The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations have embarked on a community driven economic development plan that has seen some of our Nations’ businesses join the Chamber of Commerce in Port Hardy, B.C. It is with extreme disappointment and sadness that we read a letter from the national president of Chambers of Commerce of Canada in support of the Enbridge proposal.
We cannot in good conscience remain a member of the Chamber of Commerce after such a letter of support for a project that we are fundamentally opposed to.
It was equally disappointing to find out that many local chambers did not have an opportunity to voice their opinion about this subject prior to the letter being released. Perhaps these chambers now begin to understand what it’s like to have others making decisions for them with no meaningful consultation.
We the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters representing over 70 First Nations Bands, Councils, Tribes and organized First Nations groups that oppose the Northern Gateway Project. We are opposed to the Northern Gateway Project for two main reasons: the lack of meaningful consultation with First Nations, and the environmental risk posed by the project.
Our Nations believe that there has been insufficient consultation, consultation that is mandated by law. We have rights and title to our traditional territories and oppose the development of this project over unceded First Nation territory. These rights and title have not been recognized. West Coast Environmental Law has stated “Although First Nations are disproportionately affected by the pipeline and have Aboriginal Title and Rights protected under the Canadian constitution, the federal government’s decision-making process does not recognize their authority to govern their own lands and waters. The panel will hear public and community comments and then recommend whether to build the pipeline over environmentally-sensitive unceded Aboriginal land. First Nations have questioned the legal authority of the Panel to decide matters on Aboriginal lands.”
None of the First Nations believe that the Joint Review Panel process or Enbridge’s work around aboriginal engagement has absolved them of their duty to consult, and some question the panel’s decisions around interrupting and suspending the hearings in two of the Nation’s Territories.
Not only has Enbridge failed to adequately consult First Nations, but the Government of Canada’s paternalism towards First Nations in this matter is jeopardizing other government to government work being conducted by our Nations. It is offensive to us that, regardless of what arises from the Joint Review Panel, inadequate though it may be, the federal government has clearly stated that they retain the right to give this project the go-ahead.
We are very concerned by the environmental risks posed by this project, not only the pipeline itself but also the mining practices and the increased tanker traffic. Simply put, we as First Nations depend on our traditional territories to maintain our unique cultures, languages, and ways of life. When the first European settlers came to North America, they saw this land as empty, Terra Nullius, and gave themselves permission to colonize our lands and our people though we already had rich and vibrant civilizations and ways of working with the land. Now, this many years later, we feel that many still see empty land while we continuously fight to protect the richness of those areas. There is an active movement in the traditional ways; ways that will allow us to continue to harvest and benefit physically and spiritually from all that Mother earth provides.
The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations specifically and most First Nations generally, have spent and continue to spend large amounts of capital both financial and human towards building infrastructure that create sustainable opportunities for our people within our traditional territories. Any negative impacts associated with this project put all of this infrastructure; watchman programs, stewardship offices, First Nation driven research and monitoring, commercial fishing, tourism, aquaculture and many other initiatives at risk. It is painfully obvious that this project will have the First Nations assume the risks while others reap the benefits. Business and government need to recognize that the future of the economy in B.C., particularly in small rural communities, depends on the First Nations. While other populations decline, ours increase at 10-20% in some communities. Hundreds of thousands of acres of the province are subject to land claims as we speak, and may soon be under First Nations control. The province needs us, and we demand to be treated with respect.
It is said often and is true: it isn’t if an accident will happen, but when. Enbridge has a deplorable track record on preventing and managing spills. They have not proven themselves to be a good partner and they have certainly provided us with many examples of ‘when’.
We are not alone in our objection, recent polls show that up to 80% of British Columbians are opposed to the project as proposed. We have allies not just in the environmental community but also amongst Nobel laureates, prominent economists, scientists, the Union of B.C. Municipalities and many more groups.
The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations as well as our allies will continue to say never.
Signed on behalf of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations Chief and Council