First Nations lead the way in Victoria protest against pipelines and oil sands

October 23rd, 2012
First Nations are leading the way in British Columbia’s opposition to pipelines, tankers and exploitation of the climate damaging oil sands

Protesters trickled in like salmon heading home—a few signs on the Canada Line at 5:30 in the morning, a big line up at the Bridgeport bus stop, a ferry full of protesters, all ages, a few costumes, lots of signs. I asked a man on the ferry if he planned on committing civil disobedience. “They’re having trouble figuring out what to do,” he said. “They’ve been given permission to protest on the lawn. Now they’re thinking about driving stakes into the lawn because that’s illegal.”

Eric Boyum, an eco-tourism operator in the Great Bear Rainforest offered a ride to several of us so we could avoid the over packed buses in Schwartz Bay. Boyum stated that tankers would destroy his business, Ocean Adventures, without an oil spill.

“The tankers would travel right through where I operate. They won’t be attractive to tourists.” Protecting his business is not his primary motivation.

“The First Nations in the area are like family to me,” he said. “They’ve subsisted there for thousands of years. Tankers are the biggest threat to their way of life that they’ve ever had.” He also feels responsible for the natural world. “Someone has to speak out for the animals,” he said. “The whales, bears and salmon don’t have a voice in this, but we can fight for them.”

David Schirk, a Vancouver carpenter and contractor, also caught a ride with Boyum. “We have to stop Harper,” he said. “The pipeline is committing us to 30 or 40 more years of fossil fuels. We don’t have that long.” He has noticed the impacts of climate change in his business. “Rainfall comes much harder than in the past,” he said. “Someone will call thinking they have a leak, but there’s no leak. Roofs, drain pipes and even the storm water system weren’t built to accommodate the intensity of rain that we now get on a regular basis.”

Joan Jaccard, a landscape designer, believes that the pipeline and tankers are a distraction from the largest problem of all: climate change. “Politicians need to start listening to the science,” she said. “Governments are reneging on their responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the nation and the world.”

After the warm ride in Boyum’s truck, the legislature lawn was cold and windy. White Greenpeace tents were blowing past, so I grabbed one, along with some other passers by. We chatted while staffers looked for sand bags to secure the tents. Twenty three year old Liz told me she had come because she had written letters to government officials but felt the need to do more. “At some point you just have to show up in person,” she said. The other tent holder, a teenager, had come with his mother who represents the Teachers Federation.  “I’m here for family support,” he said.

One of the organizers, Clayton Thomas Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network, took a few minutes from the final preparations to list some of the First Nations who would be present: Esquimalt, Suquamish, Songhees, Haida, Gitga’at, Wet’ suwet’en, all five First Nations in the Yinke Dene Alliance, Cree, Heiltsuk, Kitkatla, Nuchatlaht, Penticton and Musqueam, among others.

I asked Muller what story he thought had not been fully told. “Nearly all of BC is unceded lands,” he said. “Attacks on constitutionally protected indigenous rights and cuts to indigenous funding –these strategies are aimed at destabilizing native communities and gaining further access to our lands for the mining, forest and energy sectors.”

He was also concerned about the impact of the Nexen buyout,  not only for First Nations but for all of Canada. “China has a different regulatory framework and a different way of looking at rights. You don’t bring shareholder actions.”

With an hour before the demonstration began, I wandered over to the BC Museum to warm up. Outside the gift shop, about fifty First Nation members in regalia stood in a circle, drumming, singing and introducing themselves in preparation for their procession to the legislature lawn.

 

In addition to BC First Nations, a Metis representative came to offer apologies for some people of his nation who had accepted cash from Enbridge. “Nearly all of us oppose the pipeline,” he said. “We will be there with you.” Similarly, a representative of the Mohawk came to show support from Canada’s eastern First Nations. “The indigenous people in the east support you,” he said. “We will bring our bodies in support if need be.”

Mohawk representative: We will bring our bodies in support, if need be.

Eventually, the First Nation members lined up with the hereditary chiefs at the front and marched onto the legislature steps, drumming and singing. By this time, the crowd had swelled to over 4,000. First Nations protocols were observed, with each of the host nations welcoming the protesters to their traditional territory. Hours of songs, drumming and speeches ensued. Several chiefs thanked Enbridge for creating a reason for all the people to come together.

Speech of Chief Rueben George of the Tsleil- Waututh First Nation

“One thing I can see right off the bat is that we’re winning. It’s so important how we start today, because what is standing behind what we do today is our spirit. When we come together like this, our spirits collide together and we become stronger. Let the sacredness of what we have be the driving force behind what we do. There’s no price we can put on those things, the earth, the water, our lands. The Tsleil Wauthuth are the People of the Inlet [Burrard Inlet], that’s where our creation stories are, and we can’t put a price on that.

“The teachings we have and the lessons we carry, they come from the Earth. Those are the things that guide us to be a better human being, and are the fundamentals of our humanity: land, water, respect and dignity. We respect and carry these sacred things and, when we need it, they give us that energy back.

“We should only give back to the earth and water the things that show the same goodness, the same respect, the same love, the same care. The pipelines and tankers are not doing that. We are saying no more.

“We want to make a difference and make things better for our future generations. We want to make it better for our children, for your children and, because the owners of Kinder Morgan and Enbridge and Keystone are too blind to see, we’re going to do it for their children too. Yes, we are going to win, to stop it, to make a difference. We will stand up for our lands, for future generations, for the spirit of the teachings of where we come from, and that’s the earth. We aren’t going to threaten their livelihood or take away the things they love. We’re going to improve the world because there are green energy alternatives.

“Spread that message out. Each of us a pebble thrown into the pond, rippling out our message to others so that Canadians understand that this isn’t just and environmental problem we are talking about, or a First Nation problem. This is all of our problem.

“The 1.6 billion dollars in subsidies that our government gives to oil companies if that were given to green energy that would be a good difference we could make.”

Speech of Art Sterritt, ED of Coastal First Nations

“Chiefs matriarchs, princes and princesses, all you people of noble birth, I stand here with my chiefs because seven years ago when we began this battle with Enbridge, we were standing alone. We didn’t know what the heck we were going to do to push these people back. We knew the power of oil and we knew the federal government was behind them.

“Seven years ago when we met with Enbridge CEO Pat Daniels he said, ‘Coastal First Nations, if you don’t want this project in your territory, we won’t do it.’ All the Coastal First Nations decided we didn’t want it and we told them that.

“They said, ‘Well, you aren’t the only First Nations. There are the ones along the pipeline as well.’ So we met with the ones along the pipeline and they said, ‘We don’t want this project.’ Enbridge said, ‘That’s too bad. There are some white communities along the pipeline as well and we think they want the project.” We went to the Union of BC Municipalities and for a number of years they’ve been passing resolutions telling Enbridge to get lost as well. The Union of BC Indian chiefs, the Union of BC Municipalities, the First Nations Summit and all kinds of other people are saying, ‘We don’t want this kind of project in British Columbia.’

“But we have a legislature here that is empty right now and they’re not listening to the people of British Columbia. What do you say to that? They also think in Ottawa that they can jam this thing over the backs of people in British Columbia. What are you willing to do to stop them? Today is all about you. Coastal First Nations and all of the tribes of the interior have been stating our opposition for a long time now but we’re so happy that thousands of you have come out to join with us today.

“I want to ask you all a couple of questions and I think the answer to most of them will be “We will.” Who is going to lay down in front of the bulldozers? ( a resounding “WE WILL” from the crowd). Who is going to change the 26 conservative MPs in British Columbia if the federal government tries to jam this thing through? (“WE WILL.”) Who’s going to change the government in Victoria if this current government doesn’t change the way they’re doing business? (“WE WILL”). And who is going to push Stephen Harper back if he is going to change the environmental laws? (“WE WILL”).

Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of the Heiltsuk and the Haida and the Kitkatla and all the tribes we have here, I want to thank you all for helping us to save our land, to save your land, to save the Great Bear Rainforest. We all come from that place and it is also your place. We want to share it with you so any time you want to, come and visit us. Thank you.

Art Sterritt, ED of Coastal First Nations: Seven years ago we were standing alone. Now we stand together with you. 

 Civil Obedience

At one side of the lawn, a long line of people holding six foot wooden stakes with black fabric stapled on them had formed. The idea was to drive the stakes into the leg lawn, an illegal act.

 

People of all ages had prepared themselves for arrest

“The black panels all together are the length of a super tanker,” a young man explained. I asked him what led him to engage in civil disobedience. “I’m learning a lot about climate change in University,” he said. “And I feel very strongly against transporting oil along our shores on the BC coast.” He said that quite a lot of the geography students from the University of Victoria were present.

“I can feel my heart beating,” the young woman next to him said. “I’ve never been arrested.”

I crossed the lawn to circle of police officers from Saanich, who didn’t look like they were about to arrest anyone. “Will you be arresting the people who drive the stakes into the lawn?” I asked.

“No, they’ve been given permission to do that now,” he said.

I double checked this fact with a different branch of police officers. “They expect to get arrested, you know,” I said.

“Why would they want that?” he asked. “A symbolic statement of civil disobedience is not the important thing. The important thing is to have young people, old people, First Nations, non-natives, unions and such a huge number of people coming out. That’s an amazing story. I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”

“You might be surprised how many of the officers here agree with protesters,” he added.


One thought on “First Nations lead the way in Victoria protest against pipelines and oil sands

  1. Pingback: Climate Injustice in Canada | El Caimán Verde

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