Chief Na'Moks of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation says the pipeline will have a devastating impact on the environment of First Nations communities.
ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.
The Canadian government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has approved the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Highly controversial, the $6.5 billion pipeline will carry diluted bitumen from Alberta's tar sands 1,200 kilometers across the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, cutting through the Great Bear Rainforest, the largest intact coastal temperate rain forest in the world, to the northwest coast, where the oil will be shipped overseas to Asia on oil tankers.
Now joining us to discuss this issue and the Canadian government's decision is Chief Na'Moks, who is the Beaver Clan hereditary chief of the Wet'suwet'en First Nations.
Thanks for joining us, Chief Na'Moks.
CHIEF NA'MOKS, WET'SUWET'EN HEREDITARY CHIEF, TSAYU CLAN: Thank you very much.
WORONCZUK: So Stephen Harper's government has approved the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Can you talk about the legal issues around the pipeline in terms of First Nations' rights and treaties that the Canadian government has made in the past?
NA'MOKS: Well, first it must be realized that as Wet'suwet'en we have 22,000 square kilometers of unceded, non-treaty, undefeated lands, and the authority on the land still belong to the hereditary chiefs, the house groups, and the clans of the Wet'suwet'en. We've never ceded nor surrendered any of our authority on our lands to a provincial or a federal government.
WORONCZUK: Can you explain what that means, untreatied lands, and the legal status of that?
NA'MOKS: It's non-treaty. West of the Rocky Mountains, there are less treaties on this side of the Rocky Mountains than there is on the eastern side. And the Wet'suwet'en, we've never signed a treaty, so in essence we've never given away our authority on any portion of our land, water, or the air.
WORONCZUK: So let's also talk about some of the environmental issues surrounding the pipeline. A report from the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency in December recommended the Northern Gateway's approval, and they also said that a special envoy on energy affairs had consulted widely with First Nation communities. What's your reaction to that? And what possible environmental impact to you foresee if the Northern Gateway does go ahead?
NA'MOKS: Well, I think, first off, it should be pointed out that industry, such as oil and gas industry, actually call this the Enbridge approach. And in that approach, there basically was a lack of consultation. Like, for the Wet'suwet'en, there [has to be free,] prior, and informed consent before any projects, proposed projects, come on our territory. And that has never been given. When they say they had consultation, it was at a very light measure to what the consultation should be to the Wet'suwet'en.
For the environmental risks that are proposed for our area, it's absolutely inconceivable. The route that they chose was along our major river system, where our salmon are, our spawning beds. The habitat is so critical to the Wet'suwet'en, our fish, our water, our animals, our plant life. The proposed route actually splits the entirety of the Wet'suwet'en territory right in half. And the impacts to our rivers--just there is nothing that we would have impact our rivers. When they have oil condensate proposed to go through this, which would absolutely devastate our main river [inaud.] Wet'suwet'en, we said no from day one, that is not the route that you will take, and we will not support this. So regardless of whether it's a provincial or a federal government that supports it, the Wet'suwet'en and two-thirds of British Columbians do not support it.
WORONCZUK: So, chief, let me give you the argument that some supporters of Northern Gateway as well as other pipelines would say, which is that the project will help the Canadian economy, as it is worth an estimated $300 billion to Canada's gross domestic product over the next 30 years and would also create new jobs. I mean, they'd argue that the economic benefits will trump the environmental impact.
NA'MOKS: How could anything trump environmental impacts? One thing about the environment: if you destroy it, it's gone. You know, we can't put a price tag on our rivers, our freedoms, our rights, our rights, our title and rights. Everything that is attached to the land is what the Wet'suwet'en. We [inaud.] price tag on that. If they say it's in the best interests of Canada, as they have been in the past, what about the best interests of British Columbians, of First Nations? You know, when we're on the world stage and we're here to protect our land, the very basis of our being, and they try to put a price tag on it, to us it's absolutely inconceivable. It's asinine to think that they could actually put a price tag on our culture and our future.
WORONCZUK: So, Chief Na'Moks, let's conclude by talking about the movements that are rising against the pipeline. From what I understand, it includes First Nations people, other British Columbians, and people across the country. So what are the next steps in terms of the legal battle, as well as that of the protest movement?
NA'MOKS: I believe that the legal battle will go on for years, everything from lack of consultation to rights and titles, which we've never ceded nor surrendered. And also the fact that the investor [inaud.] there. If they want surety for a project, they definitely do not have it in British Columbia. When they have an investment decision to make, they must realize, when we go to court, that their money will sit there and it will rot. The last time the Wet'suwet'en went to court with the federal government, we were there for 20 years, and we came out of there successful. And we have no doubt that we will be successful in this as well.
WORONCZUK: Okay. Chief Na'Moks of the Wet'suwet'en First Nations, thank you so much for joining us.
NA'MOKS: Thank you so very much.
WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.