Community rally a full-court press against proposed pipeline
By Mike Hager and Gordon Hoekstra, The Vancouver Sun, February 06, 2012
Protest organized by Gitga'at First Nation includes participants in town for All Native Basketball Tournament
Nearly 1,000 people marched in Prince Rupert on the weekend to protest against Enbridge's proposed $5.5-billion Northern Gateway oil pipeline.
The protest was hosted by the Gitga'at First Nation, which is based at the end of Douglas Channel and would see much of the proposed tanker traffic.
The event began with beating drums and singing around 10: 30 a.m. Saturday in Pacific Mariners Memorial Park and ended at the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre, where speakers, dancers and singers continued into the evening.
Bob Hill, treaty coordinator and negotiator for the Gitga'at and an MC at the rally, said the event was planned in the lead-up to the National Energy Board hearings slated to visit the area later this month.
"We've invited all the neighbouring nations and we've received 100-per-cent support," Hill said as he walked from the stage at the rally.
He noted it was Gitga'at residents of Hartley Bay who res-cued passengers off the B.C. ferry Queen of the North when it sank in 2006.
"And it's an example of what a small community is faced with in regards to tanker traffic - and the Queen of the North is minute compared to the size of the tankers they're talking about."
Hill said the view of the Gitga'at is, "No matter how careful we are in improving technology, and the safety concerns we have, there's always that chance that human error will enter the equation and do the damage to the environment."
Enbridge officials said Sun-day the company would not comment on the Prince Rupert protest.
A federal review panel is meeting in communities affected by the proposed pipe-line, and more than 4,300 speakers have signed up for the process, which could last into next year. The panel meets in Prince Rupert beginning Feb. 16 for a week.
Some of Saturday's large crowd were people in town for the 53rd annual All Native Basketball Tournament, which began Sunday. Aboriginal men and women from all over the province will compete in four different divisions on 52 teams.
Clayton Thomas-Muller, an aboriginal environmental activist who travelled from Ottawa for the rally, said: "I came here to help out with the program and just to support as a 'foreign radical.'" He added with a chuckle, "From an indigenous perspective, I'm Cree coming into Gitga'at territory."
Prince Rupert Mayor Jack Mussallem, city councillors and residents from that city, first nations from communities around B.C. and even singer Bif Naked took part in the march and ensuing rally.
Opponents argue the potential for a catastrophic oil spill is too great a risk for the controversial project, while supporters say the pipeline could boost the country's gross domestic product by as much as $270 billion.
Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway said Sunday more than 20 aboriginal communities in B.C. and Alberta have signed on to take an ownership stake in the pipeline.
No B.C. first nations have said publicly they support the project.
At one point, some leaders of the Gitxsan First Nation in northwest B.C. said they had signed a partnership deal, but it later fell apart in the face of community opposition.
"We expect that in the coming months some [first nations] will wish to make their involvement public," said Stanway in an email.
He said the opportunity to partner with Enbridge in the ownership of Northern Gate-way remains open until the end of May.