K̓áwáziɫ Marilyn Slett, President, Coastal First Nations. (Submitted photo)

OP-ED: A sustainable vision for the North Coast

President of Coastal First Nations urges politicians to pass Bill C-48 to ensure a permanent ban

By K̓áwáziɫ Marilyn Slett, President, Coastal First Nations

When the Northern Gateway pipeline was proposed, our coastal leaders developed a declaration reaffirming our stance against oil tankers in our waters. Today, as we urge politicians to pass Bill C-48 to ensure a permanent ban, the words in that declaration still ring true, just as they have for thousands of years.

Our homeland for at least the past 14,000 years, the declaration stated, is a unique but fragile part of the world — a temperate rainforest where land and sea connect in a puzzle of islands, inlets and narrow, rocky channels. Our very existence as a people depends on these ecosystems and the healthy fish and wildlife that live here; they gave rise to our Nations, our cultures and livelihoods. That’s why our declaration reiterated our responsibility to care for these lands and waters for the sake of all future generations.

Like most of the world’s ecosystems, our coastal home is threatened by destructive and unsustainable industrial practices. But our declaration against large tankers and current support for Bill C-48 doesn’t simply decry those practices. More importantly, we’ve committed to restoring these ecosystems and wildlife, and the fisheries and livelihoods that depend on them, by building sustainable economies.

READ MORE: Senate to hold hearings in northwest B.C. on controversial oil tanker ban

These aren’t just empty talking points; our efforts are coming to fruition throughout coastal communities, as sustainable businesses take shape that bring people back in harmony with the ecosystems that have sustained us. Here in Prince Rupert, for example, Coastal Shellfish recently launched its sustainable shellfish operation, which employs 40 full-time staff and will provide more than 100 year-round jobs for local people when fully operational.

Through our land and marine use plans and other initiatives, our Nations are working collaboratively to manage our territories sustainably. We’ve protected 85 percent of our forests and are ensuring the remainder is harvested using principles of ecosystem-based management. We are establishing new businesses based on ecotourism and other non-extractive activities, which employ our people without depleting resources or putting our ecosystems at risk.

These are the economies that will sustain our people into the future, but they are threatened by the very real potential for devastating oil spills if large tankers traverse these waters. Rather than viewing our sustainable goals in opposition to current unsustainable practices, we ask Canadians to recognize our stand as one of many that will be required as part of this country’s commitment to sustainability.

READ MORE: Oil tanker ban to be reviewed by committee

Just this month, we saw yet another climate report that demands we act with collective urgency — Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. In the face of this reality, our unsustainable industries will make matters worse by extracting too much, too fast, and compromising the ability of ecosystems and wildlife to adapt.

At some point we must all commit to sustainability, and recognize when we’ve exploited enough. Otherwise, our pronouncements, agreements and supposed commitments are just empty talk. And it’s our children and grandchildren who will pay the consequences.


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