REPORTING · 20th January 2012
From Kitamaat Village; the Haisla Territory, to the Carrier Nation Lands at Lake Babine and the Ned’u’ten Nation, every Hereditary Chief has stood and said “No” to Enbridge and the pipeline crossing their territories. Without exception the traditional, historical and unchallenged owners of the land; the name bearers, the most senior statesmen of the land from Prince George to Kitamaat and beyond, have stood firm in their resolve, there will be no pipeline through their territories.
On January 17, 2012, even the Hereditary Chiefs, whom the illegally operating Gitxsan Treaty Society (GTS) claim as members, declared their united opposition to Enbridge voting the deal signed with Enbridge by Elmer Derrick on December 3, 2011, invalid.
The Canadian National Energy Board (NEB) appointed Joint Review Panel (JRP) held their intervener hearings to listen to sworn oral evidence over the past two weeks.
These hearings began with a frenzy of media activity in Kitamaat Village, the terminus of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, on Wednesday, January 11. Due to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister Joe Oliver using inflammatory language; referring to radicals and protesters in the days preceding these hearings, reporters and cameramen representing every major media organization across Canada arrived in Kitamaat village to record the demonstrations and “protesting radicals”. They recorded nothing but a dignified, proud, respectful people standing together in determination and strength declaring the proposed pipeline will not proceed. From the Haisla Territory to the Carrier Territory there was not a single episode of outburst, protest or interruption of the proceedings.
The number of speakers was not insignificant. Seventy people, including interpreters, took turns at the microphone between Kitamaat Village and Burns Lake. Only one spoke in favour of the project, a man from the District of Kitimat. Only one reserve community, which addressed the JRP, did not speak adamantly opposed to Enbridge. The Village of Kitselas elected Chief Councillor allowed their policy advisor, Chris Knight from Knight Consulting of North Saanich BC, to be their lead spokesman. He stated they have not completed all their technical assessments of the proposal to determine if they were for or against the project.
Every gathering in every community opened with a song and drumming presentation. The opening day at Kitamaat Village set the tone, as the performance was a remarkable entrance of the Haisla and Kitlope First Nations Chiefs, elders and youth. Complete with traditional regalia and carved masks the drumming, songs and dancing set the atmosphere for the duration of the JRP hearings across Northwest BC. Prior to the sessions opening in Terrace, BC, the Tsimshian Kitsumkalum peoples performed an entrance ceremony. A death in the family of the Kitsela peoples at Gitaus had most of the traditional dancers, those who normally open for the Tsimshian Nation, those who performed for the CBC during Terrace’s successful Hockeyville bid, remained with their families in grieving.
In Smithers the Wet’suwet’en Nation performed a number of ceremonial songs including prayers in their native language and again in Burns Lake prior to the proceedings beginning in that community. As the Lake Babine Nation entered to give oral evidence their drummers and dancers also conducted traditional welcomes and prayers complete with spreading eagle down in the presentation area to signify a peaceful gathering.
The word “No” was repeated again and again, sometimes with emphasis such as “absolutely no way”, “it will not happen”, “we will not allow it” and many others with one man in Smithers using the cliché axiom, “what part of No don’t you understand”.
The word respect was often used. The Chair of the JRP, Shelia Leggett, asked for everyone to have respect for each other, which was turned back on the JRP Panel and the Federal Government. Many presentations asked why the Federal Government didn’t have respect. They spoke about Prime Minister Harper’s apology and complained if he was sincere, why didn’t he come and speak with the Nations leadership? Many of the speakers stated they felt disrespected. “Prime Minister Harper has no authority to give anyone the right to enter our territory.” Others proclaimed they have never “ceded their lands. This means they still own it and Canada, though claims the right, have no right.
A significant number of the presenters spoke about how the Prime Minister and Minister Oliver called those opposed to the project “Radicals”. The indignation of the Elders and Hereditary Chiefs was palpable. Some stood and asked, “Am I a radical?” And at times some speakers suggested if the Prime Minister wants to see radical all they have to do is approve the Enbridge project.
It was evident by anyone watching or participating, even those representing the Federal Government and Enbridge, this project would take military force to proceed.
References to the extermination of many of their ancestors by disease, the subsequent abduction of their children to residential schools, the loss of many of their peoples use of their languages and the outlawing of their government structure, the potlatch; were made to reinforce a clear statement. The Enbridge Northern Gateway crude oil pipeline proposal was another attempt to exterminate their way of life.
The Haisla, Tsimshian, Wet’suwete’en and the Carrier all provided details of their culture, their traditions and their government structure. They all described their connection to the land wasn’t an ownership position but how they were a part of the land; they were caretakers of the environment to sustain their people for all generations. Some spoke about the INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) elected Chiefs and others who took money to survive expressing understanding but also sadness.
The descriptions of their ongoing hardship, the struggles they have endured; not just against industry and the Canadian Governmental impositions, but also against some of their own people who simply want to escape the hardship imposed by these systems, was impossible to miss.
The JRP members, Chair Sheila Leggett, Hans Matthews, Kenneth Bateman were faced with an imposing series of presentations. Many were only scheduled for 10 minutes but lasted for over half an hour. The time limits were almost entirely useless and the breaks for “leg stretching” and lunch were often short and sometimes missed altogether with the sitting in Burns Lake extending well past 8 pm.
The panel was very respectful of their duty to both the Federal Government and the Hereditary Chiefs. They repeatedly asked for the presentations to focus on items which could not be in written form and pertain only to the particulars of the Enbridge proposal but were consistently rebuffed. A presentation lasting over 30 minutes in a completely foreign language to the panel presented virtually no opportunity for the Chair to determine if the content was related or not.
Even when presenters were interrupted due to a perception of not being on topic; when they were allowed to continue, they simply picked up where they left off. Leggett was very respectful of the Elders and Hereditary Chiefs. The Elders and Hereditary Chiefs were very respectful of her.
It appeared as if this Federal Government instituted panel of representatives was the sounding board the Northwest BC First Nations communities never had. Grievances never exposed, demands never considered, hardships never expressed, a litany of issues the Canadian Government has consistently ignored were exposed to this unsuspecting panel of three.
Expressed more than once was a description of how a High Hereditary Chief not only was the law of the land but the judge, jury and executioner. An intrusion without respect might mean a death sentence. A death sentence on trespass was not necessary however after a warning, (such as was given to two Enbridge representatives by a feather presentation at the Smithers, BC, City Council meeting last year from the Wet’suwet’en nation), a walk in the woods with only one party returning was described as a distinct possibility.
It was made clear at these Joint Review Panel hearings of January 10, 11, 12, 16 and 17 in Kitamaat, Terrace, Smithers and Burns Lake, if the Federal Government was to continue to push and allow the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal to proceed, an entirely new generation of First Nations People would die fighting for their land and their way of life.
After listening to five days of presentations from over seventy speakers the following could be considered the conclusion the Hereditary Chiefs wished to impart. Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a clear decision to make.
He must decide if he wishes to provoke a new historical war, one which will go down in history as an unprecedented fight between defenders of land, air, water; essentially the environment, and those prepared to sacrifice everything for profit. Will the Canadian Government have an epiphany or will it remain a promoter and supporter of all those things which have created hardship for, not just people and society but, the planet Earth itself?
Tens of thousands of Indians have died over the past three hundred years due to Western Imperialism and Colonialism and from all appearances, every last one of the remaining First Nations communities, particularly those in Northwest BC, are prepared to follow those who fell before them.