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Heiltsuk Nation vows to continue fight to stop Enbridge
By Chief Marilyn Slett
Sept. 5, 2012
Enbridge is in for a rough ride as the final phase of the Joint Review Panel’s public hearings on its proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline begins this week. This is the stage when interveners can challenge any claims made by Enbridge.
The JRP panel is going to hear about the evidence that is already on the record and test Enbridge’s claims. It’s the expectation of the Heiltsuk Nation that the information that the panel is going to use will inform its final decision to reject the pipeline project. The compelling evidence presented against the need for the pipeline and increased oil tankers on the coast will be no doubt countered by Enbridge’s pie in the sky ideas on the so called benefits of the project.
So the Heiltsuk Nation will continue with our fight to ensure our lands and our waters remain healthy. We will use any means necessary – including legal action - to protect our Aboriginal Rights and Title. That’s the message we delivered to the Joint Review Panel and that’s the message we will continue to share until Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline project is dead.
The risks of Enbridge’s proposed pipeline project far outweigh any benefits it has to offer. An oil tanker spill would have widespread and devastating impacts on the environment, culture and economy of the Heiltsuk Nation. Fish and other marine resources are the backbone of the Heiltsuk economy and key to our survival as a people. Archaeological digs within our Traditional Territory show we have been here for at least 11,500 years. Ancient stone fish traps and clam gardens that our people devised to manage and steward the marine resources can be still found on our beaches within our territory. We still depend on a variety of marine resources such as salmon, halibut, crab, and herring for food, social and ceremonial purposes.
Prior to contact with non-Aboriginal peoples, we participated in an elaborate system of trade and barter with other First Nations along the Pacific Coast. The existence of pre-contact trade and barter was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Gladstone decision that dealt with our Aboriginal Right to sell herring spawn on kelp. The decision affirmed that we engaged in intertribal trade of spawn on kelp and that this practice is integral to our culture.
Our people's health is directly linked to the health of our marine resources. We are ocean people and today our community is largely concentrated in the island village of Bella Bella with no road access to the mainland of B.C. Our territory still holds a rich abundance of many of our traditional marine foods, but declines in the fisheries have forced us to rely increasingly on the expensive, unhealthy food that is flown into our community.
In the past decade we have committed countless hours of labour and thousands of dollars to activities directed at sustainable development, restoring our ecosystems and managing the use of our marine resources. For example, the establishment of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Department (HIRMD) plays a crucial role in coordinating and regulating fishing and other resource activities in Heiltsuk territory.
The marine use plans that are currently being developed have provided us and other Coastal Nations the opportunity to incorporate our local and traditional knowledge into fisheries management by identifying our understanding of the various marine areas and resources that make up the wealth of our traditional territories. Through marine use planning our community views and knowledge are translated into the identification of permissible activities in our waters, areas requiring special protection and areas of particular significance to our people, such as fishing sites, among other things. The Heiltsuk’s approach is to integrate both traditional knowledge and western scientific knowledge in managing and caring for our lands and waters.
All these efforts would be jeopardized by the proposed Enbridge project that would bring hundreds of oil tankers into the Traditional Territories of coastal First Nations.The Heiltsuk are signatories to the Coastal First Nations declaration against oil tankers in our waters and we have issued our own Heiltsuk Nation declaration banning tanker traffic from the territorial waters.
Let me be clear. The Heiltsuk Nation is not anti-development. We are looking at new sustainable economic opportunities. But it is us who will bear the risks to our way of life and to our cultural identity if Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project is approved.
The history of the Heiltsuk is filled with broken promises from various companies that have come into our territory and reaped the benefits of exploiting resources on which we have always relied upon. These companies told us we would benefit from their businesses. Instead they have left our territory and our community with deep economic and environmental scars. There is little doubt that Enbridge would also fall into that category. Enbridge has clearly shown that it isn’t a good corporate citizen – it’s dishonest (video of missing islands), incompetent (Kalamazoo and Keystone Kops), and a bully (characterizing opponents as revolutionaries, radicals).
Until this project and others like it are declared dead our work is not done. We must continue to work together to stop these projects that will destroy our environments and our economies.
“We have to work with each other. Our earth is crying. And it’s crying for help. In the everyday movement of our country, you can make a difference. You can make a difference.” Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually Tribe, Washington State (environmental leader and treaty rights activist)