Bella Bella is a small coastal community in Northern British Columbia. About 90% of the 1450 residents are Heiltsuk (formerly known as the Bella Bella Indians) and 5% are other First Nations. More than half of the people depend on fishing for an income. The community’s survival is threatened by the proposed Gateway Pipeline, which would bring dirty tar sands oil from Alberta for tanker transport overseas.
It’s important to note that the Heiltsuk have never surrendered their aboriginal rights or title to their traditional lands, and they do not have treaties with the Canadian or B.C. governments.
The federal government’s review panel was scheduled to begin hearings on the pipeline in Bella Bella on April 2. The video below shows the welcome organized by residents, and the regulators’ cowardly response. Below that, an eyewitness account by a long-time environmental activist.
DIRTY OIL COMES TO BELLA BELLA
by Ingmar Lee
I was demonstrating along the Bella Bella airport road with my family when Canada’s “National Energy Board Joint Revue Panel” (JRP) entourage arrived in the Heiltsuk First Nation’s village yesterday. Bella Bella is situated on BC’s primaeval and pristine Central Coast, at the heart of the ‘Great Bear Rainforest.’
The JRP had come, purportedly, to hear people’s views on the gigantic Tar-Sands pipeline project that Canada’s Neocon Prime Minister Stephen Harper is most anxious to force across BC. The pipelines would deliver unrefined Tar-Sands bitumen, -the dirtiest oil anywhere- to a future gigantic Oil Port on the Pacific Coast at Kitimaat. From there a half million barrels-per-day would be loaded on 200-per-year Giga-Tankers the size of the Empire State Building and delivered through the treacherous rock-pile that is the BC coast to Harper’s favourite new market, -China. Harper has been shamelessly trumpeting the scheme over the past year, saying that as the USA economy has now gone bankrupt, it is in Canada’s national interest to diversify its oil markets and start shipping it over to China instead.
It was a cheerful, boisterous, colourful crowd of about 200 people, with Chiefs, elders and kids-probably at least half the crowd were children. I didn’t hear any insulting language, -and we, and all the people near us waved our placards as the RCMP-led convoy passed by. Everyone in the crowd knew that the JRP had been politely invited to join in the community Feast later in the day, and everyone expected that they would join us in the Bella Bella Community Hall, to listen to all the wonderful speakers.
It took the crowd about 20 minutes to hike back down the road into town, and when we got to the government dock, we saw all the Heiltsuk chiefs, resplendent in their full regalia, along with every important community member, standing there watching the JRP entourage getting whisked away to an adjacent island on the Shearwater Corporation boat. The whole cowardly entourage had suddenly departed Bella Bella, and refused their invite to the Feast. This is totally rude and insulting behaviour. Everyone there felt punched in the gut, utterly shocked!
So then we all marched up and filled the Hall, where we later learned that the JRP had cancelled all the hearings, citing that they had felt “intimidated” by the absolutely peaceful demonstration! The Bella Bella intervenors had spent untold hours of time and money in preparing their submissions, delegations had arrived from all the neighbouring communites, -Owikeno, Nuxalk, Kitasoo Xias Xais, and Gitgaat Chiefs and dignitaries had arrived, many of the kids at the Bella Bella School had undertaken a hunger strike and the community had put in an enormous effort, organizing and preparing for the event, and now their input has been outright cancelled, -right on schedule with the retroactive reductions in environmental hearings for major projects as announced in the recent budget. More than 4000 people have signed up to speak out, but Harper has pulled out all the stops to stigmatize and demonize anyone who opposes the scheme.
If HarperCon government has already formalized these “retroactive changes” to the Enbridge review process as we have heard they intend to do (in the Budget), I haven’t yet seen how they propose to do that, but I cannot imagine a more clumsy and stupid way to go about cutting off public comment. The final insult was that although the JRP claims to have been “frightened away” by the peaceful, family-oriented demonstrations at Bella Bella airport, they had no worries whatsoever at all about drinking late into the night, with the locals at the Shearwater Bar.
Although I am one of the 4000 who have registered to speak at the hearings, I known that this is a totally corrupt, farcical charade that will ultimately rubberstamp the “Stephen Harper Pipeline/Tanker Scheme.”
I am disgusted by the environmental groups that have lent a chimera of dignity to the corrupt NEB process by their participation in this rotten staged process. I cannot for the life of me understand any reason they might give for sitting there, other than the significant money they get for doing so. Clearly, for any real environmentalist, NO is all there is to say about the scheme of pumping a half-million barrels of dirty-oil per day across the province, to be loaded onto these ridiculous tankers, -thereby guaranteeing an inevitable oil disaster which will destroy all of Canada’s Pacific coast and beyond.
All along I have believed that this horrible process should have been utterly boycotted right from the start. People should not have to waste their time defending their lands and waters from this hideous Harper monstrosity through this contrived, farcical and corrupt process.
Harper is desperate to get his dirty oil pipeline and tankers, has demonstrated that he will employ any number of ugly, twisted lies and dirty tricks to forward his Neocon agenda, including cheating elections as is now being revealed in the emerging “Robocalls Scandal” in which thousands of Canadians where phoned and mis-directed to wrong or non-existent polling stations during last year’s federal election. More and more details of the mushrooming scam are being revealed on a daily basis.
I think that one measure by which we can gauge the huge level of opposition to this project that exists in British Columbia, is by looking at that stupid entity which lives and breathes polling statistics, namely BC’s own Neocon Christy Clark provincial government. Of course, any idiot knows that a poll will always answer favourably according to whom pays for it, nevertheless even corporate polling consistently demonstrates that more than 80% of British Columbian’s oppose oil and gas development off our coast. Clearly by her calculations, in spite of how much she must be sweating and itching to get BC signed on to the Stephen Harper Pipeline/Tanker Scheme – to try to do so would be political suicide. Harper visited BC on numerous occasions during last year’s election, and never mentioned a peep about the project, -and now he says it’s a national emergency. HarperCon, which relies on dirty tricks and the general corruption of what passes for democracy in Canada to get elected, doesn’t give a rat’s ass what the people of BC care about.
Nevertheless, this most clumsy and stupid act of cowardice just seen at Bella Bella, just might have cost Harper his pipeline.
Podcast of my comments on this issue on CFUV “Gorilla Radio.”
Ingmar Lee is writing from the heart of the ‘Great Bear Rainforest’ one of the Earth’s final great wildernesses, near Bella Bella on the BC Central Coast, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper hopes to build a giant giga-tanker port at Kitimat, which will receive 525,000 barrels of raw bitumen every day, transported over an 1100 km double pipeline direct from Alberta’s Dirty-Oil Tar Sands. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.