Gateway pipeline threatens our way of life

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by Allan Adam

Allan Adam is chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

In January the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation signed the Save the Fraser Declaration offering support to the Yinka Dene Alliance and those opposing the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines.

Alliance representatives are now travelling on the Freedom Train tour from northern B.C. to Toronto for Enbridge’s annual general meeting May 9 to enforce their legal refusal of the projects.

We at the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation understand what is at stake for them, as our homelands are at the centre of the oilsands developments that are fuelling this controversy.

From a First Nations perspective, it doesn’t matter whether we stand on the coast of B.C. or in the heart of the oilsands – our struggle is largely one and the same. We don’t want our lands, our rights, or our people to be sidelined and destroyed by irresponsible development.

As Denesuline People, we have an intricate relationship with Mother Earth that keeps our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being in balance. This sacred connection is shared by our brothers and sisters in B.C. and is the very reason we support the opposition to the Gateway pipeline. We intimately understand their struggle to protect environmental values – values not only significant to First Nations peoples, but at the heart of what it used to mean to be Canadian.

Throughout a vast tract of our traditional lands, the land, air and waters upon which our people depend for our culture and livelihood are being devastated to extract the very bitumen that would be shipped through pipelines to the West Coast. In Alberta, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is challenging two oilsands proposals by Shell Oil – an expansion of the existing Jackpine Mine and the new Pierre River open pit mine.

The Pierre Rive Mine is proposed in a pristine region of the Peace-Athabasca Delta and would adversely impact critical habitat for species at risk, traditional lands and the ecology of the fragile and globally significant Delta that our people rely on. Both projects would be developed with adjacent wet tailings and require additional withdrawals from the Athabasca River – a sacred lifeline for our community.

Shell’s proposed projects would more than double their production. The proposed Enbridge pipelines would cross 1,000 rivers, three major salmon-bearing rivers and unceded territories of many First Nations. A spill would devastate the lives and economies of these communities and the fragile rivers and ecosystems they rely on.

What is more, despite assurances by Canada and Alberta that our environmental regulations are among the strongest in the world, both governments are taking steps to reduce environmental regulation to accelerate the pace of development. In recent years, Canada has shirked its duty to properly enforce the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, Species at Risk Act, and the constitutionally protected provisions of treaties 6 and 8. Now, the federal government has proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Fisheries Act, both designed to streamline and reduce regulatory approvals processes for oilsands projects including pipelines.

Approval of the Enbridge pipeline would threaten B.C.’s $1-billion ecotourism and fishing economy and enable further expansion of oilsands development in our traditional lands, pushing us beyond the tipping point of what our lands and way of life can sustain. However, if First Nations in B.C. are successful in asserting their rights in the face of this unwelcome development, then we may share in their strength in meeting the challenges we face here in northern Alberta.

It is clear to us the Enbridge pipeline and oilsands expansion are linked at the source, and they all weigh heavily on our common future. It is our people – not those making the decisions in Ottawa, Calgary and elsewhere – who endure the constant concern of contamination, loss of livelihood and diminishing water quality. And yet, our concerns and the impacts to our people go largely unrecognized, unaccounted for and unaddressed as project after project receives approval and corporations continue to profit at the expense of our culture and way of life.

Edmonton Journal, May 5, 2012