First Nations Flex their Pipes against Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline
‘NO’ to the Enbridge Pipeline!
Written by Caitlin McKay, Staff Writer
Thousands protested the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline in front of the B.C. legislature in Victoria. Protestors wanted to show a united backlash against the proposed pipeline that would transport crude oil from Alberta to a port in Kitimat, B.C. Some came out to protect the environment, and some to demonstrate that the coast is ‘not for sale.’ If the pipeline is constructed it would run through various northern First Nation communities. And for them the pipeline threatens their home, culture and way of life.
“This project assumes that First Nation lands are for sale and access to Native communities is a right. It disregards any notions that First Nations have any control over their own territory,” said Gerald Taiaiake Alfred, a professor of Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria and a participant in the October 22 protest.
This project assumes that First Nation lands are for sale and access to Native communities is a right. It disregards any notions that First Nations have any control over their own territory.
Enbridge Inc, partner to the pipeline, says First Nations stand to gain from this initiative. The company has proposed to offer First Nation communities a 10% share in the project. According to their website that’s roughly $280 million of net income over 30 years. But Enbridge stands to gain far more than $280 million from this pipeline and the money won’t repair the damaged environment, should the pipeline break.
“That’s just a propaganda ploy on the part of Enbridge,” says Alfred. “It’s relative to the amount of profits they made…it’s nothing but a smokescreen to try and dissuade media and Canadians from dismissing Enbridge’s efforts as meaningless.”
Enbridge also says that they will employ First Nations on the construction of the pipeline. They will train those First Nation members, and provide them with jobs and skills. About % 15 of the workers will be First Nation. But communities, who are opposed to the pipeline, say that Enbridge is missing the point. The construction alone will harm the surrounding plants and habitats that First Nations rely on to sustain their way of life. While Enbridge claims that the pipeline will bring economic activity to the area and allow it to prosper, some community leaders say not all economic activity is good.
“I could name a hundred different things that could bring economic benefit to any community that would be a bad choice in the long run,” says Alfred. “Opening a brothel, selling drugs brings economic benefit, but is it right? I don’t think so. They don’t leave the land alone… they fall short of what the communities have for their own standard of protection.”
The project would transport 525, 000 barrels of oil per day from near Edmonton to Kitimat. The company operates the world’s longest crude oil pipeline, transporting 200 million barrels of oil a day using 13,500 km of pipeline. Enbridge assures the B.C government and other stakeholders that they will adhere to the highest industry standards for safety and environmental protection. However, the Polaris Institute calculated that Enbridge has had 804 spills between 1999 and 2010.
First Nations fear a spill in their territory could destabilize the environment they depend on. The possible risk could undermine their way of life, which is already constantly under threat from external sources.
“What First Nations stand to gain should be measured in terms of the ability of those people to re-root themselves in the true source of their identity and strength – which is the interaction with their homeland and traditional practice which is the basis for their culture,” Alfred said. “The pipeline is a significant obstacle to that, so it is a significant obstacle to the cultural survival of coming generations.”
First Nation communities and Enbridge approach the pipeline issue from different perspectives that contrast with each other. For Alfred, the idea of economic progress is one that has deep roots in society and not necessarily beneficial for First Nations or Canadians.
“This proposal is not going to benefit the average Canadian but the multi-national corporations. Economic prosperity is already achieved, the notion that we need to continually progress… is engrained in the Canadian mentality,” he said. “… Canada doesn’t need more money; it needs a better use of the money that already exists.”
The multi-billion dollar project is still being discussed by the B.C and Albertan governments. A public hearing about safety, construction and design issues is scheduled for next month in Prince George B.C.