Natives vow ‘whatever it takes’ to stop projects
Major resource projects in British Columbia suffered a double blow Tuesday as one native band used the courts to block a proposed coal mine, while other bands formed a broad coalition to oppose a multibillion-dollar pipeline and the oil-tanker traffic it would generate.
The developments signalled a change in the attitude of native leaders who say they are prepared to do “whatever it takes” to stop projects they feel threaten their communities.
Gerald Amos, director of the Coastal First Nations, said natives have always understood the importance of protecting the environment, but with so many big resource projects proposed in B.C., it’s time to take a harder stand.
“Perhaps we haven’t been strong enough … from here on out… we are going to be firm,” said Mr. Amos, who lives in Kitimat, near the terminus of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline.
Mr. Amos said legal challenges and political pressure will be used to stop the pipeline, but “if it goes ahead and tankers come through our waters, we are preparing to put boats right across the channel and stop them … Whatever it takes. Our position right now is that this project is not going to happen.”
A coalition of nine coastal bands issued a declaration which states that “oil tankers carrying crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands will not be allowed to transit our lands and waters.”
About 28 bands, an equal number of environmental groups, 45 businesses and 35 prominent individuals also showed support by signing a full page ad, which ran in The Globe and Mail yesterday, opposing the Enbridge project.
Vicky Husband, a leading conservationist in B.C., said environmental groups from around the world are prepared to support the native protest.
Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations, said it is an unprecedented show of united strength. “We all believe the Enbridge Gateway project is a threat to our way of culture and our way of life,” he said.
In Victoria, Premier Gordon Campbell said the project will not go ahead if it is harmful to the environment – but he stressed the jobs and other benefits it could bring to people in the north.
“I think we should always look for ways to put people back to work in British Columbia. Certainly across the north, many, many people have said their major concern … is their jobs and investment in the future of their families. And the second thing we have always been clear about is that economic development projects in this province always take place within the context of a full, thorough, rigid, scientifically sound environmental review,” Mr. Campbell said.
The proposed pipeline, which would carry 525,000 barrels of petroleum a day from Alberta to the B.C. coast, is subject to hearings by the National Energy Board.
A company official could not be reached for immediate comment, but Enbridge has said the future of the pipeline depends on support from northern communities.
Grand Chief Edward John, an executive member of the First Nations Summit, said a number of court rulings in recent years have underscored the legal requirement for native bands to be consulted before projects go ahead.
The Supreme Court of B.C. emphasized just that point in a ruling this week, in which the B.C. government was chastised for failing to have meaningful consultation with the West Moberly band, near Fort St. John, in central B.C.
The West Moberly band opposed a First Coal Corporation mine on the grounds it would destroy the Burnt Pine caribou herd, and impair a traditional right to hunt.
B.C. government officials approved the sample extraction of 50,000 tons of coal after meeting with the band, but without taking any steps to protect the endangered herd.
Justice Paul Williamson said First Coal had met its obligations to consult with the band, but “the Crown’s failure to put in place an active plan for the protection and rehabilitation of the Burnt Pine herd is a failure to accommodate reasonably.”
The court ruled mining work being undertaken by First Coal must be halted until the province has met its obligation to consult with the band and come up with a plan to protect the endangered herd of caribou.
“I’m elated,” said West Moberly Chief Roland Willson. “Out intent wasn’t to stop the project, it was to protect the caribou. But the outcome is the mine is stopped because that’s an incompatible use of the land.”