I just returned from a press conference where 61 First Nations announced a tribal declaration:

“We will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories and watersheds, or ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon”. 

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this is a big deal.

 

Enbridge’s proposed pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest will cross the territories and headwaters of many British Columbian First Nations who have never signed treaties with Canada and have unceded Rights and Title over their lands.  So what they decide for their territories matters legally, politically and in communities. 

These are the First Nations of the Fraser Basin, one of the most significant and most endangered salmon-bearing watersheds in British Columbia.  Their livelihoods and cultures are connected to the health and abundance of this watershed.  Chief Larry Nooski of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation put it best, “The Enbridge pipeline would risk an oil spill into our rivers and lands that would destroy our food supply, our livelihoods and our cultures.”

The 1,172km twin pipeline proposal would carry 700,000 barrels of dirty oil and toxic hydrocarbons from Alberta’s tar sands near Edmonton to Kitimaat, in northern B.C.  The oil would then be loaded onto oil supertankers that have never been seen in the treacherous coastal waters of northern B.C., bound largely for Asian markets.

This is the second declaration this year by First Nations that opposes Enbridge’s proposed project and tar sands oil being transported across British Columbia.  Coastal First Nations issued a declaration in March banning tar sands oil and Enbridge from their lands and water, most importantly the coastal waters that Enbridge needs to ship the dirty bitumen in supertankers larger than the Exxon Valdez that spilled 21 years ago, devastating the Alaskan coast.

Just yesterday the media reported Enbridge is now offering up a 10% equity stake in the project to First Nations to sweeten the deal and try to buy their support.  Yet just one day after they made the offer, First Nations went to deliver the declaration to Enbridge personally at their headquarters only to discover that Enbridge had locked them out, refusing to answer their door and talk.  What First Nations did instead is stand outside the office and speak to the company.  Gerald Amos of the Haisla First Nation said, “If Patrick Daniel (Enbridge CEO) is listening, the answer is still no.”

First Nations aren’t standing alone in their opposition to Enbridge tar sands oil in British Columbia.  They are backed by 80% of British Columbians who support banning oil tankers on the coast.  They are supported by the Union of BC Municipalities, the federal Liberal Party, the Federal NDP, municipal politicians, local communities, business owners, fishermen, and environmental organizations. 

NDP MP Nathan Cullen has even introduced a motion on banning oil tanker traffic on B.C.’s north coast, which will hit the House of Commons next week for debate and voting. 

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?  It should.  These kind of alliances don’t happen every day. 

So why hasn’t Enbridge and the Canadian Government listened?  Why are they both wasting time and money by still going through the motions of a federal assessment, the Joint Review Panel, when this project simply isn’t in the public interest?

The only logical conclusion is that the forces that want this project to move forward, namely the oil sector and the tar sands producers, somehow have louder voices, closer ties and more influence over the Canadian government than everyone else together.

Ottawa and Enbridge need to hear loud and clear that they must respect First Nations’ tribal law.  We can each raise the volume on this by adding our voice today.

By legally banning oil tankers from our north coast we can stop Enbridge dead in its tracks and all the other pipelines standing behind it with pipeline proposals in their hands.  It is the responsibility of the Canadian Government, led by Stephen Harper, to protect our natural heritage and represent the public interest, not corporate interest.

“Oil spills from the Enridge pipelines would be inevitable.  That risk to our livelihoods is unacceptable.  Enbridge has spills all over North America, including the big Michigan spill earlier this year.  We refuse to be next.” – Chief Jackie Thomas, Saik’uz First Nation

Stephanie Goodwin is Greenpeace’s British Columbia Director and lives in Vancouver.