Gitga'at teach a lesson in democracy
The Gitga’at of Hartley Bay have been there for ten thousand years. You can get to Hartley Bay by seaplane from Prince Rupert, 145 kilometers to the north, or by boat.
If Enbridge builds their pipeline across British Columbia, hundreds of supertankers will sail by Hartley Bay every year.
They will need 4 super tugs to navigate the narrow treacherous waters around Gil Island. Gil Island is where the BC Ferry Queen of the North went down in 2006. The oil from its tanks has never been recovered. It is still leaking. The Gitga’at no longer harvest food from that area. A
supertanker holds eight times more oil than the Exxon Valdez lost in Prince William Sound 22 years ago. No person has even been compensated for the loss of livelihood created by the Exxon Valdez. The Gitga’at know this.
So it is not surprising that they organized a protest of the pipeline in Prince Rupert on Saturday, February 4th. There are just 200 Gitga’at people who remain in Hartley Bay, 500 live in the Rupert area. More than 800 showed up for the protest, which tells us two things. Either just about every Gitga’at person on the planet showed up or they have a lot of friends.
Maybe both. The community centre was full.
Many of the Gitga’at wore sweatshirts that said, “Say no to tankers”.
Following their tradition, their chiefs spoke first, then the chiefs of other Tsimshian nations. Chiefs from the surrounding First Nations all
spoke, all spoke against the pipeline. While the chiefs and dignitaries were speaking, a two year old wandered out onto the area floor. She was holding up a sign. Say No To Tankers.
In between the speeches the people danced. Each tribe, the Killer Whales, the Eagles, the Ravens and the Wolves, took their turn and as they did, they invited clan members to join them and people streamed down from the bleachers to join with them and their chiefs and matriarchs as they danced.
The whites were invited and they joined. And as everyone danced, the women of Hartley Bay chanted and the Gitga’at men drummed and a booming heartbeat swelled through the building. “One nation! One voice!”
These are the people whose lands and resources were taken away and still do not have a treaty or compensation. These are the people who were sent away to residential school. They are the people who are rebuilding their culture and still live from what the surrounding sea gives them. They know how close to extinction they have come, and can come again.
Art Sterritt reminded everyone of the Enbridge disaster on the Kalamazoo River and of the deep well rupture in the Gulf of Mexico that produced the greatest man-made ecological disaster we have ever seen. Yet. He reminded us that a tanker ban was placed on the Canadian coast after the Exxon Valdez ran aground and that the technology that didn’t clean up then has not since improved.
The culture of oil has no conscience, Art Sterritt said, it leaves no legacy. Our prime minister has said that the pipeline is in the national interest because it will diversify our markets. He means that competition will raise the price of oil and create wealth for large corporations. But he is about to be taught a lesson by the Gitga’at that is as old as Athens.
It is called democracy.
Rob Hart, Terrace, BC