Haida opposition to pipeline rebuked

  • Mar. 24, 2015 8:00 a.m.

By Stacey Marple Haida Gwaii ObserverA group of hereditary chiefs, elders and elected officials in Lax Kw’alaams have come forward to voice their support for the Eagle Spirit Energy project, which would move refined oil to Grassy Point for export to Asian markets.And, they say, those who claim all nations on the coast oppose the project are simply wrong.”The suggestion that there is unified opposition to the Eagle Spirit oil pipeline proposal on the north coast is ridiculous … community members are not stupid and need to have access to the facts so they can judge for themselves. The last thing we need is environmental organizations dictating how we should steward the traditional territories we have already protected for the last 10,000 years,” said Elder George Bryant, with three hereditary chiefs taking issue with opposition statements made by Coastal First Nations director Art Sterritt and elder Murray Smith.”Neither Murray or Art Sterritt’s Coastal First Nations organization speak for our tribes or community and they should stop pretending they do. We were not consulted by those groups for any real opinion. We can do our own thinking and looking after our own land,” read a statement by hereditary chiefs Cylde Dudoward, Donald Alexcee, Alex Campbell and Randy Dudoward.The statements come following a meeting with Eagle Spirit Energy in Prince Rupert Monday and widespread media reports of community opposition after the company received support from three First Nations in the interior. Among the key reasons for support listed by those voicing their opinions is the economic impact the project could have if it is done in an environmentally safe way.Eagle Spirit has placed environmental safeguards at the core of their proposal, which Eagle Spirit president Calvin Helin said last April will hinge on First Nation’s support.”This is going to be a First Nations-led initiative,” he said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes, but if First Nations aren’t for this then we won’t do it.”While the pipeline appears to be gaining some of that support, on Haida Gwaii the CHN continues to voice its opposition. In a letter to Eagle Spirit last May posted on the council’s website, the CHN states they will not support any pipeline due to the risks associated with tanker traffic.”The Haida Nation strongly opposes any oil developments on our coast, regardless of who the proponents are,” reads the letter.At press time CHN representatives were in Vancouver seeking an injunction to stop the herring fishery and could not be reached for further comment. Mr. Helin said Eagle Spirit was disheartened over the complete lack of support from CHN, but added there is very little anyone can do to stop the flow of oil reaching the west coast.”If we bury our head in the sand, we just say no to everything ,we are going to end up in a situation where it just happens, we will have no say in the environmental standards and models on how the oil is shipped. The best way to be involved in it is to be proactive and shape what happens,” said Mr. Helin.”There is a common Joke for First nations in Rupert Area that David Suzuki runs Haida Gwaii” said mr. HelinHe added if bitumen comes by either pipeline or rail, it will all be transported through the Kitimat area, a risky shipping lane, while Grassy point provides a more open route. He said there is already an Exxon Valdeze pipeline in Alaska from which tankers carry crude oil past Haida Gwaii to a Washington refinery. “Right now if one of these ships from Valdez have a problem, we have nothing to protect us,” said Mr. Helin.Eagle spirit claims that they will have a highest environmental model in the world. Eagle Spirit Energy started up in 2012, with Aquilini Investment Group providing the financial backing for the company. The Aquilini investment group is better known for their ownership of the Vancouver Canucks and Rogers Arena. The investment group along with backing the financial start up of Eagle Spirit, have committed to underwrite the estimated $18 billion cost for the pipeline. Eagle Spirit Energy and the Aquilini Group, partners in the project, claim the idea is backed by many First Nations, even some opposed to Northern Gateway. The stated objective of Eagle Spirit Energy Holding ltd is “to assist aboriginal communities and individuals to become successful with the managing economic opportunities in their traditional territories.” The Aquilini group has already invested an estimated $15 million to date on technical support and other aspects of the project.

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