First Nations Speak for Themselves on Pipelines

June 13, 2011

By Chief Larry Nooski, Nadleh Whut'En; Chief Fred Sam, Nak'Azdli; Chief Dolly Abraham, Takla Lake; Chief Karen Ogen, Wet'suwet'En; Chief Jackie Thomas and Saik'uz

The Vancouver Sun

Peter Foster's suggestion ("Opposing big business is big business" May 31) that members of the Yinka Dene Alliance have been manipulated into rejecting the proposed Enbridge pipeline by the "green movement," reveals a deep misunderstanding of the laws, culture, history and strength of the Carrier people.

We speak for ourselves, and our decision is based on our extensive consideration of the risks of this pipeline, and the views of our elders, our youth, and our entire community.

We have occupied our traditional territory, located in the central interior of what is now known as British Columbia, since time immemorial. We have never ceded our lands or given up our right to govern them. Central to our culture is our responsibility to look after our land, the same way it looks after us -something we have done for millennia. As Saik'uz First Nation Chief Jackie Thomas says, "Our people were the first environmentalists."

For example, when the health of the rivers and fish on our land was jeopardized by Alcan's plans to expand the Kemano dam project in the 1980s, our mothers and grandmothers organized a campaign that convinced the province that the environmental cost was too high. Having saved the rivers, we worked with government to develop a plan to revitalize the salmon and other fish stocks which had suffered from years of disruption to habitat and spawning grounds. We continue our traditional role as stewards of the land by advocating for sustainable development on our territories.

The proposed Enbridge pipeline and tankers are not sustainable. The added oil transport capacity would permit a 30-per-cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands. Every day, the pipelines would carry up to 525,000 barrels of oil and 193,000 barrels of toxic condensate through pristine wilderness in our territories.

Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel has publicly stated there is no guarantee a spill will not occur. According to Enbridge's own accounting, they average 60 spills of varying sizes every year. Over the past year, we have witnessed several devastating accidents including the BP oil spill, Enbridge's massive spill in Michigan, and just last month, the largest pipeline oil spill in Alberta since 1975, on Lubicon Cree territory.

The lands and rivers which the proposed Enbridge pipeline would cross are habitat for moose, grizzly bears, salmon, deer, migratory birds, and other wildlife. Our food, stories, ceremonies, and our entire culture is tied to the land and the wildlife it supports - a spill could devastate our way of life. We hunt, fish, pick berries, and gather traditional medicines on the land. We maintain these practices by choice - this lifestyle has always sustained us. It is who we are.

We are not alone in thinking the Enbridge pipeline is too risky. Over 80 first nations in B.C. and Alberta have spoken out against the project. B.C.'s towns and cities overwhelmingly agreed on a resolution to stop oil tankers on the coast, and in the recent federal election, 60 per cent of British Columbians voted for parties that explicitly oppose oil tankers on the north coast.

Rather than creating division, Enbridge's proposal has united first nations and united us with our non-Native neighbours. We are proud to be allied with community members, scientists, lawyers, educators, philanthropists, activists, and others who share our commitment to maintaining the health and vitality of our ecosystems.

Peter Foster doubts the authenticity of first nations opposition. While he's mistaken, we respect his right to express his views. We invite him to develop a more serious understanding of our perspective by coming to our communities to learn who we are and why we oppose this pipeline. He would find that our people's health depends on the health of our lands and waters and that we are deeply committed to protecting these resources for the benefit of everyone.

Under International Law, we have the right to say no, and to have our decision respected. As Nadleh Whut'en Chief Larry Nooski says, "Our nations are the wall this pipeline will not break through."

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