Amidst the laughter, unity, and spirit of a rally against the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, held in Prince Rupert last Thursday evening, there was one word that reverberated again and again from participants – “No!”
Organizer of the rally Jenn Rice said governments may come and go, but people on the North Coast are here to stay. “Tonight let’s just walk. We say “no” to Enbridge Oil,” she said.
Hereditary Chief Clarence Nelson of Metlakatla thanked everyone for attending and showing a spirit of unity.
“We can’t fight what nature throws at us in natural disasters, but what this corporation is trying to give us, to develop the oil lines and tankers that will ply this coast, we can fight that and we must. Our tradition is our water and our land and all the beautiful resources we harvest from both,” Nelson said.
Upwards of 400 people of all ages, walks of life, and ethnicity congregated at Mariner’s Park, many holding signs to protest the proposed pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to the BC coast and its consequent oil tanker traffic. People had travelled from all over the region to attend.
The rally was timed to coincide with the North Central Local Government conference being held in Prince Rupert and attended by representatives of Enbridge as one of the conference’s platinum sponsors.
Rice picked Thursday for the peaceful protest because the conference dinner and dance was being held nearby at Chances Convention Centre.
A teenaged boy from Kitkatla was one of several youth who took a turn at the microphone.
“The youth of all the nations around us have to stand together with our elders and chiefs and say no to Enbridge. If we don’t, we’re going to have nothing and there will be nothing in the future for us.
“We can’t let Enbridge come into our territories and destroy what we’ve got. They’ll try and give us money, but money can’t buy what we’ve got. We are richer than them with what we have in the ocean,” he said.
Louisa Smith, an elder from Lax Kw’alaams, told the crowd she rarely shares her opinions in public, but felt compelled because a way of life is being threatened.
“We say no, collectively, and we hope Enbridge can take that to its minds and hearts and hear what we have to say, that we are here to protect what the creator has placed in our hands for seven generations down the line to enjoy what we have today,” Smith said.
All levels of government were represented at the rally, with Prince Rupert mayor Jack Mussallem, city councillor Joy Thorkelson, MLA Gary Coons and MP Nathan Cullen all taking turns at the microphone.
Referring to the joint panel review process for the pipeline project that will take place over the next two to three years, Mussallem said, “It’s important that we keep informed about what’s going on with that process and that we’re all informed so that we can speak with a degree of knowledge and share our concerns.”
Thorkelson, who is also the northern representative for the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, reminded the crowd it was the fourth fight she’s participated in since her arrival on the coast.
“We will win this one, we have won all the others,” she said, referring to the Kitimat Oil Port Inquiry and offshore oil drilling inquiries in the 1980s and again in 2002.
Standing with Henry Clifton, president of the North Coast Native Brotherhood, Thorkelson said the two were united in a fight for fish and for a clean and wonderful ocean.
Cullen recounted the first time he met with Enbridge five years ago and was told the company had $1 million to promote the project.
“I told them the money would not buy the hearts and minds of the people in the Northwest who would stand up against the project to say “no” and “yes” to protect the future,” Cullen said.
Fresh from the Enbridge AGM held in Calgary on May 10, Jasmine Thomas read from a declaration that was presented to the board and shareholders.
The gist of the statement was that the laws of the First Nations that are tied to the land and waters cannot permit the Enbridge pipeline project to proceed.
A decision by Canada to approve the project, without consent or prior approval of all First Nations, the declaration added, will be a direct violation of treaty rights and First Nations laws.
“Enbridge and government can try and downplay all the resistance if they want, but if there’s one thing that Enbridge did, it was unite us in such a way that they don’t even know what they did,” Thomas told the crowd.
Rice said she was overwhelmed by the turnout and thanked Enbridge for bringing everyone together. “That’s the positive and the negative.”