by Chief Larry Nooski, Chief Jackie Thomas and Chief Art Adolph
photo by Neil Louie www.nplphotography.com
The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline is dead in the water: the waters of the Fraser River. Enbridge’s CEO, Pat Daniel, has been telling business groups that his pipeline has the support of “many” First Nations. We’ve got news for him. First Nations from the headwaters of the Fraser in the north all the way to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean are refusing to allow the Enbridge Pipeline through our shared watershed. On December 2, a historic alliance of over 60 of our Indigenous Nations in the Fraser River watershed declared, with one voice, that according to our ancestral laws:
“We will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon.”
By using our laws to ban the transportation of crude oil through our territories, we join our sisters and brothers of the Coastal First Nations, who banned crude oil pipelines and tankers from their territories just last March.
Far from Enbridge gaining support, it is the Indigenous Nations opposition to the pipeline that is growing. Enbridge talks about its protocol agreements with 30 First Nations as evidence of support for the project. In fact, Enbridge’s public documents show that these agreements simply “establish the ground rules and points of contact for discussion on all aspects of the Northern Gateway project that might affect or involve First Nations and Métis communities.” These agreements merely provide some funding so cash-strapped bands can review the thousands of pages of Enbridge’s application, and they expire. They do not indicate support for the project.
No Indigenous Nation in BC or Alberta has expressed support for these crude oil pipelines and tankers. This is with good reason: Oil spills are inevitable. Enbridge says it had 89 pipeline spills last year and this year it had devastating spills in Michigan and Illinois. Pipelines spill oil all the time. We can’t trust Enbridge’s claims to keep our waters safe.
We can’t tolerate an oil spill into our rivers and territories. A clean and healthy Fraser River system is the lifeblood of our peoples. We rely on the fish, the water and our plants and animals for our livelihoods and our survival. An oil spill would kill our fish, take the food off our tables and ruin individuals’ and families’ lives. We saw in the Gulf of Mexico this year how oil spills devastate communities. These pipelines and tankers put everyone in BC at risk.
In light of these unavoidable risks to our people’s futures, we reject Pat Daniel’s delusional suggestion that First Nations will be “pretty happy” (Calgary Herald, Dec 1, 2010) with the offer of an equity share in their project. We say to Enbridge: Our lands and waters are not for sale, not at any price. We want no part of your project and your offers of equity are worthless to us when compared to the importance of keeping our lands and waters free of crude oil spills. Instead, spend your money to fix communities already hurt by Enbridge oil spills.
Our nations are unified in our stance and we’re not alone. The Union of BC Municipalities overwhelmingly adopted a motion opposing tankers on the north coast of BC. On December 7, a majority of Canada’s MPs from every part of the country voted for an NDP motion calling for a legislative ban on oil tankers on the Pacific North Coast. The Liberals have now proposed legislation to achieve that ban. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike are uniting to protect our rivers and coastline in an unprecedented way.
We have never given up our Title, Rights and legal authority over our lands. The National Energy Board process to review the Enbridge project fails to respect this authority. However, as the Nations that govern our territories in the Fraser basin, we have a legal and moral responsibility to protect everyone from the harms that are sure to result if this pipeline is built. Our laws do not permit us to stand by and allow these oil pipelines to enter our shared Fraser River watershed.
The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline is dead in the water – because we need to keep our waters living.
Chief Larry Nooski of Nadleh Whut’en and Chief Jackie Thomas of Saik’uz are members of the Yinka Dene Alliance whose territories are on the Enbridge pipeline route. Chief Art Adolph represents the Xaxli’p community of the St’át’imc Nation, which has territories in the southern part of the Fraser watershed. These nations convened the “Save the Fraser Gathering of Nations” that produced this unprecedented declaration.