Why We Need the North Coast Oil Tanker Moratorium to be Enacted

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The following is my testimony provided to the Canadian Senate’s Transportation and Communications Committee hearings on Bill C-48 held in Prince Rupert on Tuesday, April 16th, 2019. The Committee is deliberating on Bill C-48: Oil Tanker Moratorium Act which is essentially an act to protect the North Coast from oil tanker traffic. The Bill passed in the House of Commons last year with 67% of MPs voting in favour of the Bill. The Bill now sits in the hands of the unelected Senate and due to an upcoming federal election is at risk of being killed.

Thank you, Senators for the opportunity to speak to you today.

I am a member of the legislative assembly of British Columbia representing riding of North Coast. I represent one of the largest ridings in BC from here in Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii and down the central coast to Wuikinuxv. Bill C-48 falls within my riding and impacts the Nations and non-indigenous communities I represent. What I offer today are some of the learning’s of a politican who deeply cherishes the relationships she has with the Indigenous people in her riding.

Firstly: It may sound cliché, but water is life. Similar to other Indigenous communities whose entire being is connected to land, coastal First Nations life is tied to the water and the health of the marine environment. It has been well-documented by anthropologists that when you take away or over-exploit Indigenous peoples land and waters, cultural keystone species such as the Bison to the Cree or salmon to the Tsimshian are put at risk.

Without these keystone species cultures cease to exist. The thread of culture is based on relationships with the environment and if you break that relationship you cannot replace the culture. This reality cannot be overlooked; First Nations communities have inherent rights to have their marine environment protected.

In October 2016, the Nathan E. Stewart Tug and Barge ran aground, just off of Bella Bella, in an important shellfish and seafood harvesting area, spilling 109, 000 litres of ­­ diesel and other petroleum products. According to the experts, this was a small spill. But for the Heiltsuk First Nation it was catastrophic. Government and oil company people descended upon the small coastal community of Bella Bella. Many complained about the cost of food in the one and only grocery store. But what people had to learn was that the REAL grocery store that the community depended on, was now covered in oil. The grocery store where the community harvested shellfish, seaweed, salmon and halibut was now closed and a viable clam fishery was closed for over two years due to contamination.

Coastal communities are subsistence communities. When you live on $250 a month, and you’re a single mom with 3 children, and milk is 10$ a gallon, you simply cannot survive without the resources from the land and water. $8 for a red pepper. $75 for a ham. This is a reality for my constituents. By our standards as non-indigenous peoples, this would be impossible to survive on, but my constituents survive by accessing the resources of the sea. One boat and one fisherman can provide for hundreds of community members.

So, think about it. If there is an oil spill, even a small spill, children will literally be starving. That is why protecting these resources is a matter of survival for my constituents. 14,000 years of documented survival is now at risk. There is no one else who should have a louder voice in this conversation than the communities that have been the stewards of this land and these waters for thousands and thousands of years – but the reality is that is not how our world works right now, and that’s why I am here.

Today, I am using my privilege in the hope that you will hear me and thus hear the voices of my constituents and many other indigenous voices. I think that this is what is important for Senators to know. Not only is the Bella Bella grocery store at risk with existing marine traffic but so are all the other communities’ grocery stores along the coast.

On paper, the economies of these coastal nations may not be massive GDP contributors, but for these communities, resources harvested in the waters are far more valuable indicators of wealth. We as colonial governments have externalized the true cost of doing business onto indigenous peoples. The price they pay is the destruction of their homelands, way of life, and their wellness. What is at risk represents more than potential earnings, or 150 years of colonial systems…what is at risk is the inherent right of every indigenous child to live in their homelands. The cultural inheritance of every child born and unborn in these territories is what we are proposing to pay for the ability to ship oil on the North Coast.

You have a huge responsibility to protect these children and you can do that by voting in favour of C-48.

Thank you