First Nations and other British Columbia citizens promise direct actions, protests and legal battles to thwart Northern Gateway project
Demonstrators took to the streets of Vancouver Tuesday evening after the Canadian government gave the greenlight to the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline. (Photo: Brent Patterson/ Twitter)“It’s official. The war is on,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip told a crowd of hundreds who had flooded the streets of Vancouver late Tuesday following the announcement that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had approved the Enbridge Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline.
Phillip, who is president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told reporters that people are prepared to go to jail over this fight, “because that’s what it’s going to take.”
Phillip’s statement exemplified the widespread condemnation and vows of resistance that swiftly followed news that the Canadian government had greenlighted the controversial project.
The 1,177 kilometer pipeline will carry 200 million barrels of tar sands crude each year from Alberta to a terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia, where it will be loaded onto oil tankers.
Blocking a major intersection, the Vancouver protesters wielded signs and chanted: ‘No pipelines!’, ‘No tankers!’ and ‘Defend our coast!’
“The only thing we can do now is raise our voices together and have a peaceful protest, to make a strong statement that this is not okay,” Mona Woodward, executive director of the Aboriginal Front door society, told a reporter from the Vancouver Observer.
A diverse crowd gathered in front of the CBC News headquarters in the B.C. city to voice their anger at a government that they say blatantly chose to neglect the people and the environment over big business.
“It’s more than disrespectful […] it’s the end of safe drinking water, it’s also the end of Mother Earth,” Woodward continued.
Opponents of the pipeline also flooded social media with vows of resistance and pictures of Tuesday’s demonstration.
Canadian Indigenous groups, which have long-fought the pipeline, are vowing to defend their land and their sovereignty ‘without surrender.’
In an unprecedented show of unity, 31 First Nations and tribal councils have signed a letter announcing their intention to “vigorously pursue all lawful means to stop the Enbridge project.”
“We have governed our lands, in accordance to our Indigenous laws, since time immemorial,” read the statement, which was distributed by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “Our inherent Title and Rights and our legal authority over our respective territories have never been surrendered.”
“This project, and the federal process to approve it, violated our rights and our laws. We are uniting to defend our lands and waters of our respective territories,” the statement continued. “We will defend our territories whatever the costs may be.”
“We will defend our territories whatever the costs may be.”
—alliance of 31 First Nations
Even with the project tied up in courts, organizers are preparing more immediate direct actions and demonstrations on the ground.
On Wednesday, the First Nations group Kootenays for a Pipeline-Free B.C. is holding a rally under the banner “Occupy the Pipeline Everywhere!” at the Chahko Mika Mall in Ottawa.
Women with the Yinka Dene Alliance, a coalition of six First Nations who live directly along the pipeline route, are vowing to “do everything we can to protect our water,” as alliance coordinator Geraldine Thomas Flurer told The Tyee.
Gitga’at First Nation women are planning to a suspend multicolored crocheted “chain of hope” across the more than 3.5 kilometer-wide Douglas Channel this Friday, in what they are describing as a symbolic blockade against oil tankers.
Echoing the sentiment of many who are specifically directing their anger over the pipeline at Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Chief Phillip said during the Vancouver rally: “Harper has declared war on British Columbians and First Nations, he will absolutely not be welcome into this province in the future.”
Considering the mounting opposition, many believe this is a project destined for failure. As noted Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki wrote following news of the pipeline’s approval, “This conversation is far from over.”
Suzuki added: “In approving it, the government is aggressively pushing an unwanted project on an unwilling public. I don’t believe it will be built.”