There’s nothing like being in the Great Bear Rainforest to be reminded of what is at stake. As Heiltsuk hereditary chief Harvey Humchitt told me, as we talked tankers in Bella Bella this past summer, the risk of an oil spill isn’t for coastal communities alone. “It’s not only for First Nations people but it’s for everyone who uses sea resources—fishermen, sports fishermen, tourists, people that travel throughout our coast.”
If the federal government had its way, supertankers would soon be plying north coast waters. But in the groundswell of opposition throughout British Columbia over the past few years there is a deep determination to chart a different path.
The federal government has approved Enbridge Northern Gateway. But First Nations have banned it. And now many First Nations have gone to court to challenge the federal approval. This pipeline is far from a done deal.
Does that mean the rest of us can sit back and assume all is taken care of? No, far from it. We have reached a critical moment in the fight against this pipeline and the tankers that threaten B.C.’s coast and communities, and we still need all hands on deck.
First Nation legal challenges have the power to delay Northern Gateway past the point of no return. However, taking on these court challenges is an expensive burden for these small communities.
Five of the nations going to court are the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, and Gitxaala nations (on B.C.’s central and north coast, along the proposed oil tanker route), and the Nadleh Whut’en and Nak’azdli nations (in the northern interior, along the proposed pipeline route). These are remote, rural communities, taking a stand against a large corporation and a federal government trying to push a pipeline and tankers on an unwilling province. They have courage and wisdom rooted in thousands of years of governance, and the strength of aboriginal title on their side.
They are determined and willing to go it alone and do what it takes to protect their lands and communities. But they are up against big forces—and it doesn’t seem right that they should be standing alone.
“The oil companies have endlessly deep pockets, and First Nations don’t, so we decided that fundraising is the best way for us to support these legal challenges,” says Anne Hill of North West Watch, a community group in Terrace. With a spaghetti dinner and awards evening, North West Watch raised $2,000, and then issued a challenge to others around the province to step up as well.
Inspired by the commitment of northern communities, Sierra Club B.C. is partnering with Raven Trust and the five nations to launch an innovative, community-based fundraising campaign called Pull Together.
Pull Together encourages people to fundraise online and/or organize solidarity events in their communities to support the First Nation legal challenges. It’s a tangible way individuals, communities, and businesses can provide financial support to First Nations and moral support to everyone on the front lines against Enbridge.
Already a range of groups and individuals have begun to organize in creative ways.
An evening of live music with over 10 local musicians, organized by Fresh Water Jukebox, raised $800 in Penticton. The Friends of Morice-Bulkley raised $925 at a film screening in Smithers.
Renate Herberger, a self-described mermaid, swam the 22 kilometres of the chilly Saanich Inlet, in a grueling 10 hours on August 5, to raise awareness about the threats to our oceans. “When we act on what we believe in, each contributing in some small way, we can achieve amazing goals. I believe in personal responsibility to each other and to the earth,” she says.
One couple set up a Pull Together fundraising page to encourage donations instead of wedding gifts and quickly surpassed their goal of $1,000.
The First Unitarian Church in Victoria is donating half of their Sunday service collections in October. Yoga studios are raising thousands. More and more events are popping up all the time and already over $51,000 has been raised. Recently a generous donor has offered to match every dollar raised, bringing the actual total to $102,000 so far!
Chief Marilyn Slett of the Heiltsuk Nation told me the generous outpouring of support means a lot, and helps them have the strength to bring these legal challenges forward. “It’s a good feeling knowing that we’re standing together united in solidarity with British Columbians at large.”
Not only are people raising money, they are having fun, building connections within their communities, and journeying along a path of reconciliation with First Nations.
So go ahead. Do something small or do something big. Anything you contribute will make a real difference.
By taking a stand for their people, these nations are in fact taking a stand for us all. “This Enbridge issue is not just a First Nations issue,” Doug Neasloss, Kitasoo/Xai’xais councillor, told me as we explored an estuary looking for grizzly bears. “It’s not just my community or the central coast or coastal B.C....it’s all of our issue as British Columbians and as Canadians.”
So let’s support the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo-Xai’xais, Gitxaala, Nadleh Whut’en, and Nak’azdli nations—because when we pull together, we are the wall of opposition that can stop the Enbridge dirty oil pipeline from ever getting built.