|"There just can't be a pipeline" - Chief Larry Patsy- Gitxsan Nation - 8/1/12|
by Michel Ryan
Over the past ten years, Enbridge is averaging one spill a week on its pipelines in North America. If the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline goes through, the risk of a disastrous spill looms large over the sensitive northern B.C. environment. With B.C. Premier Christy Clark making a stand on the issue, Chief Larry Patsy is among many First Nations that think she's not going far enough.
"There just can't be a pipeline. They have to go through at least two mountain ranges. That geography is just not the type that you'd want to put a pipeline through such as this. And the record shows they [Enbridge] have about one spill every week. You know, we're going to be in very bad shape."
Chief Larry Patsy is a hereditary Chief in Northern B.C. and member of the Gitxsan Nation. In a telephone interview he explained that the proposed Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline will pass by the Southern border of the Gitxsan territory and will cross a number waterways that drain into their territory.
"The watersheds are very tied together to the main water system locally through the Skeena and the Nass rivers...it would have far reaching effects if and when there is a spill."
The Skeena river is the second longest river entirely within B.C. after the Fraser, and the Nass is an especially important waterway for its abundance in food. Both rivers are crucial for supporting a variety of salmon that feed B.C. communities and wildlife.
Given recent reports that between 1999 and 2010, Enbridge has had over 800 spills on its pipelines, Chief Patsy feels that a spill on the Northern Gateway will be inevitable if the pipeline goes ahead. He and his neighbors are extremely concerned about the impact for their area, especially after a recent report slammed Enbridge for its handling of the Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan, and another Enbridge spill occurred in Wisconsin just a few days ago.
"In some areas where they've had a spill it's pretty flat land there and they've had problems with that, but in our territories there are avalanche areas and very mountainous regions. It's just asking for trouble."
Due to the geography in Northern B.C., Chief Patsy explained that a spill would certainly affect all the way from the inland down through to the coast because of the interconnected river systems. Drinking water would be contaminated, wildlife would be devastated, and the oil would eventually find its way down to the coast.
"The First Nations up in our area here, we need to be consulted and our culture has to be respected. We've been here for millennia and we have to protect this area not only for ourselves but for all British Columbians. This is a very unique area in Northern British Columbia...it contributes a lot to the coffers of the province and they have to help us and realize the risk if this pipeline goes through."
To compound concerns for the Gitxsan Chiefs, they've been dealing with political strife associated with the Gitxsan Treaty Society (GTS). The Society was structured to work with the BC Treaty Commission to deal with treaty rights for the Gitxsan nation.
According to Chief Patsy, they'd been at it since 1994 and since then have accumulated about 23 million of debt for the nation. Yet for all that, "we haven't seen any results" from the society, he said.
Then in 2011, the GTS signed an Equity Protocol agreement with Enbridge to open up discussion about the pipeline, but the hereditary Chiefs which the GTS is supposed to help represent, called foul. They said the GTS was not authorized to make such agreements and was certainly not acting legitimately in doing so.
This led many hereditary Chiefs like Larry Patsy to come together and form the Gitxsan Unity Movement, which effectively shut down the GTS for six months. The Society has only recently reopened its doors, primarily so that it can undergo an audit with the RCMP.
Outside of the illegitimate agreement the GTS signed with Enbridge, Chief Patsy says there has been no consultation whatsoever with any of the hereditary Chiefs he knows.
"We don't feel that any development such as what Enbridge proposes is good for our area...because the area is so sensitive environmentally and we depend so heavily on our resources here to sustain ourselves. If they would consult with us we could point that out to them, but Enbridge has never sat down with us directly."
He went on to say that Enbridge doesn't seem very interested in consulting either, citing a recent example when Enbridge was supposed to have a hearing with community leaders in Hazelton but decided on short notice to move the meeting 60 kilometers away for "security reasons". Chief Patsy says that apparently the peaceful shutting down of the treaty office made Enbridge officials fear for their safety.
"We've shown that we conduct ourselves peacefully during the whole process when we shut down the GTS office down for 6 months. There was never any incidence there of violence."
In terms of moving forward, Chief Patsy said, "What we've seen in the last few months is that there is a lot of support in the Nations from our territories right down to the coast, and we're all organizing to respond to this. The review panel is part of it, but I don't think it's enough, I think they're just going through the motions on that."
Getting the Nations in Northern B.C. organized can be a challenge, however. Chief Patsy, like many others can only pursue his opposition to the pipeline as a volunteer outside of his day-to-day duties of running a construction business.
But the goal is clear. "Our culture states that we have to make sure that this territory has to be handed down to future generations, at least in the same state that we receive it from our ancestors."
When it comes to the proposed Enbridge pipeline's potential impact on their territory, "We can't risk that."