Native Leaders Are Telling Enbridge To Go Fuck Itself

The Canadian oil lobby has been pushing a flashy PR campaign to convince the world we're good at making clean oil. Meanwhile, Native leaders are calling bullshit on the ethical oil message while scoffing at the potential profit margins.

Apr 1 2013, 8:14pm

An oil spill clean-up in New Zealand. A situation that Canada's Native leaders are pushing to avoid. via Wikimedia Commons.

The rebranding of Canadian oil—that the province of Alberta and Canada’s own federal government, along with Enbridge, Keystone XL, Cenovus and others have been pushing—as a clean and ethical product is a gigantic joke. The punchline is becoming harder and harder to laugh at as world deals with more oil spills and Canada faces the prospect of new pipelines set to run across our nation. And yet the oil lobby has spent their time buying full page ads in the New York Times and producing commercials that feature starry-eyed scientists hanging out in pastoral river meadows, talking about their research and commitment to environmental standards, while a reassuring piano plays in the background. It’s a farcical public relations ploy designed to sway opinion in the States and Europe back to thinking that all of us who say “Eh!” and apologize too much must be the lesser of all evils when it comes to producing oil. 

Locally, the message has been all about economics. Pipelines create jobs and wealth to the benefit of all Canadians. But how’s that oil money working out for you, P.E.I.? London, Ontario? Halifax, Nova Scotia? It seems to me that the oil and gas industry is really only benefitting all Canadians if all Canadians are willing to sell their souls and move to Fort ‘Crack’ McMurray.

But with all the money they’ve spent trying to make the negatives go away, the real battle that these companies and governments might soon face isn’t a communications one at all. It could end up being a real struggle brought to them by a domestic opponent, who they have been constantly disrespecting, overlooking, and underestimating.

There was an uncommon amount of conviction, as well as confrontation, in the voice and the eyes of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam, when he told reporters last week at a press conference in Ottawa hosted by the Yinka Dene Alliance that: “What the RCMP have been asking, what the Federal Government’s been asking, what the Provincial Ministers have been asking is, ‘What are First Nations gonna be doing [to stop pipelines]?’ Well, like I’ve said earlier… It’s gonna be a long, hot summer.”

Adam was one of a number of chiefs and hereditary leaders representing First Nations groups that have come together from across Canada and the United States to battle the introduction of pipelines and tankers that threaten, not just their own, but all of our land and water. Comprised of groups including the Yankton Sioux, Athabaska Chipewayan, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, they believe that it is their moral responsibility by traditional law, a duty to their culture and way of life, to protect their lands and watersheds (particularly the Fraser) from any potential environmental catastrophe resulting from an oil spill.

And these spills do happen, as we were so dramatically reminded this weekend when Exxon flooded an Arkansas suburb with oil. Last year alone, three pipelines in Alberta leaked thousands of barrels of oil into the soil they’re built on—an issue that was severely underreported anywhere other than Alberta. It was also an Enbridge pipe carrying Canadian crude that burst in Michigan’s Kalamazoo river in 2010, devastating wildlife in a mess that is still being cleaned up three years later at a cost that is now approaching $820 million.

Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline will run from just south of Edmonton all the way to Kitimat on B.C’s coast, where the oil will be picked up in tankers and carried to Asia. But besides busted pipes, the real concern here is British Columbia experiencing its own Exxon Valdez.

Last week, in a nice bit of irony, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was attending a demonstration of an emergency boat that would be on call to rush to the clean up of a potential spill. Not that a spill would happen of course, they just wanted to show off and try to garner some more public support. How could anything bad happen to a tanker the size of the Empire State Building in those precarious waters? Well unfortunately, that boat didn’t make it to the fake oil spill. It ran aground on a sandbar and got stuck.

via Wikimedia Commons.

The potential for this scale of disaster makes the Northern Gateway pipeline a non-negotiable issue for these First Nations groups, yet the approach that Alberta, the Federal Government, and the tycoons are taking is familiar and centuries old: throw a bunch of money and promises at the Natives until they quiet down, so we can go in and have our way with their land.

In an interview last week, Minister Oliver diplomatically worded it like this: "There is an opportunity to transform many aboriginal communities which have been suffering from high unemployment for far too long… There is an opportunity for jobs, for economic activity, for equity participation, and I would hope that when they see that there isn't an environmental risk that they would embrace these opportunities for their communities."

So essentially, “Pull the wool over your own eyes, there’s no environmental risk, look at the dollar signs!” Enbridge has a whole section on their website outlining details of their ‘aboriginal engagement’, and one of the first things you see is a pie chart showing that they’ll get a 10% share in a 5.5 billion dollar project. “That’s about 280 million in net income over the next 30 years!” it says.

But what neither the government nor Enbridge seems to understand is that this isn’t about money. In their own heads, they can’t see a way to a balance political and economic wins, and values that aren’t tenderable.

Chief Reuben George bluntly stated that the Tar Sand companies can’t see the dangers or understand First Nations concerns, “because they’re too blind… because of their greed.” And on Yinka Dene’s website, the page “Why We Say No”, can’t state their position any clearer than this:

We can’t accept any risk of an oil spill. It doesn’t matter what technical safety measures that Enbridge promises, or how much money they are willing to offer. We simply will not allow our communities to be placed at this risk, and we will use all lawful means available to ensure that this tar sands pipeline and tanker project, or others like it in future, are not built in our territories.”

Although they commit to fighting these pipelines legally, tensions are undeniably growing. One would assume the oil industry might face forms of blockades during this so-called “long, hot summer” as the debate surrounding the Northern Gateway Pipeline progresses. First Nations leaders truly believe that they are not only protecting the well being of their own, but also everyone’s privilege to the fresh water and clean sustainable natural resources we rely on.

One thing is for sure. It would appear that no matter how slickly oiled the PR machine is, with symbolic envoys sent by the Prime Minister himself, there is a group of people who won’t be taken by the full-page newspaper ads and promises of economic kickbacks. Our Native population has been lied to before, and it appears as if they will not be falling for the same tricks again.

Follow Dave: @ddner

More about the environmental strife in Canada:

What the Hell Is Going on with the Northern Gateway Pipeline?

Idle No More Is about the Environment, Too

Blockades Could Send Idle No More Over the Edge

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