Commentary: Gerald Amos No apology forthcoming

By Gerald Amos

Jan. 9, 2012

Recently there has been a lot of criticism by supporters of the tar sands, and oil industry front groups, of Canadian non-profit organizations who have concerns regarding the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project, and the fact that they receive support from U.S. philanthropic foundations. Ethical, and Our, oil industry front groups with close ties to the Prime Ministers office, recently launched attack ads in northern communities, where opposition to the Enbridge project is fiercest. This desperate attempt to change the minds and hearts of the hundreds of thousands of people who oppose this project, is driven by more than concern for our home and native land. It is being driven by greed and desperation. The foreign interest groups Canadians should really be concerned about are the Chinese oil companies investing billions in the Tar Sands, and the multinational oil companies like Shell and British Petroleum, who are investing 200 million dollars trying to sell Canadians on this astoundingly stupid idea.

Ezra Levant, Stephen Harper and Minister Oliver should study history a bit – the First Nations of Northern BC, including the Haisla, have been fighting to protect this coast for decades, and this proposed project is just one of many we will have ended up stopping. The insinuation that northern communities, and especially FN’s, can be bought by U.S. interests is paternalistic and insulting, if not some new iteration of hypocrisy that can only be characterized as soft core racism.

The Haisla have been fighting to protect this region from ill-conceived industrial developments for over thirty years, while at the same time showing leadership in developing projects that are safer and more sustainable, and that benefit all British Columbians. Our history in this regard is well known, be it our efforts to reform logging practices, pollution from industrial plants, or our successful efforts to protect the worlds largest remaining intact coastal temperate rainforest, the Kitlope Valley. The fact that our conservation leadership has attracted the support of conservation funders should be a source of pride for British Columbians. We do not follow the lead of anyone, we assume and take responsibility for our lands and lead others in that regard.
We are not opposed to development. But we are opposed to stupidity, and placing our homelands at terrible risk in order to satisfy the insatiable greed of the international oil industry. We do not accept the Prime Ministers claim that this project is in Canada’s national interest, and it is certainly not nation building, but rather, planet destroying.

Haisla were the lead in developing the LNG project in Kitimat, the largest new industrial development in the north in thirty years. Natural gas is the cleanest hydrocarbon available, tar sands oil is the dirtiest. My community’s decision to support natural gas development, and oppose a tar sands pipeline, is a considered and informed decision consistent with our ancestral responsibilities as First Nations who have never surrendered title to these lands. Yes, we need and want jobs. Long term, permanent, sustainable jobs we can be proud of, not six months of digging ditches for a tar sands pipe, or jobs cleaning up oil spills.

We will not allow the Ezra Levants of this world, who, by the way, does not reside in this region, to characterize the Haisla, or our neighbors, as the pawns of U.S. Foundations. In the past we have made considerable sacrifices all on our own in order to protect rivers, lands and ancestral food sources. In part this was done through the use of existing policies, procedures and legislation, including legal means. Sometimes we were forced to use money earmarked for other uses to do so. When I was chief, our community supported me, as chief councilor, and our village council, in doing so, in fighting the massive pollution of the Kitimat river by Eurocan Pulp and Paper company. We were attacked by government for doing so, and threatened with third party management – for protecting a river and salmon habitat! Government then, as well as now, were negligent in meeting their legal responsibilities to First Nations, as well as their responsibility to all Canadians, to protect those natural places and processes which are vulnerable and irreplaceable.

The Haisla reality is a growing list of ancestral foods which we no longer have access to. Oolichans, once the most important food resource of the Haisla, are all but extinct in the five rivers in our territory that once produced them in great abundance, with a harvest of over 600 tons a year in the Kitamaat River alone. Abalone are gone. Crabs, prawns, bottom fish in Douglas channel – either gone or illegal for human consumption due to toxic pollution. Salmon habitat in the Kitimat River, once one of the jewels of the coast – all but gone, and any semblance of salmon abundance now reliant on a federal hatchery paid for by taxpayers, not the industries that destroyed the productivity of the river in the first place.
We have seen the magnificent forests of the Kitimat Valley, and other coastal watersheds, obliterated in an orgy of greed and destruction driven by short term economic interests, instead of what we asked for – long-term, sustainable and science driven resource planning. We are willing to share, but we will no longer be robbed. Real protection of forest jobs comes from realistic and long term forest planning, not blaming enviros and First Nation for a decline in the forest industry that is the result of decades of over cutting and bad management by government and industry.

Now we face Enbridge and their proposal to bring dirty oil from the tarsands through our territory via a pipeline, and ship it through our waters via super tankers.

This is the largest and most insidious threat to our culture that has ever existed, with the possible exception of the Canadian governments violent imposition of the residential school system. We have witnessed our Prime Minister and his Minister of Environment openly supporting this project, which makes a joke of the Joint Review Process, and is inconsistent with the federal governments fiduciary responsibility to First Nations. This government has abdicated any semblance of fairness or balance in executing its responsibilities to our people, and in fact, to all Canadians. Why wouldn’t we accept help in this situation?

So, do not expect an apology any time soon for our willingness to accept assistance from U.S. Foundations, or anyone else of goodwill and principles. In fact, we will instead use this as an opportunity to thank them for stepping up to the plate and acting with charity, responsibility, integrity and generosity in this time of rapid and uncertain change in the world. We can only hope our Prime Minister will consider their example and truly come to an epiphany as to what really constitutes nation building.

Gerald Amos was Chief Councilor for the Haisla First Nation for 12 years. He has been a leading voice for conservation in Canada for thirty years.