On Dakelh Territory, on September 8, 2010, more than 500 people marched through the downtown in Prince George, British Columbia, in opposition to a proposed Enbridge tar sands pipeline and tanker port.

Involving a new twin pipeline system extending from Alberta to a new marine terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia, the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline would carry up to 525,000 barrels of oil per day to port. The pipeline would cross the unceded territories of over 20 First Nations, as well as 785 watercourses.

First Nations and northern residents have been actively resisting the proposal due to its potential impacts on vital wildlife habitat and salmon fisheries. In recent weeks, two Enbridge spills first in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and in Romeoville, Illinois have reminded people of the risks involved with oil pipelines.

The march across Prince George began at the Court House and concluded with a rally outside the Prince George Civic Center where the federally appointed Joint Review Panel listened to issues and concerns about the project. A similar scene of chanting protesters outside Joint Review Panel meetings occurred at Kitimat on August 31st, the Panel’s only other meetings thus far in British Columbia.

The Prince George demonstration, led by the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council (CSTC), highlighted First Nations opposition to the pipeline, featuring speakers from the member communities of the tribal council, as well as coastal First Nations, northern Alberta First Nations, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, Indigenous environmental organizations, and local northern groups opposing the pipeline.

The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council boycotted the federal Joint Review Panel meeting, opposing the review process. Instead they want Federal regulators to conduct a community-led review process grounded in internationally recognized Indigenous rights. While Canada currently holds that it must accommodate First Nations interests, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has clearly articulated that projects need to obtain free, prior, and informed consent from local Indigenous communities. Beyond suggesting mitigation strategies, the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council is clearly expressing their opposition to the proposed pipeline.

“Those backing the Enbridge Gateway pipeline should know that as long as CSTC First Nations withhold consent, this project is not viable. We have the legal and moral power to decide what happens in our territories. We have not relinquished our powers to protect our lands for future generations,” said Tribal Chief David Luggi. “We invite all Indigenous peoples to join the fight against the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines project.”

The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council have been collaborating with local environmental groups, such as the Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance, to build a broad base of local opposition to the project. Environmental activists have further raised vital questions about the limited scope of the review, and the need to evaluate the full spectrum of potential and cumulative impacts of pipeline and port development.

“How can the pipeline project be reviewed in isolation of the Tarsands and the oil tankers?” asked Hillary Crowley of the Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance. “If Enbridge is going to build a pipeline without any oil or condensate running through, we would not be in this position. It is the fact that Enbridge proposes to transmit dirty oil from the tar sands across our beautiful Province to export to Asia and, all the risk that that entails, that we are vehemently opposed to this project.”

Other environmental organizations, such as the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), teamed up with LUSH cosmetics to stage a parallel political demonstration against the tar sands in Ottawa. In a piece of political theatre, activists poured “oil” onto a model draped in the Canadian flag. These organizations stressed the way in which Canadian and international financial institutions are implicated in tar sands development as major backers. As United States Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, prepared for meetings with various groups to gather information on the tar sands, environmentalists pressed their case against the tar sands.

Tyler Shandro during a June 25 news briefing. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Tyler McCreary

Tyler McCreary is an Indigenous solidarity activist based in northern British Columbia. He is also currently working towards his PhD in geography at York University.