There is a reason – a big reason – chiefs of all First Nations in line to be adversely affected by oil pipelines and tanker traffic are so stubborn. You see, they understand that the consequences can be summed up by the words "certain catastrophe". These little words sum up why Prime Minister Harper and Premier “photo-op” Clark are getting no traction with bribes in exchange for pipelines and tankers.
My colleague, Damien Gillis and I attended a press conference last Thursday called by First Nations who would be impacted by scheduled pipelines and tankers to outline their "Save the Fraser Declaration" - a document that leaves no doubt about their unified opposition to these proposals. In all, 131 nations have now signed on.
Moreover, this declaration almost certainly will be signed in the near future by the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, who face the proposed expansion of KinderMorgan's pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to the their traditional territory of the Burrard Inlet. The Tsleil-Waututh first came out against the company's plans - which could see up to 300 supertankers loaded with Alberta bitumen plying the waters of Vancouver - in a press release last month.
On this point, the Tsleil-Waututh's Community Development Director, Rueben George (grandson of Canadian hero Chief Dan George) strongly intimated that his groups will soon endorse the Fraser Declaration, once they've completed due process within their community. I have no doubt that the federal approval of KinderMorgan's ability to export more oil from the line, arrogantly coming along side Thursday’s press conference, will guarantee the expected response from First Nations in and around the Burrard Inlet.
When the Tsleil-Waututh do sign on to the Fraser Declaration, that will formally unite the battles against both proposed pipeline projects in BC, drawing together an unprecedented alliance of First Nations and non-indigenous supporters around the province.
A couple of weeks ago there was an article in the business section of The Globe and Mail, where Art Sterritt, Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations, was quoted in a manner that suggested that perhaps the First Nations might bend on the pipelines if the environmental studies warranted it: “'If we could have a fresh start and were able build a good relationship, the Coastal First Nations might be willing to take another look at the project,' Art Sterritt, the group’s executive director, said in an interview. 'That wouldn’t mean we would necessarily come out and agree with it, but we would certainly take a closer look at it.'”
At Thursday's press conference, Damien gave Mr. Sterritt an opportunity to address that article and the way his words and Coastal First Nations' position were presented within. The chief responded that he had been quoted out if context and the nations he represents were unequivocally opposed to the pipelines. Without diminishing the comments of others, Chief Sterritt's uncompromising words were among the strongest of the day and left no doubt that no pipelines or tanker traffic will pass through lands and waters claimed by First Nations. "Tanker traffic is banned from the Great Bear Rainforest, from the Great Bear Sea. It will never happen," Sterritt declared to the assembled press gallery.
Chief Sterritt’s words should be paid careful attention; since you can have all the pipelines in the world but if the oil can’t be taken by tanker to its destination, or if permitted to do so, can’t ship it out, there’s no point building pipelines. It’s a football game with one goal post and end zone missing – there can be no “game”.
As a bit of a cynic I had wondered if what we were seeing were negotiations and Enbridge was considering a counter-offer that First Nations would accept. After this press conference, my cynicism left and I’m convinced that it’s not a matter of negotiation but a clear statement that the issue is not negotiable, no matter what the final bribe might be offered.
This point cannot be over-emphasized, given the poverty in many bands. Unlike what we see in other segments of Canadian society, many First Nations are putting culture and the future of their children ahead of bribes - no matter what the amount is.
There’s been concern expressed – by me as well as others – that at the end of the day the northern pipelines and tanker traffic might not happen because the KinderMorgan line, which already brings unrefined oil to Vancouver Harbour, will be expanded so as to allow it to take more Tar Sands bitumen, thus making the northern lines unnecessary. Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh, while he is still canvassing his members, stated firmly that there would be no Tar Sands gunk passing in or through First Nations land.
I have a couple of personal observations – just why the Campbell/Clark government would grant Taseko Mines the right to start construction on its Prosperity Mine before it had been approved by the federal authorities is utterly beyond me. Talk about throwing gasoline onto the fire! This displays – as if any further proof were necessary – the insensitivity and arrogance of a government that has badly lost its way. That insensitivity and arrogance came out in the aboriginal writ hearing for an injunction against Taseko drilling and road construction - which the First Nation thankfully won this past Friday.
Leaving aside First Nations, why on earth would any government want to inflict huge environmental catastrophes on British Columbia? Is the answer to that they simply don’t give a damn about it? Is it as the late mayor of Vancouver Gerry McGeer said, “It's only 2500 miles from Vancouver to Ottawa but it's 25,000 miles from Ottawa to Vancouver.”?
Finally, a warning to both senior governments and the corporations involved – unpleasantness unto violence can clearly be seen ahead if these propositions are not quickly buried. Given the insensitivity and arrogance that has marked this issue, rising hostility from First Nations can be expected. I simply don’t see any common ground – it’s a dispute incapable of any “middle” ground settlement. And probably it always was.
Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t heard anything, not a soupcon of suggestion, of violence from First Nations, I simply raise the question: Given this solidarity by First Nations every inch of the way from the Tar Sands to and down the coast of BC, what other outcome can anyone with a modicum of intelligence expect if the companies, blessed by our political leaders, try to push ahead?
Since penning the above, we get absolute proof of the bias of the Vancouver media, especially the Sun.
Friday's paper contained a lone article, buried in the BC Business section, on the historic declaration by over 130 First Nations opposing the Enbridge pipelines from the Tar Sands to Kitimat down our perilous and beautiful coast destined for China. Saturday's paper, by contrast, bore a full front-page story, with a whole series of related features, trumpeting, "Gitxsan Supports Enbridge Pipeline - First Nation to Generate $7 Million as Equity Partner."
The Vancouver Sun gave its front page to ONE First Nation that had allegedly signed with Enbridge. But within hours of the story breaking on Friday, the hereditary and band chiefs of the Gitxsan had come out blasting the story and setting the record straight. Turns out it wasn't the First Nation partnering with Enbridge, but rather a single man - one Elmer Derrick - who is not even a chief but a representative of the Nation's treaty negotiation office!
Here's some of what his own chiefs said about the situation in a press release on Friday: “The Gitxsan people are outraged with the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Agreement”
Contrary to the announcement of Elmer Derrick of today’s date, the representatives of the Plaintiffs to the British Columbia Supreme Court Action No. 15150, cited as Spookw v. Gitxsan Treaty Society, oppose the Agreement. The Gitxsan plaintiffs include Hereditary Chiefs and four Gitxsan bands with a population of over 6,000 Gitxsan people; the majority of whom are House members in the Gitxsan traditional system represented by Hereditary Chief, Spookw, in the court action.
The representatives do not support Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline agreement entered into by Elmer Derrick and state “Elmer Derrick and the Gitxsan Treaty Society/Gitxsan Economic Development Corp. does not speak for all Gitxsan. The Gitxsan people had no knowledge of the proposed Agreement nor were they consulted.”
Oh, and one other tiny little detail: The proposed pipeline doesn't even run through Gitxsan territory!
So 131 First Nation chiefs sign an agreement to oppose the Enbridge pipeline and tanker traffic and no front page story – yet one renegade bureaucrat supports Enbridge and is the main headline and story on the front page.
Though it hardly needs proving, here The Vancouver Sun, in the clearest of evidence, demonstrates its bias with the subtlety of a logging truck coming down a logging road.
This is a gross breach of journalistic ethics which does have a clear message – if you want a fair newspaper account of anything that fights big business, look elsewhere. The Sun is a paper that manages, by shabby news reporting, tepid columnists, and establishment-friendly use of the op-ed page, to make it clear that no matter what the subject, if corporate predators are involved, they must be looked after.
We are seriously considering cancelling The Sun and the only thing that holds us back is that we would miss Rex Morgan MD in the comic strips.