Naomi Klein joined activists and First Nations groups at the Rio Theatre for a public forum opposing BC tar sands projects. Alexis Stoymenoff Posted: Dec 2nd
10-year-old Ta'Kaiya Blaney of the Sliammon First Nation sings a song for the earth, surrounded by activists and Aboriginal leaders.
Acclaimed activist and author Naomi Klein joined several other speakers and concerned Vancouver citizens at the Rio Theatre last night, for a passionate discussion about the threat oil pipelines and super tankers pose in BC.
The event was a rallying call in opposition to Alberta tar sands operations, including two major pipeline projects proposed to bring oil products to the West Coast.
A diverse group of advocates – from Aboriginal Chiefs to Greenpeace campaigners – took to the stage before a packed house, introduced with a song and welcoming ceremony led by Hereditary Chief Phil Lane Jr.
Earlier yesterday, many of the same spirited voices had come together for a press conference presenting a one-year-old declaration to ban all pipeline projects across the province. Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik'uz First Nation, speaking on behalf of the Yinka Dene Alliance, reiterated her people’s dedication to the cause.
“Our five nations hold more than 25 per cent of this proposed pipeline route in our territory, and we will never allow it to be built,” she said.
While Thomas was focused on the high-profile Northern Gateway pipeline meant to serve Asia from a terminal in Kitimat, others addressed the existing Kinder Morgan pipeline to Vancouver, which first brought supertankers to the Burrard Inlet.
Rex Weyler, founder of Tanker Free BC and former director of Greenpeace, explained Kinder Morgan’s shady Texas history and told how a small group of local activists had been working to halt the expansion of oil shipping from Vancouver’s port.
Weyler also mentioned yesterday’s decision from the National Energy Board, granting Kinder Morgan approval to increase capacity at the Burnaby marine terminal. He said that despite the fact this approval could increase tanker traffic by up to 12 ships per year, he has faith that a further expansion will not go through.
“Today is the day that I feel the tide has turned,” he said. “We are going to stop these tankers. They will not go through British Columbia. British Columbia will not be the tar sands shipping port.”
First Nations solidarity
Despite the gravity of the situation, the general feeling at the Rio was one of enthusiasm and unity.
Exactly one year since the original signing of the Save the Fraser Declaration, representatives from various First Nations across BC and Alberta celebrated the addition of almost 70 new signatories – bringing the total number of nations endorsing it to 130.
“The declaration says it upholds our ancestral laws, the title, rights and responsibilities that we hold. We will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, or any similar tar sands pipeline, to be built. This is our law,” said Chief Thomas.
Apart from Thomas and Chief Phil Lane, a number of other Aboriginal leaders stood to address the crowd. Sundance Chief Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation gave introductions and brought his entire family on stage to welcome guests to unceded territory. First Nations actor Adam Beach also brought his children on stage, tearing up during a song about ensuring their future. And later, 10-year-old Ta’Kaiya Blaney sang a heartfelt song urging citizens to join the “earth revolution”.
One particularly compelling presentation was by Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a Greenpeace campaigner from the Lubacon Lake Cree Nation in Alberta. She told a personal story of the tar sands, from the perspective of a community right in the thick of it.
“Since 1978 over $14 billion has been taken out of the traditional territory, from where my family still lives. And yet, my family still to this day goes without running water.”
Laboucan-Massimo went on to describe a disastrous spill that occurred in May 2011, when 28,000 barrels of tar sands crude leaked all over the traditional territory. She said neither the company (Plains All American) nor the government had attempted to notify the community, despite the fact that residents and schoolchildren were getting sick from the effects. Fighting back tears, Laboucan-Massimo displayed a series of aerial photographs taken in the days following the spill.
“This is what happens when there’s an oil spill,” she said. “It’s not pretty.”
Naomi Klein: A message of hope
After the other speakers had their turn, Wilderness Committee campaigner Ben West introduced Naomi Klein as the final, long-awaited guest. Klein was fresh off a successful campaign in Washington, DC, where she had helped activists organize the massive White House protest that helped obstruct Trans-Canada’s Keystone XL pipeline.
She explained how the oil companies had based their entire plan on the assumption that these pipelines would be built, not considering how effective a strong resistance could be. And since the tar sands are landlocked, she said, production can’t increase if the oil has nowhere to go.
“They need these pipelines – these arteries,” said Klein, quoting Tom Goodtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network.
“We’ve got to block the arteries. We’ve got to give the tar sands a heart attack.”
Judging by the overwhelming response from the Rio’s standing-room-only crowd, advocates believe that heart attack has a greater chance of happening than ever before. Even if Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government decide to defy First Nations law and move ahead with the pipeline projects, Aboriginal leaders like Chief Jackie Thomas have pledged to stand on the line and physically block construction.
At the end of the night, Klein referred to writer Ezra Levant’s infamous slogan about the tar sands as “ethical” oil – oil that’s free of conflict unlike that of Nigeria or the Middle East.
But Klein has a message for Levant and all the other big oil supporters: “If you think that oil is conflict-free, just try to move that dirty oil through BC.”