After the Mayflower spill, make our voices heard
Flying out of Fort McMurray, Alberta, we’re on a plane with a bunch of “shadow” workers – workers who fly in, do their shifts in the tar sands, and fly home again before repeating the cycle. There’s a sense of fatigue and anticipation for home.
After just three days, I can’t wait to go home. My head aches and I have the taste of oil on my tongue. I can’t imagine how these workers deal with it.
The first morning we had the opportunity to see the tar sands from an aerial perspective thanks to flights donated by Lighthawk. We were a group of British Columbians, including Heiltsuk, Wet’suwet’en and Gitxaala chiefs and councilor. While I have seen many photos of the tar sands, witnessing the scale and level of destruction first-hand was powerful. It feels endless. It feels soulless.
We went to Fort McKay to visit with some Metis elders. The elders talked about how they used to fish, hunt and collect berries. The aboriginal community is now surrounded by tar sands development. They can no longer eat the contaminated fish out of the Athabasca River, berries no longer grow, and hunting grounds are now “no trespassing” zones for industry.
In the Northwest, many communities rely heavily on sustenance, and harvesting and feasts play strong roles in these cultures. When Timothy Innis from Gitxaala shared some dried salmon with the Fort McKay elder, the sparkle in her eye came back. At the same time, the resolve in the First Nations from British Columbia to prevent losing their healthy watersheds and coastline only increased. There’s no replacement for salmon caught out your backdoor, or for the wealth of foods that open up when the tide goes out.
As Celina Harpe from Fort McKay said: “Just don't let them in. Once you let them in, you're done. You must keep the door closed.” And in seeing the scope and scale of the tar sands, it’s true. If Enbridge Northern Gateway is approved, more pipelines will follow. Enbridge's pipeline and tanker project proposes to build dual pipelines spanning 1,170 kilometres (727 miles) from Alberta to BC’s North Coast, increasing tar sands development by an estimated 30%. Even Enbridge has plans to double what they’re proposing. If we don’t stop the company, British Columbia will become a corridor of toxic tar sands with hundreds and hundreds of supertankers crashing around our coast.
We need to stop Enbridge to protect British Columbia. But we also need to stop Enbridge to slow down the destruction taking place at the tar sands.