First nations band together - to say no to Enbridge pipeline

First nations from British Columbia and Alberta and environmentalists came out in force Tuesday to voice their opposition to Enbridge’s proposed 1,170-kilometre pipeline, which would carry crude from the oilsands in Alberta to a port in Kitimat, where it would be transferred to tankers.

The day chosen was significant, the 21st anniversary of the Exxon Valdez running aground in Alaska, spilling 40 million litres of crude oil into Prince William Sound and causing widespread damage.

The risk of an oil tanker running aground as it travels “through the pristine waters within our traditional territories,” is too great, said Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, an alliance of native bands along British Columbia’s north and central coast, including the Haida.

“If we had a tanker accident on the coast of British Columbia it would literally wipe [out] all of our cultures, all of our salmon, all of our groundfish,” Sterritt said. “We cannot let that happen.”

A five-year study released earlier this week by Raincoast Conservation Foundation concluded that whales, wolves, bears and birds would be devastated by an oil spill in the area.

The Coastal First Nations met with Enbridge almost a year ago to tell them they were opposed to the project.

“At that time they told us — and they said this at their [annual general meeting] as well — that if all of the communities within this geographic region didn’t support the pipeline they would stop the project,” Sterritt said.

So the group met with the communities in the area to determine who supported the project and who didn’t. What they found was that all of the communities were opposed to the pipeline.

From Vancouver Island up to Haida Gwaii, through the Interior to the territories of the Gitanyow and the Carrier Sekani and down again to Lillooet, “all those nations and first nations have expressed their opposition to the Enbridge project,” Sterritt said.

“We all believe the Enbridge gateway pipeline project is a threat to the very existence of our culture and our way of life,” he said.

The announcement accompanied a full-page advertisement in a national newspaper listing those opposed to the pipeline, including first nations, environmental organizations, businesses and individuals including David Suzuki and Margaret Atwood.

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs, which represents about 40 per cent of aboriginals throughout the province, passed its own resolution on Tuesday unanimously opposing the project. A representative from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta spoke out against the project, and other Alberta natives attended to show their support. So too did environmentalist Vicky Husband, who has received both the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada.

Husband called the coming together of so many groups a historic moment for Canada.

“Canada’s conservation community is unanimous in its opposition to the pipeline and to any tanker traffic on our coast,” Husband said.

“And why are we here to shift dirty tarsands oil to China or to India?” she asked. “So we can expand more tarsands, so we can export more climate change and destroy more of our Earth? We have to change our course now.”

The group is hoping by banding together they will persuade the provincial government to stop the project.

But while Premier Gordon Campbell told reporters in Victoria that the project would be reviewed, he noted the number of jobs that would be created if the project went ahead. According to its website, Enbridge estimates that 4,000 people would be needed to build the pipeline.

“There’s literally hundreds and hundreds of jobs that will be available to first nations people across the northern part of our province,” Campbell said. “I think our job is to try and find ways we can to get first nations people engaged with paycheques, building the kind of economic future that they need in a way that meets all of our environmental standards, which are the most rigorous anywhere in the world.”

Enbridge has not yet submitted an application for environmental approval of the pipeline, though it said it expected to do so in the coming weeks. It then hopes to start construction in 2012 and have the project complete by 2015 or 2016.

Enbridge refused an interview “this close to the filing” of its application. But it did say in an e-mail that it “welcomes and encourages public input” on the project.

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