Opinion | Vancouver Sun | Op-Ed | Art Sterritt And Gerald Amos | May 11, 2010
Images of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico oil carry a grim message for Canadians. The message is simple: if Enbridge brings oil tankers to British Columbia’s coast, we will wake up one day to the same kind of disaster on our own shores.
It’s a future Coastal First Nations cannot imagine. It’s a future we won’t allow to become reality.
Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline would carry the world’s dirtiest oil from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat on the B.C. coast, to be loaded onto foreign-bound supertankers. Some 225 tankers per year would attempt to navigate the waters where a passenger ferry sank in 2006, and where last year a freighter ran aground.
Enbridge is trying to convince Canadians oil tankers are safe at a time when the oil industry has zero credibility. One has only to see photos of BP’s burning oil platform to realize the ridiculous nature of such assurances. Oil platforms are safer than oil tankers — and look what can happen to them.
The BP well is 66 kilometres offshore. Compare that to a supertanker carrying 320 million litres of oil running aground at the entrance to B.C.‘s Douglas Channel.
Like the Exxon Valdez, the impact of a spill so close to shore would be swift, devastating and would last for generations.
Our people are fishing people. While many Canadians do not know where the food they buy comes from, we still rely on traditional foods such as wild salmon, halibut and shellfish. We thrive despite high unemployment because we have access to these foods. Lose this, and we lose our way of life.
First nations would not be the only ones on the losing end of a major spill. B.C.‘s North Coast and Haida Gwaii — the Great Bear Rainforest — is one of Canada’s greatest treasures, known worldwide for towering trees, bears and majestic fiords.
In 2008, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell stood onstage with first nations leaders and announced an unprecedented commitment to protect the Great Bear Rainforest.
With Enbridge’s tankers lurking in the shadows, the future of the area we pledged to protect hangs in the balance.
Because it threatens the basis of our culture, Coastal First Nations firmly oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. In accordance with traditional laws, we declared a ban on the transport of oilsands crude oil through our territories.
It is a declaration we will defend by whatever means necessary. It is one Enbridge would be wise to abide by. And yet Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel doesn’t seem to be listening.
Despite full-page ads touting Enbridge’s commitment to the environment and communities, Daniel is blatantly ignoring our clear position on the Northern Gateway Pipeline.
Daniel even insinuated our concerns are hypocritical because our communities use petroleum. These statements are disrespectful and disingenuous -hardly indicative of a corporation that takes seriously its relationships with aboriginal groups.
First nations recognize the imperative of moving away from fossil fuels. We are engaged in an alternative energy plan for our region in conjunction with BC Hydro and independent power producers. However, our collective carbon footprint is minuscule compared to the Alberta oilsands – the production of which would increase 30 per cent if we allow the Enbridge pipeline to proceed.
Just like Big Tobacco before it, Big Oil can no longer deny the terrible effects of its product.
Their latest PR tactic is all about the long, slow transition away from fossil fuels, which they use to justify long-term investment in oilsands infrastructure.
What they won’t tell people is that we have a choice -that the future is ours to decide. If forgoing the Enbridge pipeline means we must reduce fossil fuel use sooner than later, all the better. If it means we can protect our coast for future generations, what other choice is there?
Daniel plans to file Enbridge’s pipeline application this month. If he does, he will ignite a united first nations campaign unlike any other our country has seen before.
We will do everything in our power to let the world know the contempt Enbridge holds for first nations and our environment.
And we will do everything we can to protect our coast from Enbridge’s pipeline and tankers.
We invite you to join us.
Art Sterritt is the executive director of the Coastal First Nations, an alliance of 10 first nations groups on British Columbia’s North and Central Coast and Haida Gwaii. Gerald Amos sits on the Coastal First Nations board of directors.
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