About 300 people showed up to a rally on May 12, which started at Mariners Park in Prince Rupert, where protestors rallied against the proposed Enbridge pipeline.
If approved, the pipeline would transport raw bitumen oil from Alberta to Kitimat. The oil would then be loaded into tankers and transported across the Pacific to China. The project is under review by the National Energy Board, and community hearings will start taking place in January 2012.
As the crowds gathered on a sunny & crisp night, Murray Smith, a house chief from Lax Kw’alaams, said he was at the rally to support the various nations that would be affected by the Enbridge pipeline. He said he was afraid of an oil spill from the pipeline, and pointed to the Queen of the North as something that is still leaking oil more than five years after it sunk.
“We eat so much stuff from the sea, if that’s gone, what’s going to be left for our grandkids?” said Smith before joining fellow regalia-clad aboriginals in a procession to the main stage.
The crowds moved to get closer to the cement stage; one member of the crowd was Jack Mussallem, Prince Rupert’s mayor. He said he was at the rally because, as an elected official, he wanted to hear all sides of the issue.
Through talking to people at the rally, Mussallem said he heard that people were concerned the shipment of oil could disrupt their way of life. He also said the project had no direct benefit to Rupert, but added he couldn’t speak for other communities.
Mussallem also said he has asked Enbridge to keep the oil tankers as far away from Rupert as possible, which could mean bringing a pilot by helicopter, rather than by boat, to guide the ship out into the open sea.
Mussallem then headed up to the mainstage to join aboriginal and political leaders, including Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen & North Coast MLA Gary Coons. For the next 30 minutes, speeches were made by those politicians and by representatives of various aboriginal communities. While the speeches varied in length and content, the common theme was that people wanted Enbridge to know that they don’t want an oil pipeline on or near their home.
Throughout the speeches, the crowd of 300 mostly listened quietly, and applauded at the conclusion of each speech. They held up placards such as “We say no to Enbridge oil,” “Enbridge construction ecosystem destruction,” “You can’t eat crude condensate.” One woman actually held a placard that showed a deer holding a placard, which stated, “Oh deer, not here, no pipeline.”
After the speeches, the crowd was led west by regalia-clad aboriginals, who drummed and chanted down First Ave. East, which had been blocked off by police. One of the marchers was Cullen, who had been re-elected in the general election on May 2.
The day after that election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a press conference and said Western Canada could “breathe a lot easier” because policies floated by other parties “simply did not reflect the needs and concerns of this part of the country, and in fact, I think were pretty seriously threatening this part of the country.”
While it’s pure speculation to decipher what Harper specifically meant by those comments, many people around the Northwest said one of those threatened projects he was talking about was the Enbridge project.
Cullen, however, said the Conservatives don’t have a leg to stand on with the Enbridge issue. He said the Enbridge project actually goes against their own policy not to export raw bitumen to countries with lower environmental standards.
Near the front of the 300-strong crowd, Cullen said he’s confident in victory over Enbridge. “People standing together is an incredible force,” he said.
The crowd, still led by aboriginal drummers clad in regalia, then took a detour into the parking lot of Chances, where some members of the North Central Local Government Association (NCLGA) were gathering as part of a three-day conference in Rupert. When the drummers reached the entrance, they led the crowd in a boisterous chanting of “We say no to Enbridge oil,” which was repeated a few times.
Outside Chances, Jennifer Rice, the chair of Friends of Wild Salmon, watched the chanting & drumming. In the speeches at Mariners Park, Rice was credited many times as the organizer for the rally.
Rice said the rally was held on May 12 to coincide with the NCLGA conference. She was quick to say they were not targeting politicians, but rather one of the platinum sponsors of the conference – Enbridge.
Even though it’s a sponsor of the conference, Rice said Enbridge hasn’t held a community presentation in Rupert since 2008, and has refused to speak to the general public. She called the rally “a huge success” because all nations were standing together, some of whom had made long journeys just to attend the event.
The procession then made its way out of the Chances parking lot and walked down Bill Murray Way to Waterfront Park, where a small flotilla of boats had gathered to participate in the rally.
~Written by Chris Armstrong