By Roy L Hales
They spoke of the Canadian Government’s failure to fulfill its obligations to First Nations. Chief Marilyn Slett, of the Heiltsuk spoke of the need to defend her traditional territory. Acting Chief Clarence Innis mentioned that the Gitxaala still obtain 80% of their food from the ocean and an oil spill would have a catastrophic effect on their way of life. Five first Nations are involved: Gitxaala, Kitasoo/Xai’xias, Heiltsuk, Nadleh Whut’en and Nak’azdli. Sierra Club BC and the Victoria based Raven Trust are urging the people of British Columbia to support them and pull together to fight the Northern Gateway Project.
“We all understand that the Federal decision has come down, approving the Enbridge pipeline. It was totally expected, but we would all say it is far from over,” said Susan Smitten, executive director of RAVEN Trust. “Bolstered by the Tsilhqot’in decision of June 26, First Nations are determined to stop the Northern Gateway Pipeline.”
Legal challenges are expensive for small communities.
The Gitxaala have already spent around $3 million, over the past five years, on this fight.
“We have pulled together an initiative that we are launching today, called Pull-Together.ca,” (http://www.pull-together.ca/) she added. “It is a fund raising effort that we hope will go national, maybe International. It is to support the five nations that are participating and all the funds will be divided equally.”
“We all stand to benefit from stopping this dangerous pipeline and these tankers, so why should First Nations have to shoulder the burden alone ” said Sierra Club BC Campaigns Director Caitlyn Vernon.
Funds raised will be distributed to the involved First Nations through Victoria-based legal defense fund RAVEN Trust. (RAVEN stands for Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs.)
They know they cannot match the financial resources of the Enbridge and the Government of Canada.
Yet, as the recent plebiscite in Kitimat showed, a determined community can prevail against deep pockets.
Chief Marilyn Slett, of the Heiltsuk Nation, said the Federal Government failed to honourably consult with them or consider the objections they raised against the proposed pipeline.
First Nations from Haida Gwaii to Prince George are opposing this project.
This prompted one reporter at the July 24 press conference to ask about Enbridge’s claim they had been reaching out to First Nation’s communities. Had they been contacted?
“Enbridge actually did come to our community to present a description of the scope of their project,” replied Acting Chief Clarence Innis.
The Gitxaala prepared a feast in their honor, but the company reps left halfway through the meeting.
“Our hereditary (elders) were there is full force and they never had the opportunity to question Enbridge.”
That was a year and a half to two years ago and “They haven’t been back since.”
Clarence added, “We would rather not go to court, but despite the significant effort and resources we expended to participate in the Joint Review process, our concerns have been ignored. The federal government has failed in its obligations to the Gitxaala. The government has pushed this matter to the courts, so that is where it will be resolved.”
Though the dates have not been set, they do have an idea.
“First of all, the courts will hear all of the judicial revues together. So everyone will ve preparing for the same deadline, which is why a joint fund raising campaign like this works so well, ” said Susan of Raven Trust. “We have been told there will probably be an initial court date for October, but the actual hearing is likely to be in early 2015.”
There are three ways that people can help out.
Pull Together’s immediate goal is to raise $125,000. You can do this through their website, Pull-Together.ca. A total of $15,132 when I last checked.
$2,000 of this came from the North West Watch, a community group that held a special diner/event called “singing for salmon” and bottle drive in Terrace, BC.
As she explained this, Brenda Wesley added that it had special significance to her as a Tsimpshian woman.
“First Nations have been in a league in opposing this project and standing-up for Canada,” she said. “Now this is a way that communities can stand with First Nations.”
Another $985 came from a film night that the Friends of Morice-Bulkley held in Smithers.
“They are issuing challenges to other communities around the province to do the same,“ Vernon said. “Communities from Prince George to Haida Gwaii are organizing events.”
She added the wall of opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline is made up of First Nations, the BC municipalities “and a majority of British Columbians who have all said no to Enbridge time and time again.”
You may visit the Pull Together website at http://www.pull-together.ca/
Audio clips from the press conference will be played on Wednesday’s the ECOreport which is broadcast on Cortes radio at 12:00. It will also posted to the audio section of this site https://cortescurrents.ca/category/media-2/radio/