Enbridge and their Gateway project is one of the most controversial subjects we have seen in a long time in this province. Its implications spread much further than BC, Alberta the sources of the oil, Canada, US and of course Asian markets.
BC First Nations have been opposed to the Northern Gateway project since day one. There is too much at risk from this project. Risks that can affect the ability of First Nations people to exercise their rights and way of life. These risks are so very real as we watch any number of pipeline breaks that we have seen in Alberta and Michigan and hear about the devastation to the land and the water, the very things First Nations people thrive on. On the coast, we have lived through the aftermath of the Valdez oil spill and the ecosystems have never been restored to their previous balance.
As First Nations, through the consultation process, every concern that is raised must be addressed in some way. The concern about pipeline breaks is very compelling and there are no guarantees that there are pipes that will not leak, rupture or wear out. There is also no technology that indicates an immediate breach in the pipes or a way to stop the oil in the pipes quickly. It took Enbridge over 17 hours to turn off the flow of bitumen in Michigan. By then, the damage to the Kalamazoo River was immense. How can the governments meet the interests of First Nation that there will be no oil leaking into their lands and waters? They can’t. That is a huge argument that the pipeline should not be allowed through some very rough terrain.
Other First Nations are concerned about tankers running aground as happened with Valdez. The amount of crude oil that can be spilled can destroy habitat, sea resources and many people’s livelihoods within hours. These are the kinds of risks to land and resources that affects the constitutionally protected rights of First Nations. There are of course many other concerns that I won’t go into detail on.
Is it any wonder that First Nations leaders and community members are opposed to the project? That they are prepared to stop the pipeline at any cost whether it is through blockades, courts, protests or whatever mechanisms they have available to them? Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs says they are willing to go to the wall on this issue. Enbridge would do well to heed these words. This is not just one First Nation fighting the pipeline, this is many First Nations fighting. First Nations are uniting in a worthy cause and could slow this project down for many, many years if it ever got approved. Not only is it First Nations opposing this project, it is environmental groups, local governments, former Ministers, and people who love and cherish what we have in British Columbia.
Premier Christy Clark would have done well if she had come out against the Northern Gateway project as Adrian Dix has done. It might have won her a few votes. If people in the election in May 2013 vote purely on the Enbridge project alone, she doesn’t stand a chance. The ground swell on this is growing. People at all levels are discussing this issue because it is important to everyone. Enbridge has become a household word. Who would have thought that would happen? But it has and almost everyone has an opinion and the majority are opposed to it.
Christy Clark thought she would win public opinion by insisting on 5 conditions before pipeline projects can go ahead in BC. At minimum, she did admit the risks are not worth the benefits but this is a far cry from where the Premier of this province should stand especially when her main emphasis is on “benefits” for the province. No benefit can compensate for loss of lands and resources when there has been an oil spill.
One of BC’s requirements for heavy oil pipelines is for “First Nations participation”. The press release states that BC must consult and accommodate First Nations and is committed to meeting that duty. BC has a dismal track record on consulting and accommodating First Nations and most of the court cases on the duty to consult come out of BC and the greater majority have been wins for First Nations.
There is mention by BC of a set of tools they have put in place to help First Nations to partner with industry and participate in economic development. The backgrounder provides what tools the Premier is talking about and includes things like Reconciliation Agreements, Strategic Engagement Agreements, forestry agreements, economic benefit agreement with some of Treaty 8, revenue sharing on mining and the First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund. Not including the forestry agreements or Clean Energy fund, agreements have been reached with 18 First Nations out of 203. Most of these agreements are not in the area that the pipeline will be placed. If these “tools” are not in place for the affected First Nations how can they help the First Nations deal with the Northern Gateway Project? These tools are not an effective tool to deal with Enbridge unless First Nations consent is required and they do not do that.
And what if a First Nation does not want to partner with industry and participate in the economic development activity as the First Nations along the pipeline have stated and continue to state. How does industry and First Nations build a strong relationship when Enbridge refuses to listen to First Nations concerns and opposition and they continue on in the face of the vociferous opposition? Just reading BC’s press release and backgrounder shows how misunderstood First Nations are and how far BC is from facing the reality that First Nations will stop this project at all costs. Whatever happened to the New Relationship which states:
“We are all here to stay. We agree to a new government-to-government relationship based on respect, recognition and accommodation of aboriginal title and rights. Our shared vision includes respect for our respective laws and responsibilities. Through this new relationship, we commit to reconciliation of Aboriginal and Crown titles and jurisdictions.”
What about the Universal Declaration of Indigenous Rights s. 32(2) which states:
“States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.”
Enbridge has become a common household word in First Nations communities and not in a positive way but one that has caused young and old to get involved in the fight against Enbridge and their proposed project. This is about the lifeblood of the people, the land, the water, resources and all living things. How good would it be for BC state that with First Nations opposing the project, it will not proceed, that the free and informed consent has not been obtained. Now that would be progress!