Tarsands: First Nations ones to bear environmental costs

Warrior Publications. May 16:

Enbridge: First Nations ones to bear environmental costs

By Doug Cuthand, Special to The StarPheonix, May 11, 2012

Aboriginal people and the Harper government are on a collision course, and the Alberta tarsands and the Enbridge pipeline are ground zero.

The government is determined to build the pipeline, and the First Nations are determined to stop it. This situation will not end well.

Chief Stewart Philip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs says the union is “steadfastly opposed” to the project.” He went on to say that his group would stand with the First Nations on the Coast who would be directly affected by the mega project.
The terminus of the pipeline is proposed to be at Kitimat, which would require a lengthy tanker route down the Douglas Channel and the inside passage before reaching the open ocean. This is the passage where the B.C. ferry, Queen of the North, struck an island and sank on March 22, 2006.

Local First Nations are concerned about the safety of large tanker traffic through their traditional territory. An estimated 60 per cent of the local people’s food comes from the ocean in the form of fish, shellfish and mollusks. A tanker accident or an oil spill would seriously damage their food source.

The bands are not alone. The provincial NDP and the town councils of Terrace and Prince Rupert all oppose the project. The City of Vancouver also passed a motion to oppose tanker traffic through its harbour, which will be associated with a proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline.

Last week, a “Freedom Train” containing protesters went across Canada from the West Coast to Toronto, taking their message to the Enbridge annual shareholders meeting in Toronto. The train stopped in Jasper, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, with supporters coming out to rally in Saskatoon.

The protesters had gathered more than 6,000 signatures on a petition that supports their efforts. By the time they got to Toronto, the list had swelled to 12,000 signatures. The rally in Toronto was peaceful and the message was delivered. Whether or not it was read or understood is a matter for speculation.

This is not just a flash in the pan. The First Nations people along the pipeline and tanker routes have organized, and the federal government is in for a real fight. Other aboriginal people from across the country have lent their support and the movement is growing.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, the omnibus budget implementation bill is before Parliament. When it’s passed, cabinet will have free rein to decide the scope of environmental assessments. If the environmental panel refuses to give the pipeline project the green light, the government will be able to overrule it and proceed.

This power has been seen as a dangerous affront to due process and democracy.

In the future we will see environmental groups demonized and audited. First Nations communities that stand in the way can expect to see their finances closely scrutinized and pipeline supporters promoted and used as opposition to the communities. Currently the support is few and far between, but we can expect to see the government try the old divide and conquer tactics it has used in the past.

Meanwhile, back at the oilsands, development continues at a record pace – with detrimental effects on the people downstream. Concerns are being raised about the cancer rates among these people. The Alberta Cancer Board has concluded that cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan are 30 per cent higher than expected. As well, the types of cancers being diagnosed are unusual, including a high rate of a rare bile duct cancer.

The development of the enormous Athabasca tarsands has been rated as the largest industrial project on the planet. It is estimated that there are proven reserves of 171.3 billion barrels of oil, which makes it the third largest proven reserve in the world, behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The tarsands cover an area of 140,200 square kilometres, or about the size of Florida.

We don’t know the extent of these reserves in Saskatchewan.

The tarsands operations are basically shallow, open pit mines that eat up thousands of square miles of forest land. There is little thought to reclamation of the land and no funds are being set aside for it. The Alberta government should be establishing a levy against the oil companies so the land can be reclaimed in the future.

As it stands, Northern Alberta will be a vast wasteland in the future.

Our people have seen this type of development before. In the 1950s, when Uranium City and the mines were developed, the people at Fond du Lac and Black Lake watched as the land was ripped up. After the mines were closed and everyone moved away, the local people continued to live in their traditional territory and avoided the polluted mine areas.
The same thing will happen in Northern Alberta. As First Nations people we have seen them come and we have seen them go, but we are eternal. Whether it’s pipelines or large open pit mines, it’s our people who will have to live with the consequences.

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