Opponents of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project spent the day after its conditional approval from Ottawa waging war on several fronts, using civil disobedience, legal action, and persuasion to further the message that the $7.9-billion pipeline should not be built.
Nine people staged a sit-in at Conservative MP James Moore’s B.C. constituency office Wednesday to voice their opposition to the project. Four were arrested after they refused to leave, but were quickly released by police and not taken into custody.
“We feel that Stephen Harper, along with James Moore, have a democratic duty to respect the convictions of Canadians and British Columbians who have said no,” Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, one of the protesters who left on her own accord, said in an interview.
When asked why she left the protest, Ms. Tailfeathers said: “This is a very long struggle ahead. I’m in it for the long haul. I’m ready to pick my battles.”
Constable Luke van Winkel, a spokesman for the Port Moody Police Department, described the protest as peaceful and said “no real force” was needed to escort the protesters outside. He said the decision to release them quickly was based in part on the fact they were co-operative throughout the hours-long sit-in.
The federal government’s decision this week to approve the Northern Gateway project was not unexpected. Within minutes of the announcement, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said First Nations would take the matter to court. A rally against the project a few hours later drew 400 people.
Peter Lantin, president of the Haida Nation, said Wednesday the dispute between First Nations and the federal government has gone beyond the Northern Gateway project.
“For us, it’s a rights and title discussion,” he said. “It’s not necessarily about a pipeline.”
The legal challenge is being mounted by a coalition that includes all three major aboriginal organizations in the province: the pro-treaty First Nations Summit, the anti-treaty Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the regional branch of the Assembly of First Nations, as well as dozens of individual bands.
Enbridge has said it expected legal challenges and continues to work to engage aboriginal communities along the pipeline route.
At a conference at the Hakai Beach Institute, a former fishing lodge that has been reborn as a science base camp in the Great Bear Rainforest, scientists and native leaders from B.C., Alaska, Washington and California joined forces to write a letter to the Prime Minister, expressing their concerns about the project.
If the pipeline is built, a series of speakers said as the letter was being drafted, it would be devastating to the marine ecosystem on the Northwest Coast, and to the native communities that for 12,000 years have subsisted on food gathered from the sea.
Violet Yeaton, an environmental planner from the Sugpiat village of Port Graham, Alaska, told the gathering of the damage done by the Exxon Valdez tanker accident, when 11 million gallons of oil spilled into Alaskan waters in 1989.
She said the area had been pristine, vibrant and alive. But she said the spill caused the deaths of 2,800 sea otters, 900 eagles, and 250,000 sea birds and several species have not recovered.
The letter reminded the government that Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Eric Peterson, who with his wife, Christina Munck, runs the non-profit Hakai Beach Institute that lies just south of the proposed tanker route, told the delegates they should also be writing to Premier Christy Clark.
“The federal government is not listening. The provincial government would be a powerful ally. If they hold the line … that project is going nowhere,” he said.