Harsha Walia: First Nations fight tar sands pipelines

The past few months saw high-profile civil disobedience from Washington, D.C., to Ottawa against the Alberta tar sands and TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. Canada is currently the largest supplier of crude oil to the U.S., and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is pushing to double Canada’s production during the next decade.

According to Ben West of the Wilderness Committee: “We can point fingers at Alberta, but the truth is that British Columbia is vying for power as a fossil-fuel exporter. Successive provincial and national governments have pushed B.C. towards the Pacific Gateway Corridor Initiative. People may not know it, but our province and our city are of strategic importance for tar-sands expansion, particularly through the Enbridge pipeline and the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”

The $5.5-billion proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline would carry petroleum product from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., to be shipped to international markets. This would enable an estimated 30-percent increase in tar-sands production. With newly constructed tanker ports bringing supertankers and crude-oil tanker traffic into northern waters, many fear a repeat of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. The Enbridge pipeline carrying 700,000 barrels per day of crude oil and toxic hydrocarbons would cross more than 1,000 rivers and streams, including the headwaters of the Fraser and Skeena rivers and salmon-spawning sites. Even the Union of British Columbia Municipalities has voted against the pipeline and coastal tanker traffic.

The proposed pipeline would also traverse the territories of more than 60 First Nations communities. West of the Rockies, most of the land remains unceded, as there are few signed treaties. Aboriginal title continues to be affirmed by First Nations and has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. Although Enbridge claims to have working protocols with some First Nations bands, not one has publicly affirmed support. Rather, quite the opposite. The Save the Fraser Gathering of Nations declaration was signed by 61 indigenous communities in December 2010: “We will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon.”

Members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, for example, have issued a formal trespass notice to Enbridge. I spoke with one of them, Mel Bazil, during the first Indigenous Assembly Against Mining and Pipelines held in the B.C. Interior in September. According to Bazil: “We will not allow Enbridge to operate on our territory. There are other pipeline companies also attempting to come onto our territories and threaten our ways of life. The Pacific Trails natural-gas pipeline, in particular, is coming up much faster and is essentially the breaking ground for future pipelines. Enbridge is actually using the fact that Pacific Trails is proposing the same right of way as Enbridge to mitigate their ecological footprint on our territory. ”

Closer to home, the Kinder Morgan–operated Trans Mountain Pipeline carries 300,000 barrels per day from Alberta to B.C. as well as to Washington state. Kinder Morgan’s current expansion proposal will facilitate transport of tar-sands crude to both international (Asian) markets through increased tanker traffic out of the Lower Mainland as well as bring tar-sands bitumen into the U.S. through refineries in Washington state. Specifically, the expansion proposal would increase capacity in the pipeline by more than 50 percent and also allow supertankers with one-million-barrel capacity in the Burrard Inlet. This is an overall tanker capacity that is at least 65 percent more than what Enbridge is proposing. Yet there has been little attention paid to Trans Mountain, which already has an existing right of way.

Of the 18 legal interveners in Kinder Morgan’s application to the National Energy Board, 17 are oil companies and one is the Alberta government. This despite the fact that Kinder Morgan is a poster child for pipeline problems. Just to name a few: a Kinder Morgan gasoline pipeline ruptured in Arizona in 2002; an explosion of one its pipelines in California in 2004 killed five workers; a Kinder Morgan pipeline rupture led to 200,000 litres of crude oil gushing through Burnaby in 2007; and in 2008 the company agreed to settle a felony charge by entering a plea to a criminal violation of the U.S. Ocean Dumping Act in 2003.

When asked at the Indigenous Assembly Against Mining and Pipelines why he thought there were different levels of opposition to various pipelines, hereditary chief Toghestiy Wet’suwet’en said: “Pipelines are the poison of the land, but many corporations are using the language of ‘green’ to trick and co-opt environmental organizations.”

In light of global actions taking place under the banner of the Occupy Together movement, this seems like a particularly poignant message.

Harsha Walia is a Vancouver-based social-justice activist and researcher with the group No One Is Illegal, which supports the Indigenous Assembly Against Mining and Pipelines.




Nov 3, 2011 at 7:47am

re: "We will not allow Enbridge to operate on our territory."

If "No One Is Illegal" then there's no such thing as territory for ANY group of people, and there's nothing illegal about oil companies running pipelines.

Pick a side Harsha, eat your cake or don't.

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dread nugent

Nov 3, 2011 at 11:16am

I am waiting for Laibar Singh to weigh in ..... how did that work our for ya Harsha? ... and shouldn't you be going off the deep end on the updated Immigration Policies in the works?

Or running for Mayor?

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Rick in Richmond

Nov 3, 2011 at 12:16pm

This would be the same Harsha Walia who endorses Black Bloc tactics. According to her, "no tactic is illegal" either?

Fun watching here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oesjegD1-Vg

We've got a wide banquet of crazies in this town. Like Harsha herself, the more pompous the better. Always good for a laff. Not so good for the country.

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reality check

Nov 3, 2011 at 12:30pm

Harsha Walla supports the Black Blockheads, so she has no credibility as far as I am concerned.

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the real ODB

Nov 3, 2011 at 9:02pm

Oooooh, the morons are out in full force! I read this article and no where is it implied that it is about anything other than what it is about! Not about Ms, Walia (Reality check: do a "spell" check, dumb ass!). Not about the Black Bloc or Laibar Singh. I guess when you're devoid of anything intelligent to say, this is what one has to stoop to. Get a life losers!

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Rick in Richmond

Nov 4, 2011 at 12:32am

ODB misses the point. When a source is contaminated with crazy ideology like "self-identified anarchist" (her words -- see the YouTube) Harsha Walia, no one is going to take her seriously.

Harsha Walia is not credible because her admitted identification with Black Bloc tactics (see YouTube) make her a goof. She's today's Mr. Peanut, with dark glasses and a scowl.

She's entitled to her opinions. She is not entitled to pose as an objective journalist. She is not objective. Her prejudices are so extreme that everything she says is contaminated by them.

For the same reason no sane person takes Glenn Beck seriously, no one takes Harsha Walia seriously either. She is one more conspiracist with a looney agenda. Her pomposity is her calling card. Her agenda contaminates everything she says.

Some people wonder if Enbridge hopes for a Walia so that all legitimate and scientific criticisms are ignored.


Nov 4, 2011 at 3:55pm

Wow, someone writes an intelligent article on the issue and the right wing e-mob comes out swinging. Y'all first ignore EVERYTHING in the article in favour of trying to slander the writer.

And please, don't be ridiculous about ignoring anything written by 'self-identified anarchists.' Without them, everything from linguistics, the student movement, economics, to the labour movement would be a century or two behind.


Nov 4, 2011 at 5:48pm

There is no doubt. man is the most destructive animal on earth, and the most stupid one at that. Wild creatures that nest or den, don't foul them. Stupid greedy humans do.

Scientists have found acid in the ocean, right up to the shores of BC. They were shocked. They thought the acid contained, way out in the deep. The acid will eventually eat the shells off the crustaceans. The coral is turning white. Scientists say, The Great Barrier Reef, will be gone within twenty years. Our oceans are dying from, an overload of Carbon Monoxide. If we don't get rid of fossil fuels, the planet will get rid of us. If the oceans die, we die.

The F.N. People were forced onto reservations, the government thought barren and no good for farming. Now of course, the barren land is full of valuable metals, oil and gas and shale gas. Government greed in BC, allowed dirty diseased fish farms, that are killing off the wild salmon. The F.N. people are in a never ending struggle to save their hunting grounds and the salmon, to feed their people. Eagles, bears and hundreds of species, depend on the salmon as well. Campbell's theft and sale of the rivers, have also destroyed salmon runs.

The dirty Alberta tar sands, are an ugly, abomination of the face of Canada. Deformed fish in Athabasca Lake. The mighty Athabasca River has, Mercury, heavy metals and cancer causing agents in it. Any wildlife will eventually perish by using that water. The huge Athabasca watershed is now contaminated. another flock of ducks died, from landing in that filthy crud. Our beloved Whooping Cranes, fly right over the tar sands. We can only pray, they don't decide to land in the crud too. The Caribou are dying. The last Boreal Forest in North America has bitumen underneath them. Song birds and thousands of wildlife species call those forests home. Forests absorb the Carbon Monoxide, so stupid humans can breathe. A first Nations village are dying of cancer, even the rare cancer of exposure to petroleum. The chemicals put in the oil, to make the oil flow freely, are absolutely lethal. The chemicals are so caustic, the corrode the pipes into a fragile state and the pipes burst. Enbridge has the worst record of pipe bursts in the world.

Port Kitimat has the most treacherous seas in the world. their are frequent winds over 160 km. the waves are huge. The channel narrow, and the tankers are immense. The oil is still gathering on the rocks, from the Valdez spill over 21 years ago. The Valdez spill is like a coffee cup spill, compared to the huge tankers from China. Depending what all other country's Harper can con into accepting the dirty oil. We could have hundreds more tankers. The channel is a nightmare to navigate in good weather. Kitimat is a northern port, and has bad weather in the fall, winter, spring and even in the summer.

There is nothing in the Enbridge pipeline, nor the dirty tankers, for the F.N. nor the other people of BC. The pipeline burst way out from Edmonton, made the F.N. children so sick, they had to abandon their school.

How many more pipe bursts into rivers, streams and soil. The tanker spill off New Zea Land. The gulf spill. Rig explosions. And, the spills we never hear off. There are avalanches, mud slides and rock slides that take out pipelines. Canada is a vast wilderness, it can take days to even find the spill.

What will it take, for common sense to trump greed?

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Rick in Richmond

Nov 4, 2011 at 6:44pm

Shako is as shaky as ODB.

When the source cannot be trusted, the information is in doubt. When the source is profoundly biased, the outcome lacks credibility. When the source has a record of ideological distortion, the consequence is unlikely to be taken seriously.

Harsha Walia is such a source. By reputation, she is a crackpot. So is Glenn Beck. Like Glenn Beck, one doubts almost everything he says because his prejudices are so extreme.

Harsha Walia allies herself with the Black Bloc. Glenn Beck allies himself with the Tea Party. Sorry, Shako, but no one treats either as better than an angry goof.

The woman who claims that "no one is illegal" wonders why no one takes her seriously? Surprise, surprise.

BTW, she is no true 'anarchist' either. Those theoreticians (like Kropotkin, Bakunin, Proudhon, Godwin, Paul Goodman etc etc) operated on a level of thought and insight miles beyond anything Walia could imagine. Those great thinkers and idealists identified with hope and generosity.

Harsha Walia identifies with Black Bloc thugs. If you can't see the difference...

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Feb 26, 2014 at 8:12am

i heard that 32 pages of the deal between gitxsan and enbridge had been leaked somewhere on the internet im really struggling to find that , i dont know if anyone here heard of it or seen it can u guys help me . thanks in advance !