October 10 (Wednesday): We left the belly of the tar sands beast (or as we heard it more colorfully described at a community meeting several days later as “the devil’s excrement) by plane. We had to fly to Calgary then on to Vancouver to then double back to finally arrive at the town of Prince George around 9pm or so. From there we would begin our travels by bus along the route where Enbridge wishes it could put a pipeline. When the people along the proposed route of the Northern Gateway pipeline have their way, there will be no Enbridge pipeline through British Colombia.
Sitting on the planes, I couldn’t get Joni Mitchell out of my mind: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Obviously the tar sands can’t be compared to a parking lot. They definitely, however, are having a devastating impact on what once was its own paradise. As I thought about Ft. McMurray and the huge, ugly mines around it, the constant motion of huge trucks hauling big pipes, the endless hustle and bustle, it seemed to me like some giant anthill of endless environmental destruction. Like the deadly fire ants perhaps.
October 11 (Thursday): We had a breakfast meeting in Prince George with women activists of the Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance, who are determined not to let Enbridge trample the rights of the people of British Columbia – First Nation and non-First Nation. (Somewhere around 60% of BC’s population oppose the building of the pipeline; 20% are for it. The rest are “undecided” but more and more are joining those opposed.)
After the meeting in Prince George, we made our way to Vanderhoof to meet with women of the Saik’uz Nation, continued on to Fort Fraser to meet with women from the Nadleh Wu’ten Nation and then on to Burns Lake, where we spent Thursday night.
The women of Sea to Sands were impassioned in their opposition to the Enbridge pipeline. They’d also been stunned to hear themselves described as “conspirators” or “eco-terrorists” or “enemies of the state.” I’d never imagined that even Harper’s government would go so far as to label teachers, social workers, university professors, retired grandmothers concerned about the future not only of their immediate environment but also that of our planet that way.
Here are snippets of what we heard from the women in Prince George:
* We started in 2009. It was a slow start because we thought it [the Enbridge pipeline] was a done deal. Our Mayor was on the Northern Gateway Alliance; our former mayor was president of the Northern Gateway Alliance. We’re a resource extraction based town. A lot of prominent people, everyone, said that it was a done deal. Even Enbridge thought, “We got ‘em.” All thought it was done. Mary McDonald started; she brought Andrew Nikiforiuk [author of “Slaves of Energy”] [to talk about] tar sands, pipelines and the future of coast [and] brought together people who realized we had common interest in stopping this pipeline.
* I realize how easy it is to forget things outside the lower mainland. These communities that are going to be affected by the pipeline do not get listened to. We provide resources and do not get listened to. We deserve respect and to have real action; chances for input not the kind of “tell us what you think and we’ll do what we want anyway.”
* When we went around Prince George years ago to get people to sign petitions about Enbridge, many would not sign. They all wanted jobs; all saw it as being about jobs. I’m happy to say that’s beginning to change now. Not only because of concerns about climate change and impacts like the BP spill [in Gulf of Mexico], but there’s beginning to be a perception that a lot of this is run by corporate greed. That extends even into China being given rights to own tar sands dirty oil, potentially bringing over Chinese workers. These are huge concerns.
Happy to say beginning to see a change in the working public center in this region. This is something where I’m hopeful that more and more people will begin to perceive First Nations’ perceptions that all life forms are interrelated and all need to be respected. I think that this is a time when there can be that shift, becoming something that everyone begins to appreciate.
* There are so many lies, deceit, no one knows what to believe, but I want to tell a story I said to the Joint Review Panel [hearings along the proposed pipeline route]. I have a pipeline sticker on my vehicle. I saw a man looking at me – you never know the reaction. But he looked at me and said, “Thank you.” He told me he had been hired to work on quality control on the pipeline and said it was atrocious; there was no quality control. He quit. His wife worked on it too. She was told corners to cut from her first day on the job, and she quit. He said everything was on the line. I thanked him and he raised his eyes at me, “We have morals,” he said.
* I’m happy, even if I’m sad, because I do believe that this project won’t go forward. I see we’re this vast network of people from various backgrounds and we’re working together so we can have a future we can all believe in.
In Vanderhoof, we met with Chief Jackie Thomas and several other women from the Saik’uz Nation. They are a strong and determined group of women. Chief Jackie opened the meeting with a prayer and gave us a bit out background: My name’s Jackie Thomas and I’m from the Frog Clan. I have one son and three girls. My mother is one of eight girls and they had four boys. I’m the oldest of seven. We’re matrilineal. I’m of the Frog Clan so all my children are Frogs. That has to do with who you’re allowed to marry or not. There are four main clans, and sub clans.
I’m a government chief – I don’t know how much you know. We have hereditary chiefs and government chiefs. I’m government and get elected every two years. Our “potlatch”system was abolished by the Canadian government for 60 years and we only got it back in 1950’s-60’s. In1964 Indian women finally got the vote,; men got it before us. We couldn’t have a lawyer, hire a lawyer, until that time. We weren’t allowed to have more than two people in one place at a time. If you had three people in one place, you could be thrown in jail. Under the Indian Act we couldn’t gather.
They wanted to keep us from gathering together so our potlatch was outlawed and we practiced in secret. At rodeos, the “stampede,” we’d keep up through those connections — a way of doing it in secret. Or the Indian Agent could go in and throw people in jail.
The government has, over the decades, tried to suppress our people. That’s why I get so vocal. I know what they did to my parents and grandparents and parents before them. They took my grandmother to the residential school. Thank goodness my grandfather was hidden. They tried to marry someone who went to the residential schools with someone who didn’t because they knew there was a problem coming out of those schools. There was arranged marriage back then, and that’s how [my grandparents] got together.
Enbridge – I’ve been working on it over two years and it feels like it flew by.
Geraldine: How fortunate and lucky we are, Jackie and I, we were raised by our grandmother. The women from that era were very strong women. We have really good role models, wasn’t uncommon for me to be raised by my grandmother. In white society looked down on, frowned upon. In our culture it’s like an honor to be raised by your elders. She taught us lots. She’d tell us stories; everywhere we went on the land she’d have a story. Legends of what things are going to come to our people. What else would come into our futures, and oil was one of the things she said was going to come to our people and would destroy our water. Once you destroy the water you destroy all people and everything that’s living. In the non-native society don’t respect, appreciate, protect water like they should. Take things like that for granted. My grandmother used to say you never take out of greed, you take out of need…
Enbridge came to our community in 2006. We said no to them. We were legally able to get them to stop then, but we knew they were going to come back with more money and try and divide our people.
This is the very first time in my lifetime and in the history of Canada that you ever see so many First Nations and non-First Nations working together. It’s never happened. I’ve never seen it, not to the extent it is now. [The] amount of people — it’s just unbelievable. Doors are being opened; a lot of stereotypes, misinformation about our people is being replaced. It’s good. It’s a good feeling — you don’t feel like you are alone.
Jasmine: What’s amazing about this campaign [to stop the pipeline] is people coming together. As much as they’re trying to ruin our relationships it’s just bringing us closer together.
Rosemary: If we have a pipeline come in and destroy any of the salmon habitat or salmon runs, it will completely destroy our people and that’s not a risk we’re willing to take. And we’ve said it before and will keep saying it. It’s never been an issue that it’s not enough money [for our people]. I don’t think it ever will be that a “no” will become a “yes.” We’ve done our research. The risk is just too great to our waters and we will never be able to support an oil pipeline that crosses that many of our rivers. Thank you for coming and listening. Finally our women’s voices are being heard. It’s just a great feeling. I love it!
From there, we continued on to Fort Fraser, where we met with women from the Nadleh Wu’ten Nation. We were greeted with a beautiful drum song, dances by young people re-learning clan dances almost lost to the nation.
Beverly: I am the councilor for Nadleh Wut’en band…I’d like to welcome all of you to our territory. We have five clans here, Bear Clan, –I’m from that one, Frog Clan, Caribou, Beaver, Owl. All the songs we sing, dances — all come from that traditional form of government.
We heard the Enbridge pipeline was going to go thru and our chief at the time, Larry Nooski said we needed to do something. So we got together and formed groups with other nations — nations to the south –Saikuz, others across the lake. We started getting support of people on route; we have over 200 signatures on the “Save the Fraser Declaration.” I think we’re coming down to the end of it soon because I think we’re going to win this fight.
I think it’s going to be the end of them. They know Nadleh’s not going away. Enbridge has their spies watching us, know our every move. It started here and spread out and we got many First Nations on side with us, and coastal First Nations who formed another group, and another in Vancouver dealing with Kinder Morgan [pipeline].
We’re radical when it comes to our land. Not that anyone’s going to jail yet but I can see that happening if they put pipes going thru our land. When they did terms of reference it was so narrow. A major project like this, — just this line when it is going to have cumulative effects on the land, the water, the animals, air, — we thought this project is too dangerous to allow in our land. Thanks to Anne. We took a train right across Canada, got a lot of supporters, networking with other First Nations across Canada. For us it’s just not going to happen. If they do come and try to put it up I guarantee we will be standing up in front of those machines and equipment.
Anne: The area Enbridge proposes to cross is in our backyard, Sutherland valley. It’s a protected park and also sits on a natural fault line. In 2007 there was a mudslide, back[ing] up our argument in regards to how unstable it is. If there had been a pipeline at the time of the slide, everyone would have been in trouble. It flows into the Babine Lake, a spawning lake, and comes into Nadleh, Ormon, and from the Ormon flows into Fraser Lake…It’s one of the biggest arguments we had, why we came out very aggressive against Enbridge.
Lorena: I decided to join this fight because hunting, to our ways and stuff, is very important. Like Teresa said if they were to give us all this money, money would be gone. We all know how fast it goes. But moose and all the animals we depend on, if they’re gone we don’t have anything. Waters feed everything. If waters get polluted there’s nothing for us.
I just got a moose this morning and it didn’t look good. It was very skinny. They’ve had all summer to graze; they should be fat. The one this morning had a bubble on its shoulder, it had pus. I cut it out, but I was afraid to eat it. That goes to show everything nowadays — pollution in the air, pulp mills, forestry — it’s really scaring me. I don’t know what I’d do without hunting, our traditional ways. So many people rely on our natural ways, it doesn’t just affect native people, it affects everybody. If it’s gone, where do we go?
Marilyn: The women in this community are so strong and so powerful we can do anything we set our minds to. We said this pipeline won’t get built and it won’t. It won’t cross our territory. It’s never going to happen. Everyone’s been involved in this project and the pipeline’s not going to get built.
After sharing dinner with everyone at the Nadleh meeting, we got back on the bus and drove on to Burns Lake where we spent the night. We’d heard so much information. So much passion for the land, the water, ways of life threatened over and over and over since the White man arrived. I thought of the continued assaults on First Nations people. Assaults on the environment. The words “cultural and environmental genocide” kept running through my mind. I thought of the early immigrants to North America; giving poisoned blankets to Indian tribes to kill them off. The tar sands and proposed pipeline are more poisoned “offerings” to the land and the people.
(to be continued…..)