One day after the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, hundreds gathered in Old Massett to celebrate the end of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project.
Over two dozen people from across Haida Gwaii and a few visitors spoke Saturday night at the Celebrate Our Victory feast hosted by the Haida Nation and CoASt (Communities Against Super Tankers), which also featured singing, dancing, and a dinner of deer stew and seafood chowder.
Many spoke about how the twin Enbridge pipeline that would have brought oil sands bitumen from Alberta to the coast had threatened those local foods.
“You can’t put a price on our food,” said Haida elder Margaret Edgars.
“We can’t live off the store, or buy our food back from the land.”
When local hip-hop artist Jordan Stewart-Burton took the floor, he got the loudest cheers for rapping about homemade huckleberry jam and smiling because the freezer is full of salmon.
Many others spoke about how united Haida Gwaii was in its long-standing opposition to Northern Gateway, which began just over a decade ago. Of the 1,161 Haida Gwaii residents who testified to the Joint Review Panel about the project, only two were in favour.
“This project was a testament to the fact that our voices together changed the course of history,” said Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, Gid7ahl-Gudsllaay, general counsel to the Council of the Haida Nation.
A member of the legal team that filed the Federal Court of Appeal case which found Northern Gateway’s approval “fatally flawed” for the Harper government’s lack of consultation with the Haida and other First Nations, Williams-Davidson said it was key that the Haida testified with a single voice.
“Both band councils let the Haida Nation put forward testimony,” she said.
“That was powerful — we could not be divided before this project.”
At one point, Billy Yovanovich, chief councillor for Skidegate, asked Williams-Davidson and other members of the legal team to stand for applause, prompting what environmental lawyer Eugene Kung later joked was “the first time in human history that a team of lawyers got a standing ovation.”
Leslie Johnson, a former Queen Charlotte village councillor, noted that before Prince Rupert, Smithers, or other B.C. municipalities, Queen Charlotte passed resolutions calling for a North Coast moratorium on oil tankers and a ban on pipelines from the Alberta oil sands. Councillors in Port Clements, Masset, and Sandspit also registered their opposition to Northern Gateway.
“Municipal action is important,” she said, adding that grassroots opposition was also key, including homemade highway signs like her personal favourite, which read ‘The sand fleas are hopping mad.’
“It’s not the only thing, but people in our community wanted us as a council to take a lead, to take a stand,” she said.
Jason Alsop, Gagwiis, also highlighted the islands’ mix of political and grassroots opposition.
“It wasn’t all the usual suspects — you get used to hearing politicians like myself and our presidents, our chief councillors,” he said.
“The beauty of standing against Northern Gateway was that it brought everybody out.”
North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice said it was the Enbridge project that brought her first into environmental activism, then into provincial politics with the B.C. New Democrats.
“If it wasn’t for this asinine project, I wouldn’t be your MLA,” she said.
“I was suddenly awoken to the fact that our government and the oil and gas industry were so intertwined.”
Tamara Davidson, who emceed the rally along with Nika Collison, said in the weeks before the feast, many people questioned why they wanted to celebrate.
Some speakers noted that on the same day the Trudeau government announced Canada would no longer pursue Northern Gateway, it also approved an expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Burnaby, B.C.
Others, including Kirby Muldoe of the Gitxsan Nation and Julian Napoleon of the Saulteau First Nations in northeast B.C. spoke against the several proposals for liquefied natural gas terminals near Prince Rupert and Kitimat, and the pipelines that would supply them.
Meredith Adams, who lives off-grid in Tow Hill, said it’s also time to stop shipping millions of litres of diesel fuel across the Hecate Strait to supply the diesel generators in Masset, which give Haida Gwaii one of the dirtiest carbon footprints in Canada.
Nika Collison said while Northern Gateway may not be the last time that many people on Haida Gwaii stand up to protect the environment here, it’s important to stop and celebrate what worked.
“Coming together like this worked well,” she said. “We’re stronger together.”