No one was shocked or surprised when the Joint Review Panel on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project announced on December 19th, 2013 that it recommended the project with 209 conditions.  The way some people in this country describe it, the project will be the economic boom that Canada is looking for. That the financial future for generations to come is tied up in getting oil from Alberta to BC and to places beyond. But who will really get rich off this project? Only the oil companies and their executives will really profit. The people who will remain in their ivory towers in Calgary, or who will leave the oil and gas fields behind when they take every last drop of oil and gas and leave First Nations to the devastation of their territories where they once freely and abundantly exercised their rights and lived off the fruits of the land.

For most people, the effects of this project are well beyond their travel routes or areas they would contemplate living in.  For those with vision and a social conscience, or who care about the land, the water and other resources, they understand this project will devastate the lands and water and create untold environmental damage.  First Nations people in BC have been opposed to this project since the beginning of the proposed project as the project is not sustainable and consistent with First Nations values. Many, many others stand with First Nations opposing this project. They will do what it takes to ensure this project will not proceed. Interesting times ahead! Premier Christy Clark is still opposed to this project and Minister of the Environment Mary Polak yesterday reiterated their opposition. So if most of BC including the government are opposed to Enbridge, why should the federal government be able to impose it on us? They will not be the ones cleaning up after bitumen spills on our lands or in our oceans and living with not being able to restore the habitat to its original condition. We know this from experience. There is no safety plans in place that would prevent wide scale damage to the very sea resources and plants and animals we rely on. What the country will profit on, will at some point cause economic havoc in BC, not only economic, but health and safety and the way of life of the people of the land.

The Panel is very pointed in its report on their understanding of adverse impacts on First Nations at chapter 4, 4.7: Views of the Panel:

The Panel does not share the view of some Aboriginal groups that the impacts associated with this project during construction and routine operations would eliminate the opportunity for Aboriginal groups to maintain their cultural and spiritual practices and the pursuit of their traditional uses and interests associated with the lands, waters, or resources.”

The Panel finds that there would be adverse impacts associated with this project, and that these would be experienced by some Aboriginal groups. Based on the evidence, the Panel finds that, during construction and routine operations, these impacts would be temporary. Recognizing the interconnectedness that many parties pointed out, including Northern Gateway, no industrial development can occur without impacts.”

So, after many, many First Nations presentations, the panel can say that their opportunity to maintain their cultural and spiritual practices and the pursuit of their traditional uses and interests associated with the lands, waters or resource WOULD NOT BE ELIMINATED.  They could be curtailed, or opportunities reduced but they say the long list of First Nation rights won’t be eliminated. Did they listen to the wisdom of the First Nations people appearing before them? Not just listen, but understand? Does the panel remember the Valdez oil spill, and the remaining effects that still exist today? Or the incident where a punctured oil barge leaked 875,000 litres of Bunker C oil in January 1989 and that oil washed up on Long Beach in Nuu-chah-nulth territory. That area has never been the same-rich with sea resources. As I have lived in this area all my life I notice the differences that are still notable today. The impacts are long term and unforgettable.  First Nations in the north can tell many stories of how oil spills have affected their land and the wildlife.  Who would carry out spiritual practices on land whose life has been destroyed?  Yet the panel can conclude “The Panel finds that, in the unlikely event of a large oil spill, there would be significant adverse effects on lands, waters or resources used by aboriginal groups, and the adverse effects would not be permanent and widespread.” This is based on their “scientific evidence” but wouldn’t listen to the First Nations who have lived on the land and had to live with the effects of such oil spills, big or small. Traditional knowledge, lived knowledge and connection to the land is hard to argue with but in the case of the panel, they rely on scientific knowledge even though there is no emergency plans in place to stop the spill from spreading.  Of course this is one of the conditions to be tackled before the project proceeds. No one thought the oil from Oregon/Washington would end up on Long Beach, but the ocean has its own powers that carry oil further than people think. 

The courts in all the court cases talk about the “potential” adverse affects that must be looked at during consultation.  There is a lot of potential for adverse effects in this project spanning so many miles across two provinces and then across a very large ocean. The panel then tries to give solace to First Nations by saying:

“The Panel is of the view that there are opportunities for potentially-affected Aboriginal groups to maintain and strengthen some aspects noted as being important to Aboriginal communities through project-related programs, such as Northern Gateway's commitment to ongoing wildlife studies, monitoring programs, and support for new education and language training opportunities. Chapter 2 provides the Panel's analysis of all of the benefits and burdens associated with this project.”

Studies and monitoring programs do not prevent oil spills from happening. Most First Nations have been involved in studies and monitoring programs and they have not been effective to achieve the protection of rights and title. Nothing can replace the ecosystems that support First Nations rights and way of life. Throwing money at education and language does not bring any comfort that the language that supports the culture will continue when that way of life can no longer be carried out.  Money cannot buy what is most important to First Nations people, the land, the water, the air and the resources.  

The Panel keeps saying that “reduced or interrupted access to lands, waters or resources used by aboriginal group may result in disruptions in the ability of aboriginal group to practice their traditional activities. And while this places burdens and challenges on affected aboriginal groups, it will be temporary.” Because they conclude effects will be “temporary” it is acceptable to them to adversely affect aboriginal rights. The Constitution doesn’t say that.  This is such a cavalier attitude.  Reminds me of the line from Haida that says that “the Crown, acting honourably cannot cavalierly run roughshod over Aboriginal interests” yet they will be doing so with this approach.

Minister Joe Oliver says he will consult with First Nations on these recommendations of the Joint Panel before the government makes their decision.  Rather late in the game to be consulting First Nations, should have been doing it from the beginning of the project until a final decision is made.  That is how consultation is supposed to work.  Many First Nations did not appear before the panel because they did not want to use the Joint Panel as consultation.  The Taku River Tlingit v. BC case before the Supreme Court of Canada said if a First Nation participates in an Environmental Assessment process that is their consultation.  Appearing before a Joint Panel cannot be considered proper consultation so First Nations consultations did not occur.

December 19th, 2013 will be a key date for years to come.  It is a day that the onslaught to Mother Earth, the waters that run through her, the air that swirls around her, the plants that grow from her and the two and four legged who walk on her was begun. How much more can the earth sustain before collapsing through climate change, global warming, earthquakes and many other natural disasters that will be caused by the human need to exploit all that Mother Earth has to offer with great costs to the most vulnerable-our people.  When money, jobs and greed takes centre stage, the rational are called to rise up and resist in whatever way possible to defend the land.  When the government makes its decision to proceed with Enbridge and it will, warriors of all ages and people will come forward to protect our lands, and hopefully, finally, the First Nations people will be heard.

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