VICTORIA - First Nations on Vancouver Island have added their voices to the clamour of protests over the Trans Mountain pipeline, telling the National Energy Board that the proposed expansion project threatens their fishing, hunting and cultural sites.
Tsartlip First Nation elder Simon Smith told an NEB hearing in Victoria that the risk of a spill from tankers loaded with pipeline oil is too great for his people to accept.
He said increased oil tanker traffic along Vancouver Island's coast will produce increased waves that will quickly erode cultural sites, especially ancient First Nations burial grounds.
Smith made the comments as more protesters were arrested on Burnaby Mountain in Metro Vancouver for defying a court injunction that prohibits demonstrators from interfering with Kinder Morgan crews doing survey work in advance of a NEB decision on the expansion project.
At least 78 protesters have been arrested since last Thursday, including a 74-year-old woman who was briefly taken into custody on Monday and released, RCMP said.
Smith, 75, who previously served as a chief and councillor for his First Nation, said he's opposed to more tanker traffic because of the likelihood that more ships will wash their sacred midden sites and burial grounds "down to the salt chuck."
"Some people don't care, but we do. We have a feeling for our ancestors," he told the hearing.
The NEB is in Victoria until Friday gathering oral statements from aboriginals as it considers whether to recommend approving the pipeline project.
Kinder Morgan is proposing an expansion of its current 1,150-kilometre Trans Mountain pipeline between Alberta and the B.C. coast.
If approved, the expanded pipeline's capacity would increase from 300,000 barrels to 890,000 barrels of crude per day.
Smith, in further comments following his evidence before the NEB, said he and the Tsartlip, who live on the Saanich Peninsula just south of Victoria, are behind the hundreds of people who are protesting at the survey site.
"We support them," said Smith. "We're not there to support them physically, but we support them just like they support us. We just tell them we're behind you. Whatever happens, we're behind you."
The pipeline will not be located on Vancouver Island, but tanker traffic near First Nations territories and traditional hunting, fishing and cultural sites will increase.
Smith suggested Island First Nations are prepared to mount similar protests on Vancouver Island if the project is approved.
"If it comes down to it, we're ready to do it," said Smith. "We're ready to show we mean what we say."
He said Kinder Morgan officials approached the Tsartlip at least a year ago about the proposed pipeline, but band leadership told them they were not interested in any negotiations.
Smith said he was compelled to provide evidence to the NEB to protect future generations.
"My time is just about over," said Smith, who has 16 great grandchildren and 32 great-great grandchildren. "What I'm doing is looking after future generations."
An official with Trans Mountain said the company has consulted widely with First Nations about the proposed project, but referred any other request for information to its website.