Bulkley Valley opponents of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project stood united in Smithers Saturday, joining a chorus of similar voices from across Canada.
About 400 people took to the streets, marching down Main Street to Husky Park beside Highway 16 where members of the community sang and read speeches.
The rally and march was one of more than 130 affiliated events held at locations across the country as part of the Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities’ day of action.
Adam Gagnon opened the Smithers protest by singing Wet’suwet’en Warrior.
“Our timber’s all taken, our rivers dammed and diverted,” he sang. “Oil companies deal and bargain for the rights to destroy the land.
“Tomorrow’s dawn rises early as we await and take our place. The land and people will remember how we lived and died with grace.”
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’moks asked those gathered to use their voice in the right way and to work together to oppose Northern Gateway.
“I can’t express how proud I am to have us all together today,” he said.
“You hear the sound of the drum? That’s the sound of our heart, it makes us one.
“We often forget that tomorrow we depend on what we have today. That’s why today is special. We have to protect what we have today for tomorrow and the day after and the centuries after. It can’t be a corporation that runs your life, it must be your heart.
“If you don’t protect it, who will? If you don’t stand up and speak on behalf of the land, the water, the fish, the animals — who will?”
Phil Brienesse, Smithers councillor, spoke on behalf of the town. He said people across the province are aware of the project and many are standing behind those who are in opposition to Enbridge’s plan.
“Your town is behind you, your council is behind you but that’s not just it,” Brienesse said.
“There’s this whole group of people here and we’re not the only community that has chosen to oppose the Enbridge pipeline. The Wet’suwet’en nation, the councils in Terrace and Prince Rupert have passed resolutions.”
Brienesse said he was one of four councillors who publicly proclaimed their position against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline during an all-candidates’ forum prior to the last municipal election.
Once elected, the council then passed a resolution saying the Town of Smithers is officially against the project.
“It’s time we start changing. We can do it better,” Brienesse finished.
Jay Gilden, from the Friends of Morice-Bulkley, said people in B.C. have to prove to Liberal leader Christy Clark there will be a political price to pay if she allows the pipeline to move forward.
“It’s the local people who are going to pay the most direct price if that pipeline goes through and those tankers go off the coast,” Gilden said. “Let’s exercise some leadership, let’s create a model, get together with the rest of the province… and come together with a powerful voice and let the politicians know they have to defend our communities. That’s what they’re elected to do, they’re not there to defend the oil companies.”
Nathan Cullen, Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP, was in Vancouver on Saturday to attend the BC NDP convention and also made a speech to a crowd of about 1,000 people gathered at Science World. For him, it was nice to see people of all ages and backgrounds come together for a common goal.
“Often when we’re taking up issues or struggling with things, we’re not sure if we’re alone and if folks in other places, cities, are paying attention,” Cullen said. “It feels confirming that issues that matter to us also matter to people around the province and the country.”
There is a proper way to achieve social license to proceed with projects in the northwest, Cullen said, but Enbridge has not followed most of this protocol.
“There’s another model, we’ve got a good model available to us,” he said. “Enbridge is not the way things should happen. It’s a shame it’s sucked up so much oxygen.”
Cullen encourages people in the area who are opposed to Northern Gateway and similar projects to continue to fight for what they believe in.
“People in the north want their voices heard,” he said.
“Don’t believe them when they say anything is inevitable because the opinions of the people and the science should still matter and we have to make them matter with a government that seems not to care too much about those things.
“Stop them we will, that I can say is inevitable. We’re not going to back down, that’s just not an option.”