TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline would transport approximately one million barrels of oil across Canada every day, traversing the territories of 180 different Indigenous communities. The National Energy Board (NEB), which regulates Canada’s pipelines, is mandated by the Canadian government to consult affected Indigenous communities in “oral tradition hearings.” However, intervenors are not allowed to discuss “technical and scientific information,” as this is excluded from the NEB’s patronizing definition of oral tradition.
In limiting what Indigenous intervenors can present as oral tradition evidence, the NEB reinforces a hierarchy that subordinates Indigenous oral traditions to Western conceptions of science, and shows that it does not respect Indigenous knowledge and voices.
Indigenous leaders have long denounced the NEB as biased and its process as illegitimate. At the end of September, Kanienke’há:ka protesters interrupted one of the NEB’s public consultations in Montreal, and in British Columbia the Tsleil-Waututh Nation recently asked the Federal Court of Appeal to stop the NEB’s review of the Trans Mountain pipeline, arguing that the federal government must consult with the nation directly before starting the process. The NEB’s bias in favour of private industry runs deep: at least half of its board members have previously been employed by the energy sector. The makeup of the board speaks to whose ‘expertise’ the government truly values in the regulatory process. As such, many Indigenous leaders have called on the government to conduct nation-to-nation consultations instead of deflecting this responsibility to a regulatory body.
Due to the restrictions imposed on Indigenous presenters, the framerwork of the NEB’s oral tradition hearings perpetuates a colonial distinction between ‘traditional’ and ‘scientific’ knowledge. As Serge Simon, the Grand Chief of the Kanesatake Mohawk Council, told the Montreal Gazette, “You can’t divorce traditional testimony and our traditional knowledge of the land from science.” In Western society, science is valued as the most accurate form of knowledge. Thus, in defining Indigenous oral traditions as unscientific, the NEB explicitly undermines the validity of such knowledge. As they stand, the hearings cannot be truly informative. Rather, they will only serve to tokenize Indigenous peoples so that, on paper, the NEB and TransCanada can declare that Indigenous perspectives were taken into account.
Nation-to-nation consultations are the only way to make sure that Indigenous sovereignty is respected in the potential implementation of the Energy East project, and the government chose not to conduct them. But, if the NEB hearings are to go forward, the very least the NEB could do is give intervenors basic respect by allowing them to present any and all information in the manner they deem to be important and relevant. Anything less is an empty, tokenizing charade.
—The McGill Daily editorial board