When resource development runs roughshod over the democratic process, it tends to bring out the ‘unity’ in community.
In June the federal government approved the Northern Gateway pipeline and tankers project. The ruling—to allow tarsands bitumen to be piped across BC — came despite province-wide protests and a two-thirds majority in BC in favor of issuing a federal moratorium on tankers in BC’s inside coastal waters.
The National Energy Board ruling, to allow the pipeline subject to 209 conditions, also contravened the Save the Fraser Declaration, which banned oil sands products from the traditional territories of 130 First Nations across BC.
Following Save the Fraser, 25,800 people signed on to a solidarity accord, pledging to do ‘whatever it takes’ to stop the Northern Gateway project from being built.
It turns out that ‘whatever it takes’ might look less like struggle, and more like a love story. Using the tagline “who knew stopping a pipeline could be so much fun”, a new initiative, called Pull Together, is inviting ordinary citizens to unleash their passion for the BC wilderness by finding creative ways to raise money for First Nations.
A partnership between the Sierra Club BC, RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs) and five First Nations along the pipeline route, the Pull Together campaign’s goal is to raise $250,000 to support legal challenges by the end of 2014. People all across BC have responded to that call, by organizing bottle drives, film screenings, dinner parties and art shows in support of First Nations.
One of the more heartwarming fundraising tales comes from Bella Bella. Like other coastal communities, residents in Bella Bella fear the implications of an oil spill on their livelihoods.
“We know that an oil tanker spill can cause a lot of damage,” said fisheries scientist and Heiltsuk hereditary chief Harvey Humchitt, “and we know that Enbridge or Northern Gateway, although they say that they have world class operations, we believe that any tankers running aground would be catastrophic and would cause a huge loss of seafood to our people that rely on the food for subsistence.”
Jess Housty, a councilor with the Heiltsuk, agrees. “The Heilstuk have been concerned about this project since it was proposed,” said Housty. The Nation’s chief and council ‘committed to our community very early that we would pursue every avenue possible to do our part to stop it.’
“What’s at stake for us is our whole identity,” continues Housty. “It’s everything from our language, and our culture, and our spirituality, to the food we rely on, and the places where our ancestor’s bones rest.”
So when it came to deciding what to add to their wedding registry, Housty and her fiancée decided to ask their friends and loved ones to donate to Pull Together instead of buying them a slew of new toasters and blenders.
“My partner Dan Bertrand and I have both been really involved in the Enbridge issue. In a lot of ways we didn’t have a really traditional wedding. We just wanted it to be about bringing people that we love together, people that make us happy,” said Housty. “Pull Together seemed like a really nice way to direct folks that we cared about to make a gesture of their love for us and to celebrate what we meant for them as a couple without having to get material about it.”
“As one of the communities involved in the legal challenge, as someone from a perspective who is very involved in that legal challenge, it’s very important to gesture my support.”
Writing on their online fundraising page at www.pull-together.ca, Housty says, “You can fight projects like this in the boardroom, and in the court. You can fight them on the street, and on the land. You can also fight them when you walk down the aisle, especially if your loved ones share your beliefs about protecting the coast.”
First Nation's constitutional rights can be a powerful tool to ensure affected communities have a stake in projects in their traditional territories—but only if the nations can afford to uphold those rights in court.
Housty acknowledges that struggle. “I know First Nations have an incredible amount of power, on that legal side of things. But, from a community development perspective, I know what tribal government’s resources are and I know what our responsibilities are. And they are really broad! We’re responsible for virtually every aspect of the welfare and the development of our community.”
“The thought of a lawsuit added on top of that is such a huge capacity strain. I have a huge amount of admiration for my community, and for many other communities, that never hesitated to take on court challenges. But I wondered where and how and when the support would come.”
The Heiltsuk are one of five Nations whose legal challenges are being supported by Pull Together. The others are coastal nations Kitasoo-Xai'xais, and Gitxaala First Nations, along with interior bands the Nak'adzli and Nadleh Whut'en. All have filed separate legal challenges opposing the federal approval: the Nations are teaming up to fundraise under the precept that such an endeavor requires “many paddles, one canoe”.
The Pull Together campaign is the first of its kind to forge an alliance between multiple B.C. First Nations in their search for justice. “First Nations hold the legal tools that can protect the environment but they don't necessarily have the resources to enact them,” says RAVEN's executive director Susan Smitten. “Pooling resources and avoiding duplication means that even smaller contributions can go a long way.”
“These First Nations have taken a stand for our common future—the rivers and oceans, forests and climate that we all depend on. British Columbians want to support the First Nations who are going to court to stop Enbridge, and this is one way we can all pull together,” says Sierra Club BCs Caitlyn Vernon.
Housty agrees. “One of the amazing things about the position I’m in is that I can tell you the names, and the faces, and the lives of the people that Pull Together is helping,” she says. “I know they’re there and they really appreciate all the people that are standing with them.”
“For me, one of the things I so totally admire about my community, and particularly about the kids in the community, is the joy and resilience in everything we do. Whatever challenge that arises, that there’s this really strong commitment that what we’re doing, we’re doing together—from basketball games to school field trips, to community disasters. It’s a really beautiful experience.”
Thanks to supporters like Housty and Bertrand, whose wedding raised over $6000 before the matching funds, Pull Together is more than halfway to its goal. Until December 31st, every gift will be matched, dollar-for-dollar, by a generous donor. Fundraise online, organize events or donate via the website, www.pull-together.ca. To organize an event, get your business involved or find out more about the campaign, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.