Stuck between a rock and a hard place

-Cam Gray

British Columbia is filled with many iconic images: the lush West Coast, the dry Okanagan valley, the Mountainous Kootenays and so much more. Unfortunately, many of these wild and sacred landscapes are faced with serious threats of human-induced destruction. Without a significant escalation in public resistance, the face and shape of our province will be forever changed.

As a province we rely heavily on our pristine and untouched landscapes for our livelihoods, recreation, sacred practices and our reputation or sense of pride amongst the nation. Our largest economic sectors have traditionally been agriculture, outdoor recreation, natural resource extraction and tourism. Throughout my short lifetime, however, the agriculture industry has dwindled in size and resource extraction has drastically changed. While we were once known for our robust forestry industry, free-trade agreements, climate change and irresponsible and unsustainable logging practices have crippled what was a backbone of our province.

Our communities find themselves at a pivotal crossroads; as much as they are in need of livable and fair wages, we drastically need to transition away from the destructive path that has built our province. Our dependency on fossil fuels and the continued extraction of natural resources simply cannot continue if we are going to mitigate the climate crisis that plagues our Mother Earth.

One such community that is caught between a rock and a hard place is the small coastal community of Kitimat in North-Western BC. Situated at the head of the Douglas Channel, in the traditional territory of the Haisla and Henaaksaila Nations, the community of 9,000 was designed and built around the Alcan aluminum smelter. Currently the community is being courted by energy giant Enbridge who is proposing an extension of the Alberta tar sands, through their Northern Gateway Pipeline Project.

The proposed project would traverse over one thousand streams and rivers, timbered plateaus, wetland habitats, the coastal mountain range and traditional unceded First Nations territories. Chemical and oil spills would be inevitable throughout the construction and operation of the pipelines Enbridge has continuously rejected all negotiations with tribal councils and is in violation of Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, which recognizes existing aboriginal treaty rights.

Mass opposition to the pipeline exists, particularly amongst BC First Nations, notably after the decision of 61 BC First Nations to keep “controversial tar sands from going through the province.” That said, the MOU’s issued by Enbridge have split communities between those that are willing to sign on to the company’s ultimatums, and those who have shown unified resistance to pipeline projects in their communities.

Those willing to sign on with the company recognize the economic benefits that their communities will receive, which are desperately needed. Unfortunately these are short-term payment schemes, which will not promote much-needed long-term community development strategies.

The community of Kitimat and other Northern communities must receive provincial and federal funding (grants not loans) to properly support local community development projects. Small scale renewable energy, subsistence and seasonal agriculture, traditional fishing and hunting practices must be (re)introduced into communities to promote a sustainable future. Government and industry cannot use traditional cost-benefit analyses in these communities to determine the financial viability or value of providing financial aid. The survival of our communities and our ecosystems cannot be quantified and members of developed urban metropolises throughout Canada must be ready and willing to support this vital development.

Just as we must be willing to show our support for local community development that promotes a transition away from fossil fuels, we must also be willing to stand beside these communities and take direct action. Today members of the Canadian Youth Delegation proudly showed solidarity with frontline communities and demanded that further tanker routes and offshore and arctic drilling be halted immediately. Organizers demanded that oil and gas be left in the soil, that the decisions of local communities be respected and upheld and that further development of such precarious projects be stopped. The event was incredibly well attended by global youth, as well as representatives from various environmental NGOs.

I was incredibly proud of our delegation and hope that today’s action will further encourage participation in the actions planned over the coming days. This week looks to be exciting, both inside and outside the conference centre and will hopefully galvanize youth support to stand in solidarity and take action with frontline and impacted communities to demand climate and social justice for all.


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