Elected and hereditary Haida leaders met some Ottawa senators last week, and not to play hockey.
At issue is Bill C-48, the Liberal government’s proposal to formalize a ban on large oil tankers in Haida Gwaii and North Coast waters.
Speaking alongside Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation and Gary Reece, a hereditary chief of the Nine Allied Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams, Peter Lantin, kil ’tlaats gaa, said in Ottawa last week that the Haida and other coastal First Nations thought the ban was a done deal after it passed the House of Commons in May.
“We thought we were already there,” Lantin said.
But since reaching Canada’s newly reinvigorated Senate, the bill has been stuck at second reading, opposed by Conservative senators who say it will not only hurt existing companies in the Alberta oil sands, but also the Indigenous-owned Eagle Spirit Energy — a proposed pipeline that would carry crude oil from Fort McMurray to a terminal south of Prince Rupert.
Joining the opposing senators are some First Nations leaders, including Chief Dan George of Burns Lake First Nation, who argues Eagle Spirit is one of the few opportunities for industrial development in northern B.C.
To counter that lobby effort, and to make it clear who speaks on their behalf, the Haida and other coastal First Nations sent large delegations and held a press conference at Parliament Hill last Tuesday.
“Reconciliation will be at risk if oil tankers are allowed in our territory,” Lantin said, noting that a lot of Haida Gwaii land and marine areas are already protected by the Haida Nation and by Canada.
“If you want reconciliation to continue with the Indigenous people, especially with the Haida, then this oil tanker ban has to get put in place immediately,” he said.
“Our economy depends on a healthy environment, and a healthy people.”
Marilyn Slett, who is the current president of the Coastal First Nations, said the fight against North Coast oil tankers goes back to the 1970s and is based on real concerns about spills, such as the Nathan E Stewart diesel spill last year that closed a key Heiltsuk clam fishery.
Reece, meanwhile, said the Lax Kw’alaams have a large fishing fleet and fish-processing plant that depend on a healthy ocean.
“Our community is a fishing community — always has been, always will be,” he said, and an oil spill would be a disaster.
“We cannot let that happen.”