By Megan Gartrell, Staff Writer
The Northern Gateway pipeline project is no stranger to controversy, and on October 22, 2012 thousands of protestors gathered on the lawn of Victoria B.C.’s legislative building to send a clear message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and B.C. Premier Christy Clark: “Our coast is not for sale.”
Greenpeace International co-founder, Rex Weyler informed me via email, “I was pleased [with the turnout.]”
“The crowd was flowing in and out all day, so it is difficult to estimate numbers, but it seemed to me, at its peak, about 4000,” he said. “The ferry from Vancouver had to cut off foot-passengers. Even more impressive were both the diversity of the crowd and the coalition of First Nations, unions, environmental groups, and general public. The event felt like a great wave of public interest to protect the B.C. marine environments and our coastal economies.”
Despite chill winds and rain there was an undeniably positive energy. Raised high were banners proclaiming: “There is no Planet B,” and “People speak louder than money.” Amongst the pulse of native drums, many faces had the eerie appearance of weeping oil after being painted with black tears. During the First Nations procession march, men and women donned in traditional regalia carried a massive paper salmon of red and green mounted on sticks up the stairs of Parliament and pressed the salmon’s mouth to the doors.
Many Canadians believe this is a tipping point – a moment in history when the public has the responsibility and opportunity to re-envision the world. Chief Karen Ogen of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, one of many to step up to the microphone, said, “this decision over whether the pipeline is built will be made by the will of the people.”
The rally was organized by the Defend our Coast coalition, which is made up of various environmental groups and First Nations communities. In attendance were representatives from the Wilderness Committee, Tanker Free BC, Greenpeace International, and Forest Ethics; Chiefs from Coastal First Nations; and unions such as the Communications, Energy and Paperworks Union of Canada; CUPE; and the BC Teachers Federation. The day began with many prominent speakers and performers and the crowd responded in unison: “We are with you.”
During his moving speech, Chief Rueben George of the Tsleil Waututh First Nation said:
It is apparent from the size of this crowd that we are winning. When we come together our spirits collide and we become stronger. We cannot put a price on our air, our water, and our land. We say no. We want to make a difference for our children and our children’s children. The owners of Enbridge and Kinder Morgan are too blind by greed to see, so we are going to do it for their children too. Be a pebble thrown in the pond and ripple out our message.
Chief Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation said, “We are not selling our future for any amount of money. It’s time to warrior up.”
Many of the protestors attended training the Sunday prior to the protest in anticipation of civil disobedience that could result in arrest. The first wave of action was a visual message to Harper and Clark. Protestors willing to risk arrest pounded into the ground a 235-metre long black cloth banner. The length represented how long an oil tanker is and the colour symbolic of death and oil. The banner stretched across the lawn and blockaded Wharf Street. But despite the fact it is illegal to drive anything into the Parliament lawn, no arrests were made.
But that does not mean protestors are not prepared to “warrior up.” Weyler explained:
We’ll go all the way, to arrests, blockades, and beyond. The only concession in the battle to save our coast, save the Earth from global heating, and restore ecological balance would be to initiate a national energy policy that provides a transition from our current fossil fuel economy and resource plunder economy to a renewable energy and resource preservation economy. We have been asking for this dialogue for decades.
Environmentalists say the government must move away from carbon fuels and focus on clean energy.