Charlene Aleck of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation presses Liberty to respond to letter, cut ties with the pipeline

This article by Charlene Aleck originally appeared in truthout.

I come from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN) in what is now known as the greater Vancouver area in western Canada. In our language, “Tsleil-Waututh” means “People of the Inlet,” referring to Burrard Inlet. Our creation stories teach us that the inlet is our mother, who provided our people with nourishment, sustenance and spirituality. Indeed, studies find that 90 percent of our ancestors’ protein came from the inlet. It isn’t just our backyard; it is our kitchen, breadbasket, teacher and mother.

But the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) pipeline threatens our vision for the future. TMX terminates in Burrard Inlet — only two kilometers from our community. The transportation of nearly 1 million barrels of diluted bitumen per day, and the resulting seven-fold increase of tanker traffic through our inlet, represents an unacceptable risk to our water and to our people. Without the inlet, who are Tsleil-Waututh?

The often-forgotten enablers of this environmental and human rights catastrophe are insurance companies like Liberty Mutual. Without insurance, pipelines — and other fossil fuel projects — can’t be built or operate. TMX couldn’t be built, and existing operations would have to halt.

After a unanimous community vote to oppose TMX, TWN’s government created the Sacred Trust Initiative to lead our opposition in the courtroom, in boardrooms, on the streets, and on the land and water. Over the last six years, TWN has met with TMX’s investors, credit ratings agencies and insurers asking them to stand with Indigenous peoples and protect the planet. ZurichMunich Re and Talanx dropped the policy, and we applaud their leadership.

However, Liberty Mutual, Chubb, Lloyd’s and W.R. Berkley refused to respond to us and are likely still insuring this risky and destructive project. Liberty Mutual is one of the biggest insurers of fossil fuels around the world — and has particularly deep ties to tar sands companies and projects like Trans Mountain.

First Nations youth have been on the forefront of this struggle. They have led sign-on letters and organized protests against Trans Mountain’s insurers. They have made it clear that the land — not the extractive industry — is their future.

TWN conducted an independent assessment of TMX, grounded in our own unextinguished Indigenous laws and cutting-edge science and oil spill modeling. The conclusion was clear: Oil spills are inevitable, cannot be completely cleaned up, and will cause catastrophic and long-term damage to the inlet, and all living beings who rely on it, including the Tsleil-Waututh people. Trans Mountain will destroy the future our youth are fighting for.

For this reason, we are withholding our free, prior and informed consent for the project. In the words of my grandfather Chief Dan George, “It is our responsibility to be the voice of those who do not have one, like the orca and the salmon.”

For many years, we have discussed our unwavering opposition to the project with the biggest firms on Wall Street, and at Kinder Morgan’s Annual Meeting of Shareholders. Kinder Morgan wisely abandoned the project when the company understood that it was at great risk of becoming a stranded asset. Unfortunately, the Canadian government bailed out TMX by buying the pipeline, and Liberty Mutual and others continue to insure it.

Insurance companies like Liberty Mutual enable pipelines, coal mines and fossil fuel projects — not just in Canada, but globally. While 19 insurance companies — mostly in Europe — have ended or limited insurance for the coal industry, and eight have done so for tar sands, few U.S. insurance companies have taken action.

The insurance industry cannot afford to be climate deniers. The sector has already lost billions of dollars from underestimating the cost of climate-related catastrophes such as wildfires, floods and mega-storms.

Today, we are calling on Liberty Mutual and others to choose Indigenous rights, the environment, and our global climate over corporate greed. The insurer has an opportunity to support a better future for our children and all the world’s children.

Over 150 years of colonization and industrial pollution severely damaged the inlet we call home, but it is our sacred obligation to protect, steward and restore it. The Tsleil-Waututh Nation has been working for years to restore the inlet so we can once again enjoy the abundance of this land, as my mother’s generation did and the generations before that. We recently had our first clam harvest since 1972. Last year, herring eggs were spotted for the first time in a century. We are building a sustainable economy with our land developments, commercial fisheries and eco-tourism businesses. Our daycare center is powered by solar power and we are installing more solar capacity for our new, energy-efficient administrative building.

This is the future we want. This is why the Tsleil-Waututh — and many other First Nations — have rejected financial offers, challenged the approvals in court and met with everyone we could to voice our concerns.

Now it is up to Liberty Mutual and insurance companies to make their choice. As a mother and grandmother, this land and the sea is the legacy for all of our children, and their children, and we will never stop fighting to protect it.

hay čxʷ q̓ə siʔem̓ (Thank you, respected people).