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Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Frank Alec is holding up the pelts of a beautiful timber wolf and pine marten. We are at the Joint Review Panel hearing for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker project in Burns Lake and the room is captivated. He lifts a salmon and says, “we cannot live without this sacred animal, our fish, the salmon ... This is who we are.”
For those of us who live in rural B.C., this visual demonstration was powerful, but not shocking. Wild salmon are what unites us in this northwest region. First nations and non-first nations alike hunt, trap and fish for sustenance and also commercially.
British Columbians, especially in the northwest, value some things more than money, like healthy freshwater ecosystems and wild salmon. By proposing a pipeline and tanker project that impacts those while offering very few benefits (pipelines are simply not job creators), Enbridge has united a broad cross-section of northern B.C.- rednecks and hippies, cowboys and Indians, conservative and progressive voters. Together, we will defend our assets.
While the coastal first nations who live on B.C.’s north coast prepare for the herring fishery and to gather herring roe on kelp, the people of Prince William Sound will go without. The herring population collapsed 23 years ago when the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef, gushing crude from a gash in the hull. Some 12.9 billion herring were wiped out when 40 million litres of crude spilled into Prince William Sound. They’ve never returned.
Risk is the product of probability and consequence. The consequences of an oil spill in our wild salmon watersheds or on our incredible coast would be long-lasting, devastating, and have the potential to literally wipe out cultures.
As Kyle Clifton, Councillor from the Gitga’at First Nation of Hartley Bay said to the Joint Review Panel regarding Enbridge’s oil tankers: “For over 200 days a year we’re going to wake up in the morning wondering if this is the day our community dies. Does any company have the right to make us live this way?”.
When the BC Ferry Queen of the North sank off Gil Island, along Enbridge’s proposed tanker route, it was the Gitga’at who arrived to rescue the passengers first. And it’s the Gitga’at who are still unable to harvest shellfish from the area as the sunken ferry continues to burp up diesel.
Those of us who live along the proposed Enbridge route are used to road closures, power outages, ferry and flight cancellations due to weather conditions and avalanches. You only have to travel from Smithers to Kitimat to know that no amount of engineering through valleys and rich wild salmon rivers, and tunnelling through two incredible coastal mountains can be done safely.
As Enbridge’s CEO Pat Daniel has said: “Can we promise there will never be an accident? No. Nobody can.” Colin Kinsley, who heads the Northern Gateway Alliance, an Enbridge backed organization championing the pipeline, said “Nobody can say it won’t leak at some point. You know, things happen. Who would’ve thought a billion-dollar cruise ship would run into a rock in Italy in the middle of the day?”
We’re not feeling so cavalier. The coastal fisheries and tourism economy of British Columbia employ 45,000 people. Why would British Columbians want to risk thousands of jobs for mere dozens promised by Enbridge?
It’s unthinkable to imagine introducing oil supertankers to the Great Bear Rainforest’s sea where spirit bears feast on salmon as orca, humpback and fin whales swim by. Canadians should proudly protect the ecological integrity of the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest, just like Australians do with the Great Barrier Reef.
With all five species of wild salmon, we have much to appreciate and celebrate in British Columbia’s northwest. The lessons from the pain and hardship in Alaska are that the stakes for introducing oil supertankers to B.C.’s north coast are simply too high.