirement for high school seniors: They would have to have a plan. Starting with the class of 2020, Chicago Public School students will be required to show proof of their next step after graduation—such as a college acceptance letter or a job offer. It may seem like a good motivational tool, but in a city where access to resources depends on your neighborhood, and where budget cuts have strained existing programs, some observers consider the mayor’s proposal “deeply insulting.”

So says Stacy Davis Gates, the political and legislative director for the Chicago Teacher’s Union, who adds, “It spits in the face of everything we know about CPS right now.”

Emanuel announced the proposal (“Learn. Plan. Succeed: A Degree For Life”) in early April. Students will have to show a school counselor that they have a post-secondary plan. It needn’t be college or a job: A kid also can enlist in the military or find an apprenticeship or a “gap-year” program, among other options. There are exceptions for students facing special circumstances, including incarceration. Emanuel wants to “make 14th grade universal,” as he told CBS. Graduates of the school system, meanwhile, are automatically eligible to attend the City Colleges of Chicago.

The mayor first explored the idea in conversations with Arne Duncan, who served as Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama, and who once ran the Chicago schools. The Chicago Board of Education is expected to greenlight “Learn. Plan. Succeed” at its next meeting.

On its face, the program reflects the goals of teachers and principals: to prepare kids for a bright future. Janice Jackson, the chief education officer for the Chicago schools, compares Emanuel’s proposal to others that faced opposition at first, such as mandatory ACT testing and the requirement that kids complete a program of community service in order to graduate.

According to internal reports from local high schools, about 60 percent of students already graduate with a plan. Emanuel is intent on ensuring that half of all public school students end up with a college or career credential (from internships, work experience, etc.) by 2019—up from around 40 percent today. Under his new proposal, the school district will spend $1 million to make sure each school has at least one counselor well trained in college advising. Additional specialists will be hired to work externally with colleges and employers, Jackson says.

Emanuel’s critics, however, doubt that $1 million is enough. They also express frustration that the city isn’t doing more to tackle systemic problems, including: slashed budgets, school closures, and overcrowded classrooms—city schools may even end classes three weeks early this year due to a lack of funding. The Rev. Jesse Jackson joined the dissenters this week, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times that “a majority of young black high school graduates are looking for work and can’t find it. The mayor’s plan does nothing to address this grim reality.”

The same morning Emanuel introduced “Learn. Plan. Succeed,” he also announced that the city may close multiple schools on the South Side and build one new high school there at a cost of $75 million. (A school district spokeswoman said on Thursday that no final decisions have been made.) Gates, the teachers’ union rep, claims this is in line with Emanuel’s “lead by press release” style: using a flashy proposal to steer the media away from the district’s persistent troubles.

According to research from the Urban League, more than half of Chicago public school students are in majority-black, majority-poor schools. The district has a 37 percent achievement gap in grade-level proficiency between its white and black students.

The district’s Janice Jackson says the funds generated for the new program should allow all schools to meet the new requirement by 2020. She acknowledges the resource disparities between richer and poorer schools, but “now that it’s a requirement, I think that that 40 percent of kids who don’t have a post-secondary plan will have one, and they’ll benefit as a result.”

Gates begs to differ. She says the counselor-to-student ratio varies widely across the city, and that 63 percent of high schools have counselors handling more kids than recommended. “As a district, we would fail miserably in meeting this harebrained idea,” she told me. “There are not enough resources to support something like this. Remember, getting a diploma is not a senior year activity. Getting a diploma and getting ‘college ready’ is something that starts in early childhood.”

Chicago’s budget woes largely come from the top. The district had to cut $46 million from its budget earlier this year, meaning less money for textbooks, afterschool programs, and field trips. Emanuel’s handling of the schools has been repeatedly criticized. Teachers called a 2012 strike to seek better benefits, proper job evaluations, and additional training. In 2013, the mayor decided to close 50 schools, mostly in black and Latino communities.

Sheryl Bond, who works as a counselor at George Washington High School, says she supports the goals of the the new policy, but considering that counselors are already trying to help kids plan their futures, and since it’s easy enough to put a “plan” on paper, she’s skeptical whether the “plan” requirement will change anything. “Is this going to be a compliance issue,” she asks, “or are we going to make sure that kids have a real plan?”

Kristy Brooks, a Chicago elementary school counselor, also doesn’t see how giving kids another hoop to jump through will help. “The only thing standing in the way of our kids having a bright future is that nobody’s forcing them to have some sort of plan? I don’t think so,” Brooks says. “If a kid makes it far enough to graduate high school, they’re doing it for a reason.”

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Will Forcing High School Kids to Make a Post-Graduation Plan Actually Help Them?

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Jeff Chang’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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We recently asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to suggest the books that bring them solace or understanding in this age of political rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here’s what the acclaimed hip-hop writer and cultural critic Jeff Chang brought to the table.

Latest book: We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation
Also known for: Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
Recommended Reading: Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit’s essential collection of essays, written at the darkest moment of our despair amid the Iraq War, was republished last year when it seemed we needed it most—again. Solnit is our angel of hope, always pointing us through the haze of fear and confusion toward faith and trust in our own collective possibility. Every time I read her I’m reminded that “the unimaginable is ordinary.” Then there’s The Next American Revolution, by Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige. Steve Bannon and the racist right hope to pull the nation into a final, inexorable “clash of the civilizations”—between white Christian Americans and the rest of the world. Working from within the ruins of Detroit, Boggs reframes revolution as not a bloody, destructive process but a set of soulful, creative acts that grow community and consciousness. Her vision of hope, freedom, and sustainability guides us now as we bring together justice movements and build the resistance.
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So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Tracy K. Smith. (New posts daily.)

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Jeff Chang’s Resistance Reading

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