TORONTO, ON: The freedom to say no


17 May 2012
TORONTO, ON: The freedom to say no

by Rebecca Johnson

“By the mixing of our waters, it becomes
your responsibility to protect our water, and our responsibility to protect
your water.”  Hereditary Chief Pete
Erickson of the northern British Columbia Carrier Sekani First Nation completed
the final water ceremony before a crowd of over four hundred supporters in downtown
Toronto on Wednesday, 9 May 2012.  As representative of one of the five-member First Nations of
the Yinka Dene Alliance, Chief Erickson, along with a
delegation of over fifty First Nation representatives, had just completed the
ten day Freedom Train journey across Canada’s west to highlight the nations’
opposition to Enbridge corporation’s proposed Northern Gateway tar sands
pipeline through their territory.

The Yinka Dene territories are located in
the headwaters of the Fraser, Skeena and Mackenzie/Arctic watersheds. Their
people have relied on salmon since time immemorial. Their territory is 25% of
the 1,177 km through which the proposed pipeline will carry raw tar sands crude
from Bruderheim in the Alberta Tar Sands to the inland coastal community of
Kitimat, British Columbia. Citing the infamous Exxon Valdez tanker spill, the Yinka
Dene and supporters fear contamination from pipeline ruptures and tanker spills
of catastrophic proportions.

Chief Jackie Thomas of Saik’uz First Nation
said, “Our fight has never been about money, it is about our way of life. Like
all communities, we make business decisions based on an assessment of risk and
this risk presented is far too great. There will be no deal with Enbridge. Not
ever.” Through the Save the Fraser Declaration, over 100 First Nations have
officially banned the pipeline project in their territories using their own
indigenous laws.  Similarly,
through the Coastal First Nations Declaration, communities along the coast from
the United States border to the Arctic Ocean have registered an unbroken wall
of opposition to oil tankers in their waters.

CPT members joined the Toronto rally and
subsequent one km march to the King Edward Hotel, location of Enbridge’s Annual
General Meeting. Four out of a delegation of nine First Nations leaders were
permitted to enter. Upon leaving the meeting, Chief Martin Louie of Nadleh
Whut’en First Nation said, “I’m not happy with anything they’ve been telling
us. I don’t think there will be another Freedom Train; I think we’ll be heard
in court after this. That’s the way Enbridge has put it to us.” In contrast to
the reception by Enbridge, Chief Jackie Thomas described the growing support of ordinary people for the First Nations’ fight against the pipeline as “awesome.”

Photos of the rally and march are available courtesy
of Pei-Ju Wang.

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