Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board composed of Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS EDITORIAL: National Energy Board should let the aboriginal elders speak freely without constraints
The National Energy Board has invited aboriginal elders — knowledge-keepers — to give oral evidence of how Enbridge’s proposed pipeline through southwest Manitoba will affect First Nations on the route. But they’ve been told not to stray into the scientific or technical realm in doing that. The elders, understandably, are more than a bit miffed. In fact, they’ve said thanks, but no thanks. Their view, as explained to the Free Press editorial board Monday, is that the NEB’s conditions on their presentation illustrate how badly out of step the Crown agency is on oral traditional evidence. That evidence — the world view, experience, wisdom and expertise gained from millennia of living on and with the land — is as scientific as it is spiritual. The scientific and spiritual are indivisible. Don’t ask us to fit holistic wisdom passed down over thousands of years into your regulatory square hole, they say. Elder Dave Courchene says he and six other knowledge-keepers advising the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in its submission to the NEB cannot give their oral evidence under the board’s conditions. Hearings are to start Nov. 30. The constraint on science is among a number of conditions under which the elders were permitted to appear at the hearing into Enbridge’s Line 3. The new line, from Hardisty, Alta., to Superior, Wis., will run alongside an existing line that is to be decommissioned, but left in the ground. It will carry almost twice the load of the current line and include light and heavy crude oil. The NEB has said the knowledge-keepers’ oral traditional evidence should explain how the pipeline will affect First Nations’ rights and interests. But the elders cannot give opinions about the project — whether it should go ahead and, if so, on what conditions, or pose any questions Enbridge would have to answer. That, and scientific evidence, the NEB says, can be submitted in written documentation or in concluding arguments. In other words, the AMC and the elders are being asked to chop up their evidence into compartments the NEB has set up to make the review and decision-making process manageable and expeditious. The NEB has 15 months, after approving the application, to get its recommendations to the federal cabinet — by May 4. Some Manitobans may never have heard of this NEB review. Amid all the pipeline controversies Canadians have been hearing about, Enbridge’s Line 3 has been a sleeper. Yet, this $7.5-billion project to replace a line sunk in the 1960s is bigger, in dollar terms, than Northern Gateway and is about the equivalent of Keystone XL. The AMC has numerous other problems with the way the hearings are proceeding. Enbridge, for example, does not have to present its project in public hearings, and its evidence cannot be publicly cross-examined. It’s a mind-bend for Manitobans used to regulatory bodies conducting comprehensive public hearings where applicants such as Manitoba Hydro are openly challenged on proposed projects. The NEB designs its hearings as it sees fit, but its legislation is written to expedite the process, making it vulnerable to accusations it is set up to cater to industry and government, rather than the public. In the NEB’s defence, it has made clear it wants and needs the oral traditional evidence from the elders who keep that knowledge. But its intransigence, to date, on what it will hear shows it needs to do a better job at listening.
The knowledge-holders are saying they cannot carve up their wisdom into evidence “compartments.” In the interests of meaningful consultation, the NEB should bend and allow them to speak freely and unconstrained.