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Hundreds of people from First Nations, environmental and community organizations, and others from Vancouver and beyond rallied against Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline and coastal oil supertanker traffic earlier today, filling the Vancouver Art Gallery grounds.
A march led by the Heiltsuk Nation of the Central Coast departed from the Coastal First Nations office at Granville and Hastings and wound its way through the downtown business district to join those waiting at the Art Gallery. The rally marked the 23rd anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska, spilling hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil on March 24, 1989.
"Only seven percent of that oil was cleaned up," said Coastal First Nations executive director Art Sterritt of the Exxon Valdez spill. "Our well-being as First Nations is dependent on our lands, on our waters."
“Our people, the Heiltsuk people, have always had a position: No oil tankers on the coast! That position has never changed,” Heiltsuk elder Edwin Newman told the rally. “We are pleading with our coastal neighbours to stand with us to fight this issue.”
“When we stand together, we are a powerful people,” added Newman, whose call for unity was echoed by speaker after speaker.
"We are Canada's energy union and we stand with you on this issue," Jim Britton, Western Region Vice President of the Communications, Energy and Paper Workers' Union (CEP) told the crowd. "We do not support Enbridge. We do not support Northern Gateway... This isn't just about oil. This is about us. This is about our communities."
If built, the proposed 1,200km Northern Gateway oil pipeline would transport half a million barrels of tar sands bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, BC. The proposed twin pipelines' 30m-wide right-of-way would cross hundreds of rivers, streams, and watersheds along its route through numerous unceded Indigenous territories. The crude oil would then be transported on massive oil tankers through delicate coastal ecosystems and Indigenous territories, and then across the Pacific to Asian markets.
"The world that we have lived in for the past 10,000 years is shifting around us," 350.org founder Bill McKibben told the rally, situating the coastal struggle against pipelines and tankers within the global climate justice movement. "The planet is starting to become unglued because we are raising the temperature."
"We know, we absolutely know that this fight is going to completely eclipse the [fight for] Clayquot Sound," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs told the sea of people gathered in front of the Art Gallery steps. "We know that this fight is going to intensify."
While the struggle against Northern Gateway has garnered massive support and international attention, it is not the only pipeline project facing opposition in the province. Grassroots Wet'suwet'en community activists have been resisting the proposed Pacific Trails gas Pipeline that would connect to a new Liquified Natural Gas port on the central coast. The project would traverse the unceded lands of many of the same First Nations opposing the Enbridge project; however, the elected leadership of several First Nations along the route are supporting the Pacific Trails project.
Another lesser-known pipeline project already runs through the lower mainland. The Kinder Morgan oil pipeline brings tar sands crude across the rockies along its Trans Mountain pipeline to terminals in both Burnaby and Washington state. Only two months ago there was a spill in Abbotsford, following a major oil spill at the Burnaby terminal site in 2007.
This coming week, Kinder Morgan is expected to announce its expansion plans for the pipeline, according to Ben West of the Wilderness Committee. The company is reportedly looking to double the quantity of crude transported from 300,000 barrels per day to 600,000 or 700,000.
"Kinder Morgan has been trying to do this as quietly as possible," West told the rally. "We have to stand together to say no to all these projects!"
As the rally wound down after two hours in the rain, the loudest expressions of support were heard for 11-year-old Sliammon Nation singer-songwriter Ta'Kaiya Blaney. She recalled how one year ago, she went to the Enbridge office in Vancouver to express her opinion about the Northern Gateway pipeline.
"I was escorted out and I was told that if I didn't leave I would be charged for trespassing," Blaney told the rally, to enthusiastic cheers.
Before performing Shallow Waters, Blaney reminded the hundreds gathered on Monday afternoon of the message found in one line of the song: "If we do nothing, it will all be gone."
Sandra Cuffe is a writer and aspiring janitor currently living in Vancouver.