Amidst the laughter, unity, and spirit of a rally against the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project, held in Prince Rupert Thursday evening, there was one word that reverberated again and again from participants. That word was no.
Organizer of the rally Jenn Rice said governments may come and go, but people on the North Coast are here to stay.
“Tonight let’s just walk. We say “no” to Enbridge Oil,” she said.
Hereditary Chief Clarence Nelson of Metlakatla thanked everyone for attending and showing a spirit of unity.
“We can’t fight what nature throws at us in natural disasters, we can’t fight that, but what this corporation is trying to give us, to develop the oil lines and tankers that will ply this coast, we can fight that and we must. Our tradition is our water and our land and all the beautiful resources we harvest from both,” Nelson said.
Upwards of 400 people of all ages, walks of life, and ethnicity congregated at Mariner’s Park, many holding signs to protest the proposed pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to the B.C. coast and its subsequent oil tanker traffic. People had travelled from all over the region to attend.
The timing of the rally was not unintentional.
Representatives from Enbridge are in Prince Rupert for the annual North Central Local Government Association conference this week and the company is one of the conference’s platinum sponsors.
Rice picked Thursday for the peaceful protest because the conference dinner and dance was being held nearby at Chances Convention Centre.
A teenaged boy from Kitkatla was one of several youth who took a turn at the microphone. Standing confidently he looked out into the crowd.
“The youth of all the nations around us have to stand together with our elders and chiefs and say no to Enbridge. If we don’t, we’re going to have nothing and there will be nothing in the future for us. I ask all of you that we march as one, that we put aside our differences. We can’t let Enbridge come into our territories and destroy what we’ve got. They’ll try and give us money, but money can’t buy what we’ve got. We are richer than them with what we have in the ocean,” he said.
His youthful energy was echoed by three youth from Bella Bella who read declarations they had shared with Enbridge when representatives visited their community recently.
They spoke of protecting animals, culture and a way of life.
“We will not risk our culture and our resources and our children’s future. We cannot eat oil or money, we are not for sale. Our home is not for sale,” one of them said.
Louisa Smith, an elder from Lax Kw’alaams, told the crowd she rarely shares her opinions in public, but felt compelled because a way of life is being threatened.
“We say no, collectively, and we hope Enbridge can take that to its minds and hearts and hear what we have to say, that we are here to protect what the creator has placed in our hands for seven generations down the line to enjoy what we have today,” Smith said.
All levels of government were represented at the rally, with Prince Rupert Mayor Jack Mussallem, City Councillor Joy Thorkelson, MLA Gary Coons and MP Nathan Cullen all taking turns at the microphone.
While Mussallem encouraged participants to walk carefully in the rally and arm themselves with knowledge, he also referred to the joint panel review process for the pipeline project that will take place over the next two to three years.
“It’s important that we keep informed about what’s going on with that process and that we’re all informed so that we can speak with a degree of knowledge and share our concerns,” the mayor said.
It was Thorkelson, who is also the northern representative for the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, who pounded her fists in the air and reminded the crowd it was the fourth fight she’s participated in since her arrival on the coast.
“We will win this one, we have won all the others,” she said, referring to the Kitimat Oil Port Inquiry, offshore oil drilling inquiries in the 1980s and again in 2002.
Standing with Henry Clifton, President of the North Coast Native Brotherhood, Thorkelson said the two were united in a fight for fish and for a clean and wonderful ocean.
Clifton said he was the president of the student council at the Hartley Bay Day School when he fought to stop oil tankers on the coast.
“When the Princess Patricia came up the channel we expected 17 boats out of Hartley Bay to stop her, but instead we had something like 700 boats from all the native communities and Green Peace. The end of the story is that we stopped them and Green Peace brought the story all over the world,” Clifton recalled.
Cullen recounted the first time he met with Enbridge five years ago and was told the company had $1 million to promote the project.
“I told them the money would not buy the hearts and minds of the people in the Northwest who would stand up against the project to say “no” and “yes” to protect the future,” Cullen said.
Coons said every First Nations in B.C. has a resolve to shut the project down and talked about grade six students who asked him to help stop tankers from coming into the Great Bear Rainforest.
Fresh from the Enbridge AGM held in Calgary on May 10, Jasmine Thomas said her and a bus load of other First Nations met with 20 board members of the company there.
She read from a declaration that was presented to the board and shareholders.
The gist of the statement is that the laws of the First Nations that are tied to the land and waters cannot permit the Enbridge pipeline project to proceed.
A decision by Canada to approve the project, without consent or prior approval of all First Nations, the declaration added, will be a direct violation of treaty rights and First Nations laws.
“Enbridge and government can try and downplay all the resistance if they want, but if there’s one thing that Enbridge did, it was unite us in such a way that they don’t even know what they did,” Thomas told the crowd.
Arnie Nagy, a Haida from Prince Rupert, also attended the Calgary AGM and praised the leadership of the youth that attended.
“A ten-year-old came into the AGM to speak to the board members and shareholders. Go to YouTube and type in Shallow Waters and there’ll be a song she wrote about her concerns. In that meeting she told them, the collective knowledge in the room, to listen to her concerns for the future, and they listened” Nagy said.
But when he told the AGM attendees oil tankers would never be allowed in the traditional waters of Haida Gwaii, the response from the board and chair was that they could change that “no” into a “yes” and that’s what they were working on.
From the park, the rally proceeded to Chances, where participants stopped to drum and chant outside the front entrance. Some of the delegates from the conference came out to observe. One woman said it was great to see and suggested rallies should take place in every town along the proposed pipeline route.
The group marched down George Hills Way along the waterfront, and was greeted by a flotilla of local sailboats, paddlers, a surfboarder, and a couple of porpoises.
Stopping directly below the balcony of Chances, people chanted, “No to Enbridge” while a dozen people from the conference dinner to listen.
From below Rice said she was overwhelmed by the turnout and said she was thankful to Enbridge for bringing everyone together.
“That’s the positive and the negative,” she added.
The next step was a pancake breakfast Friday morning at the Fishermen’s Hall from 8 a.m. until noon.
“People will be not only be nourished, but will also have the opportunity to discuss ways of staying strong and united and not becoming deflated with the long drawn out process of the joint review panel process. We need to develop a lot of strategies and be multipronged and keep doing what we’re doing, over and over,” Rice said.