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Enbridge Pipeline hearing unites Aboriginals

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In the opening phase of the National Energy Board’s hearings into the Northern Gateway oil pipeline proposal, there was a near unanimous opposition against the endeavor.

The Vancouver Observer has been following the Gateway pipeline story very closely. Members of the tribes of the Wet’suwet’en, BC Métis and Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson all asserted in hearings that the Bulkley Valley is shared by different cultures which share a dependence on clean rivers for wild salmon. Since the proposed pipeline puts wild salmon and other wild food at risk, and since the salmon populations have been infiltrated by ISAv as well, this results in quite a precarious position for those that depend on wild salmon.  The hearings proceeded for the entire day and presentations were reported to last on average of 15 minutes. This meant that many in the community had much to say on the effects of the pipeline proposal and its implications for their future.

And in the hearing, every single person gave Enbridge a thumbs down on the proposal. Marjorie Dumont (Chief name Many Leaves, Beaver House, Father called Big Man, Mother called Echo in the Valley) said, “The pipeline threatens my livelihood even before it bursts. A lot of the ecosystems are going to be destroyed. I worry about that. I worry about the ancestors who have been buried in our territory. That’s our graveyard and that’s our dinner table. Our blood stays pure only so long as our water stays pure. I would be devastated if we were removed from our land. It is who we are.” She listed social impacts of the pipeline, including diminishment of the power and authority of the chiefs, the increased likelihood of depression among youth who lose their identity, and the money that would exacerbate drug and alcohol problems. The Chief also criticized Harper in his comments about the radicals who want to stop the project. The Chief said, “I’m worried about the money that Enbridge spent trying to promote the project. Who is giving the money for ethical oil? Who gave $80 million to Enbridge to push forward with pipeline? The Prime Minister makes it look like pipeline opponents are making the government victims. It’s important to understand who the victims are. We’re the victims. The representatives of Enbridge here have asked for the last eight years. I’ve sat with them in meetings. We’ve told them no. It’s not respectful to keep asking. What part of no do they not understand? They try to sell dreams to people who are poor, that this wealth will make their life better. Give poor people money and their life doesn’t get better it gets worse. We’ve seen that time and time again.

Another Native member Herb Nikal, stated that the pipeline project would run through the natural habitat of the Swan Lake grizzly bear silver backs. He said, “Keep your pipeline in your backyard, we will keep grizzlies in ours.

Teresa Tait-Day said “We aren’t worried about the pipeline’s two inches of land. We are worried about our entire relationship with everything. We need to live off the land and sustain ourselves to be who we are. Don’t hold money in the highest regard, hold people in the highest regard.

There was also the Haida Nation Council president Guujaaw that stated Enbridge documents falsely suggested the company was building “relationships” with Haida native groups. In an email dated December 20, 2011 Guujaaw sent an email to Secretary of the Joint Review Panel and said, “Enbridge has provided deliberately misleading and false information contained in their Section 52 Application claiming that the applicant has built relationships with the Haida Fisheries Program, Haida Development Corporation (sic, presumably Haida Enterprise Corporation)  and Haida Child and Family Services. Haida Gwaii Community Futures is not an ‘Aboriginal Organization’ and has no idea how they got on the list. Representatives of the above organizations are in no way engaged with nor have they given any reason to believe they are “relationship building” with Enbridge.

Tensions abound

All this news comes a month after a Star report, that looked into the federal government’s surveillance of First Nations in order to monitor protests. Back in 2007, the federal government established a surveillance network to monitor the protests and it included those that would attract national attention or target “critical infrastructure” such as highways, railways, and pipelines, according to RCMP documents.

The RCMP unit in charge was formed after the Conservatives came in power under their minority, and the mandate was to collect and distribute intelligence about situations involving First Nations that have “escalated to civil disobedience and unrest in the form of protest actions.” The documents, obtained through access to information requests, include an RCMP slideshow presentation from the spring of 2009, which says the intelligence unit reported weekly to approximately 450 recipients in law enforcement, government, and unnamed “industry partners” in the energy and private sector. Also revealed earlier last year, access to information documents revealed that almost immediately upon taking power in 2006, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) was given the lead role to spy on First Nations members. Efforts were taken to identify the First Nation leaders, participants and outside supporters of First Nation occupations and protests, and to closely monitor their actions. To help the INAC with their task, they created a “Hot Spot Reporting System“.  As investigative journalists Russel Diabo, Shiri Pasternak, and Martin Lucaks have written, the Hot Spot designation was given to those First Nations conflicts of “growing concern” due to “unrest” and increasing militancy. In a briefing presentation that INAC gave the RCMP in 2007, they identified certain communities as hotspots: Caledonia, Ontario (Douglas Creek Estates occupation); Belleville, Ontario (Montreal/Toronto Rail Blockade in sympathy to Caledonia); Brantford, Ontario (Grand River Conservation Authority Lands); Desoronto, Ontario (Occupation of Quarry); Grassy Narrows (Blockade of Trans Canada Hwy by environmentalists); and Maniwaki, Quebec (Blockade of Route 117).

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (FNCFCS), was one such member that was investigated. She came upon this discovery after she filed an Access to Information request on herself. After a year and a half had passed, she received a 400 page file that contained personal information collected of her, and reports into her actvities.

News events such as this have already caused a strain in relationship between the Aboriginals and the Federal government. The additional compounded variables of judicial hearings into the infectious salmon anemia virus (ISAv) and the public hearings on the Northern Gateway proposed pipeline have placed B.C. in the spotlight and led to political tensions between Aboriginals and federal officials.

When it all boils down to it, in a province that is geologically very rocky to begin with, this next year remains to be an ever rockier time for B.C.

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