Say No to the Enbridge Pipeline!

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Adam Thomas, a Dakelh activist, has prepared a well educated and personal article about the proposed Enbridge pipeline in northern BC. Adam is from one of the many First Nation’s communities that stand to be directly impacted if the pipeline is to go through.

My name is Adam Thomas; I am a Dakelh of the Grouse clan from Saik’uz First Nations in Northern British Columbia. I am currently pursuing a bachelor degree in Environmental Planning at the University of Northern British Columbia, as well as continuing my education in Dakelh traditions. During the past year at UNBC I have served as the First Nations representative for the Northern Undergraduate Student Society and as director of the campus climate network goBEYOND. goBEYOND engages students, faculty, staff and community partners at post-secondary institutions in order to promote an active and positive stance regarding climate change.

Outside of campus organizations I also volunteer with local environmental group the Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance, which works to prevent the Northern Gateway Pipeline through educational initiatives about the severe consequences it would inflict upon the surrounding environment. I am also an advocate for Indigenous rights, working with organizations such as the Indigenous Environmental Network, which seeks to educate and to take action against the dirty tar sands oil nationally and internationally. My main focus has been, along with my colleagues, to stop the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline project that poses a threat to my home territory as well as neighboring nations.

In our language Dakelh means “people who travel upon water.” Our homeland is Dakelh Keyoh - a vast land of thousands of lakes and rivers spanning central British Columbia from the Coast Mountains in the west to the Rocky Mountains in the east. Flowing roughly through the center of this land is the Necha-Koh - “the river in the distance.” Born in the Coast Mountains, emptying into the Fraser River, it is the most important tributary to the most important salmon-bearing river in the world. For the ten Dakelh communities on its banks, and the lake and tributaries flowing into it, the Necha-Koh is sustenance, an ancient corridor and the place where all our stories begin. Beyond the veil of trees there is Cluculz Creek, which bubbles from Cluculz Lake, or Lhoh-K’uz. This is “Whitefish Site,” or Sandy Creek, the Keyoh traditional territory of Saik’uz families.  Until a generation ago the first autumn frost brought us here on our seasonal rounds. We camped, caught whitefish in nets made of roots, hunted deer and moose, dried and cached our winter’s food and scraped hides for clothing. Then we departed for our trap lines along the Necha-Koh corridor.

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photo credit: Ian McAllister/pacificwild.org

Once there were no lakes and rivers, no Necha-Koh. There was only one village called Chunlac. Our elders at Saik’uz tell us this is where ‘Utas was born. As a child, he ran off with his Grandfather’s bowl containing all of the water in the world. When the bowl tumbled and broke, “Utas splashed the water with his hands, creating the lakes, creeks, and rivers.” Since then we have followed the Necha-Koh and its seasons. Dak’et (autumn) is when we travel to the Necha-Koh’s many lakes. In Khit (winter) we follow trap lines for beaver and muskrat. We return to the lakes in Olulh (spring) for suckerfish and trout. Traditionally we hunted ducks and geese in the Nech-Koh’s marshes near the city of Vanderhoof. Shin (summer) is when the salmon arrive, this is our most important resource. Twenty-five percent of the Fraser River’s salmon are born in the Necha-Koh and its tributaries. It is my responsibility as a strong Dakelh man of Saik’uz to protect our lands and preserve our Dakelh traditions that are being put at risk due to the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline and the connection it brings to the dirty tar sands.

For those that don’t know much about the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, here are some quick facts. It is a $4.5 billion dollar, 1170km, twin pipeline proposal to move tar sands oil from Alberta to the BC coast at Kitimat. A 36” twin pipeline would carry 500,000 barrels of crude bitumen per day from Bruderheim, Alberta to a deep-sea marine terminal in Kitimat, BC. From there it would be exported by ocean-going tankers to seaboards in Asia and on the west coast of the United States.

A smaller, 20” pipeline would transport condensate from the coast (at Kitimat) to Alberta. Bitumen is a mixture of tar like hydrocarbons derived from petroleum. Condensate is a kerosene-like liquid used to thin heavy oil. This condensate gets mixed with the tar sands crude, and gets pumped back into the westbound pipe from Alberta to the coast, making two trips over 600 fresh water systems (rivers, creeks and streams).

Ocean-going tankers carrying the oil from the port of Kitimat would vary in size, but the largest would be of VLCC classification (literally “Very Large Crude Carrier”). Each of these VLCCs would carry 2.3 million barrels of oil through the 100km Douglas Channel. Other tankers capable of carrying 1.1 billion barrels of oil will also be used. If Enbridge is given approval for this project there will be 225 tankers a year carrying oil and condensate through the Douglas Channel.

First Nations and many citizens have become extremely concerned regarding the deployment of these tankers, especially when given the example of the Exxon Valdez tanker accident in 1989. The Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska spilling an estimate of 262,000 barrels of crude oil across 2000 km of coastline. This spill resulted in the deaths of thousands of animals both on land and within the sea, causing extreme environmental, social, cultural and economic damage.

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photo credit: Ian McAllister/pacificwild.org

One of the major concerns regarding the pipeline project in BC is in regards to the important fisheries in the tributaries of the Fraser and Skeena watersheds. The Enbridge pipeline would cross over 600 of these and many other tributaries, affecting important Pacific and Arctic watersheds. The risks to the fresh water ecosystems are enormous, and many, including myself, believe the pipeline would incur serious long-term damage that would vastly outweigh the short-term economic benefits that Enbridge has promised.

Pipelines are not invincible; they will ultimately leak, rupture and deteriorate over time. In addition the regions that the pipeline is being proposed to be built in are very remote, and in the winter can be covered with over 5 feet of snow. There are also real risks from landslides in the mountainous areas and flooding from annual freshwater runoff. Keep in mind that this pipeline is being proposed to be built through the middle of the mountain pine beetle impacted forests – the fires we had this summer are only the beginning. There are hundreds of thousands of hectares of dead trees and underbrush that are extremely vulnerable to fires in the summer months.

First Nations and citizens of northern BC have become quite vocal in engaging against this project. Opposition ranges from the municipal level to First Nations, both passing resolutions supporting a federally legislated tanker ban, and denouncing the tar sands. The environmental risks are not worth it. Traditional governance in particular has decision-making rights and authority to what is allowed to happen in their territories. In BC most First Nations have not signed treaties with the government of Canada, so the answer to the question of who owns the land and the right to make decisions regarding usage of the land is certain, it belongs to the First Nations. Consultation will be required in the vast majority of resource development projects. Recent decisions have clarified the Crown’s duty to consult with and accommodate First Nations.

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photo credit: Adam Thomas

First Nations have won several important court cases against the government, such as Delgamuukw vs. the Queen. The 1997 Delgamuukw decision of the Supreme Court of Canada was an important moment in determining the nature and extent of Aboriginal rights and title in Canada. On December 11, 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada issued its landmark decision on the claim to Aboriginal title and self-government made by the Hereditary Chiefs of the Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en Nations. There is also the Haida case, where the Crown argued that its tree farm license replacement did not legally transfer any rights to another third party – this transfer was legally affected by the cutting permits. The Court found that such strategic decisions demand a duty to consult with First Nations, yet the government continues to either ignore these rights or barely meet the minimum standards.

As a Dakelh man it is my duty to protect the lands where our ancestors and stories began for the generations to come. My focus to stop the proposed the Northern Gateway Pipeline project increases each day and along with my colleagues we will stop this project in its tracks.

Adam Thomas, Dakelh


Here’s a moving video from Dogwood Initiative.

Another powerful video by Pacific Wild…

Oil in Eden: The Battle to Protect Canada’s Pacific Coast from Pacific Wild on Vimeo.

Native youth speak out about the health effects of the Tar Sands.


More info

Pacific Wild

NoTankers Petition

Enbridge issued final notice of trespass by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

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