First Nations Fiercely Opposed to Northern Gateway
THE VANCOUVER SUN
JANUARY 2, 2012
While bands support projects involving natural gas and mines, oil spill threats raise red flags.
The Gitga’at First Nation has been saying no to the Northern Gateway pipeline project since 2006.
The project will bring more than 200 huge tankers annually through the waters next to their tiny community of 160 in Hartley Bay at the entrance to Douglas Channel on B.C.’s northwest coast. Another 500 Gitga’at live elsewhere, including in Prince Rupert, also on the northwest coast.
The risks and effect of an oil spill are simply not worth any economic benefits, which the first nation views as nil, says Marvin Robinson, a spokesman for the community.
It’s a familiar refrain among B.C. first nations.
Despite the argument that opening up a new market for Alberta oilsands in Asia will benefit all Canadians — and an offer of a 10-per-cent ownership stake in the pipeline for first nations — almost all first nations’ voices in British Columbia have been raised in protest.
Unlike in Alberta, most aboriginal land claims in British Columbia have not been settled with treaties.
Court decisions, including at the Canadian Supreme Court level, have stipulated that first nations must be consulted and accommodated when their traditional lands are affected by industrial development.
Last month, more first nations signed their names to a declaration calling for an “unbroken wall of opposition” to pipelines and oil tankers along B.C.’s coast. More than 60 first nations along the pipeline route, Fraser River and coast have signed the declaration.
Among those are the Gitga’at, whose concerns on the Enbridge project increased following the sinking of BC Ferries’ Queen of the North in 2006.
Hartley Bay residents were first on the scene to rescue passengers.
The fallout from the sinking — the leaking of diesel fuel and oil onto surrounding beaches, including clam beds — woke them up to the potential harm of a larger oil spill, said Robinson, who runs guided tours of the remote coastal area.
“It’s almost like a test run. You get to see little mistakes and things that shouldn’t happen. We’re talking about a really light oil — diesel — [from the Queen of the North]. Imagine if it’s one of these [large oil tankers]. That’s the part that really scares us,” said Robinson.
Some of the tankers will be able to carry as much as two million barrels of oil. Called VLCCs — Very Large Crude Carriers — their length is longer than three football fields.
The Gitga’at are among nearly 20 first nations from B.C. that have signed up as interveners in regulatory hearings that begin Jan. 10 in Kitimat.
Enbridge has said it has aboriginal support and it expects a majority of the nearly 50 first nations with territory along the pipeline route to sign on to its ownership offer, but only one B.C. first nation has declared its support publicly.
And when Gitxsan hereditary chief Elmer Derrick announced the nation in northwest B.C. had signed an ownership deal that would provide $7 million over a 30-year period, it sparked an immediate battle with other leaders in the community who say they don’t support the project.
Unlike in B.C., most Alberta first nations have not said whether they support or reject the 1,172-kilometre pipeline.
More than a dozen Alberta first nations have signed up as interveners in the hearings overseen by the National Energy Board, but none have issued public declarations on the pipeline project.
Contacted before Christmas, Alexis Nation leaders said they were not ready to say anything about the project.
Other first nations in Alberta — including the Horse Lake First Nation — did not respond to requests for comment.
But at least one Alberta first nation is saying no to Northern Gateway pipeline.
Driftpile First Nation chief Rose Laboucan told The Vancouver Sun that following the recent completion of a traditional land-use study, the community of 2,000 has rejected the project. About 1,000 band members live on the Driftpile reserve, west of Edmonton.
“The permanent right of way will be about a 25-metre-wide scar running through the territory, harming the plants and animals, things we rely on,” said Laboucan.
She said it is ridiculous to believe there is not going to be an oil spill.
“I understand there has to be progress. I understand they want markets outside of Canada, to Asia. But at the same time, when do we balance our Mother Earth? In my opinion, it’s in pain now,” said Laboucan.
The band had reached a deal earlier with the Pembina Pipeline Corp. to build a safe house in the community over a different project, noted Laboucan.
But she said Enbridge’s take-it-or-leave-it approach of its ownership offer in Northern Gateway turned the community off.
First nations who oppose the Enbridge project stress they are not opposed to economic development.
But it depends on the development.
The Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, located in north-central B.C., has signed on to an ownership deal with the $1.2-billion Pacific Trails natural gas pipeline, but is opposed to the Enbridge oil pipeline.
The community of 470 — about 250 of whom live on the shores of Fraser Lake — supports the natural gas pipeline because if there was a rupture the gas would dissipate, says chief Larry Nooski.
There is no support for the Northern Gateway project because the oil from a pipeline leak could remain in the environment for a long time despite efforts to clean it up.
Nooski points to the more than 22-year-old Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska, where research has shown that oil remains in the environment.
Nooski said that community meetings early on showed this as a concern.
“The impacts on the aquatic life and salmon was just too great for our people to even consider something of this nature,” said Nooski.
“If there is an interruption in our fishing, a lot of people would be without food. I know it sounds strange today because you have the Safeways and what have you. Personally, I still rely on my catch. I still rely on the fish that is caught in the summer and fall,” he said.
He said the first nation is already involved in the forest sector through its logging business.
Nadleh Whut’en also recently became involved in Thompson Creek Metals’ nearby Endako molybdenum mine and operates a 350-person camp for the $375-million Endako mine expansion and modernization project.