By Heidi Bevington-With one voice, over 300 people said NO to offshore oil and gas during a protest feast at the Skidegate Hall April 6.
The evening began with drumming and singing as a procession of children from the Hlgaagilda Haida Children’s Dance Group and the Living and Learning school danced in with signs and art showing their concern for the ocean.
People celebrated the gifts of the ocean by feasting on seafood chowder rich with halibut, smoked black cod, salmon, crab, clams and k’aaw (herring roe-on-kelp). After eating and visiting, people settled back with their coffees to hear speakers from all the islands communities voice their passion for the ocean and their determination to protect it.
Chief Gid Kun (John Williams) stood first to speak on behalf of Chief Skidegate (Dempsey Collinson). He spoke of the Haida’s long history on the islands.
“The old stories tell of oolichan,” said Chief Gid Kun. “The Haida’s loved the fish so much that the fished it to extinction. They begged Raven to speak to the Old Man in the Sky to give more oolichan. Through Raven, the Old Man said that each gift is given only once. Since then the Haida’s have done their best to take care of nature.”
Chief Gaahlaay (Watson Pryce) who recently celebrated his 99th birthday, recalled traveling as a small boy with his parents to Sgan Gwaii in a small dugout canoe. They didn’t need to carry food because they could gather it as they traveled. “If oil comes up on the islands, the seafood will be wiped out. I hope they don’t start that oil drilling around here,” he said.
Chief Niis Wes (Ernie Wilson) stood next. “This I have said to anyone who would listen-if the oil drilling proceeds it’s going to kill the North Coast. I know how wicked the Hecate Strait isÂ…that water is wicked and the tide is strong. How are they going to control an oil spill?”
The rafters rang when Gilbert Parnell spoke of his dream to make the islands become a model of sustainability for the world. “With 5000 people here who love the land, we can do it! Many of you have come to join us,” he said. “Without your help, it will be a daunting challenge and we need all of you.”
From Old Massett, Margaret Edgars said ” I want to see our younger ones live off the land like my grandmother and mother taught me. We live like kings on this island of Haida Gwaii, where the resources are so plentiful, but some of them are dwindlingÂ….I’m proud to be here amongst all of you who want to fight for what is rightfully ours on the islands.”
Lorrie Joron spoke for Masset council. “New Masset has said no in the past and continues to say no, especially after the tour of the east coast” She called the review process a farce and a fraud. “It makes no sense to invest in something that will increase greenhouse gases.”
Arnie Bellis spoke on behalf of Port Clements mayor Dale Lore. “Port Clements is knowledgeable about issues and their support has gone all the way back to Lyell Island. They put themselves out on the plank so to speak and we thank them for that.”
Bruce Ives of Queen Charlotte said “There are alternatives to oil and these islands could be leaders for the rest of Canada to seek alternatives to the use of fossil fuels. We have untapped energy in our wind and tidal watersÂ…Leave the oil where it is. Maybe in 100 years it can be tapped safely and used safely.”
From Sandspit, Peter Grundmann said, “the risks are far to great to these magical lands and waters.”
As well as the people quoted above, the following people spoke or had messages read on their behalf: Melinda Pick, Kevin Borserio, Michael Nichol, Diane Brown, David Loewen, Mare Davies, Margo Hearne, Evelyn von Almassy. Also, two off-islanders spoke: Eva Wilson of Galiano Island and Roberto Borrero, a Taino Indian from Puerto Rico.
The evening ended with Council of the Haida Nation president Guujaaw and Master of Ceremonies Irene Mills thanking the feast’s organizers and everyone who came to show their support.
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