Two British Columbia mayors, Gregor Robertson of Vancouver and Taylor Bachrach of Smithers, have added their support to a coalition of native communities opposed to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
In a ceremony in Vancouver on Thursday, the two mayors stood with over a dozen of the province's top aboriginal leaders who have promised to do whatever it takes to stop the proposed pipeline from crossing through their territories. The event was scheduled to mark the third anniversary of the Save the Fraser Declaration, a statement of intent to block the pipeline that has now been signed by chiefs from more than 100 native communities.
Mr. Robertson, who was praised by native leaders for his "courageous" endorsement of the declaration, read a statement proclaiming Dec. 13 as "Save the Fraser Declaration Day" for the City of Vancouver. He said "a great majority of this city is opposed" to any pipeline projects that put the Fraser watershed at risk.
"We have grave concerns about the impacts of massive fossil fuel expansion," he said. "We want to protect our land, our water here, [the] Fraser River, Stanley Park."
The proposed Enbridge pipeline would cross the headwaters of the Fraser, but Mr. Robertson's comments seemed equally aimed at a proposal by Kinder Morgan to twin an existing pipeline to Burnaby, which would increase oil tanker traffic through the port of Vancouver.
Mr. Robertson said the existing Kinder Morgan pipeline, which has been in place nearly 60 years, initially served refineries in the area. But the expansion would be aimed solely at increasing exports, he said, which would do nothing to help the city's economy. He noted the Enbridge project is also aimed at exporting oil.
"The economy in B.C. and here in Vancouver has zero dependence on these [projects]," Mr. Robertson said. "Becoming an oil port with massive fossil fuel exports … is a serious threat to our environment. We believe there needs to be sanity here."
Mr. Bachrach noted that his community is a long way from the Fraser, but said Smithers is joining the coalition because the Enbridge project is considered a threat to the Skeena River, which is the second most productive salmon river in B.C. after the Fraser. He said the economy of Smithers relies heavily on resource development, such as mining and logging, but native and non-native residents alike are increasingly opposed to the Enbridge project, which is under environmental review by a federal panel.
"In our part of the world more and more people are saying that the risks … are not worth taking," Mr. Bachrach said. He said eight local governments in northern B.C. have passed resolutions opposing the Gateway project, indicating that "the Enbridge pipeline is a choice that we're never going to make."
Gerald Amos of the Haisla First Nation said all the native communities that have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration have pledged to use "any and all means" to stop the Enbridge project. Mr. Amos said if that means blockading construction of the pipeline right-of-way at some point, then aboriginal communities will do that, because in signing the declaration native leaders accepted it as an ancestral law.
"So we're not going to be 'civily' disobedient, we're going to be 'civily' obedient to our own law," he said.
Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, were among the leaders at the ceremony. "This Gateway is running squarely into Indian territory," Mr. John said.
Mr. Phillip described the opposition as an "indigenous wall of solidarity" which he promised will never be breached by the Enbridge pipeline.