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Reflections on the ‘no pipelines, no tankers’ tour

Hallowe’en afternoon and I am on my way home from a ten-day visit to Alberta and British Columbia that included a fabulous rally against new or expanded oil and gas pipelines, a visit to stand in solidarity with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in its legal challenge against Shell Oil, a six city speaking tour – No Pipelines No Tankers – and our best ever AGM.

While on this tour I’ve blogged about my visit to Fort McMurray, Kamloops, and Brent Patterson has kindly reported on Burnaby, our trip to Prince George, as well as on Facebook about our stops in Nanaimo, Smithers and in Prince George last night.

I would, however, like to point out several highlights of this trip.

The first is how breathtakingly beautiful British Columbia is. I have been to BC many times so this is not a revelation obviously. But on this trip I travelled a lot of kilometres and drank in this province’s beauty. I marvelled at the mountains as we drove through the Coquahalla Pass and at the massive dark snow covered forests of Prince George and Smithers. Schools of dolphins accompanied our ferry from the mainland to mist covered Vancouver Island. The run along the Nanaimo water front in rare sunshine opened an ocean vista second to none in the world. This beauty stiffened my resolve that these pipelines never be built and that British Columbia’s future must never be Canada’s carbon corridor.

I was also struck by the passion for resistance to this future by the people of BC. While there were no arrests during the Victoria rally, it was clear that many hundreds were prepared to be arrested for civil disobedience and I had that same feeling everywhere I travelled. The federal and provincial governments have gone too far with plans to exploit BC’s natural resources and the people are rising up.

This was very evident at our raucous public forum in Nanaimo. Over 800 people came to our Friday night panel and gave one standing ovation after another as they were called on to resist this future for their children. When Bill McKibben told them that by fighting these pipelines they are going to help the whole world fight climate disaster, they were clearly moved to action.

The third observation is the growing strength of the First Nations leadership in BC not only to these pipelines but to all exploitation of their lands and rights. I feel a strong determination among First Nations in BC and it speaks to a different future, one in which aboriginal title and rights are central to any decisions about the province’s future.

A fabulous new generation of young leaders is emerging who are keen to work with non-First Nations allies as long as those allies are respectful and do not use them for their own ends. I was very proud of the central role First Nations played at every stop of our tour and in our plans going forward. At each stop I said that with the Harper government’s evisceration of the regulatory and environmental tools to challenge these pipelines and the abdication by most provincial governments of their responsibility to protect these resources, the only level of government left with any meaning is that of First Nations. I said that not only do we have to be there to support their resistance campaigns, but we must recognise the leadership they have taken and follow them in the path they tell us to take.

Two events signifying this growing relationship stand out. At the Saturday evening AGM dinner, we presented the ‘Activist of the Year’ award to two First Nation women leaders, Tsilhqot’in Chief Marilyn Baptiste who is leading the fight against the Taseko mine proposed for her territory in the BC Interior and Lois Frank, who is leading the fight against fracking on her Blood Reserve in southern Alberta. Lois was arrested by band police for standing in front of heavy vehicles used for fracking. Both gave passionate speeches of defiance to a carbon corridor future for their people and received long and loving applause from our many members attending this dinner.

The other had come just hours earlier when Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs gave a rousing speech about the need to work together, thanked the Council of Canadians for being a “candle” in the darkness, and announced that he and his wife Joan had both just become members. I admit to tears at that moment.

So I return tired but very glad to have taken this wonderful trip. Many thanks to all who worked so hard to make it work so well!

No pipelines! No tankers!

Photo: Our tour stop in Burnaby with (r-l) Chief Rueben George, Bill McKibben, Caleb Behn, and me. Photo by Rachel La.