Yinka Dene Alliance

Yinka Dene Alliance

June 22, 2012 14:05 ET

Oil Spill Outbreak Strengthens First Nations' Opposition to Enbridge Pipeline

Also: First Nations accuse Harper government of putting interest of oil companies ahead of Aboriginal rights and the public interest by passing Bill C-38

NADLEH WHUT'EN, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - June 22, 2012) - The Yinka Dene Alliance, one of the leading First Nations opponents of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, says that Enbridge's record of repeated oil spills demonstrates why the proposed project will never be permitted in their lands. The Alliance reacted to the news of yet another substantial Enbridge oil spill in Alberta this week, and the passage of Bill-C38.

"How can anybody in BC trust Enbridge's safety promises when they spill huge quantities of oil each year, all over North America?" said Chief Martin Louie of Nadleh Whut'en First Nation, a member of the YDA. "These spills are exactly what we are afraid of, and Enbridge keeps on proving that we can never accept their word on safety. No matter what effort they make, their proposed pipeline will put our kids in harm's way, so we say no way, and the public are standing with us. The string of bad spills throughout Alberta and beyond provides even more justification - as if we needed any - to say no to the Enbridge pipeline."

Two years after Enbridge's worst-ever oil spill disaster in Michigan's Kalamazoo river system, oil remains in the ecosystem and the river is only partially being reopened for recreational use this week. Chief Louie added: "Oil companies can talk all they want about their efforts to clean up oil spills, but the truth is that there is no such thing as oil spill cleanup. When oil spills into a river or onto a coastline, it can never be fully cleaned up. Local communities bear the brunt as the oil continues to infect the water and harm wildlife, plants and people. In Michigan, locals say that Enbridge didn't even give the local community the straight goods on what kind of oil had been spilled, and the potential health effects, for a long time."

Chief Louie also took aim at the federal government's weakening of environmental protections and bid to fast-track oil pipeline approvals, passed this week in the omnibus budget Bill C-38. The changes undeniably weaken the legal protection of First Nations fisheries by narrowing the range of fish that are defined as protected.

"The Harper government claims that these changes are being made in the 'national interest' but apparently that doesn't include aboriginal interests," said Chief Louie. "We are trying to overcome third world conditions while building our economies in a way that will sustain us for the long-term. An oil spill would destroy the land that our communities depend on, and that is unthinkable."

Chief Louie continued: "The Crown held a fancy meeting with First Nations chiefs in Ottawa this January, at which the Prime Minister and the Governor General promised renewed respect and strengthening trust. Next thing we know, Harper turns around and is doing whatever he can to put the interests of oil companies ahead of our constitutional rights, and the public interest. He's gutting Fisheries protections without even talking to our people who rely on the fish. Instead of involving First Nations and communities in decision-making, he's centralizing decisions on pipelines in his office. We are deeply disappointed, though not exactly surprised, that Harper's words to us are being shoveled onto to the heap of broken promises that harms the relationship between First Nations and Canada."

The Yinka Dene were joined for celebrations on National Aboriginal Day by their ally the National Chief of the Dene Nation and Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations for the Northwest Territories, Bill Erasmus. The Dene Nation continues to experience the effects of an Enbridge oil spill near Norman Wells, NWT, that happened last summer.

Chief Erasmus added: "We are sad for the people in Alberta, Michigan and elsewhere that have had to cope with Enbridge's oil spill disasters - we know what it's like. Our own Dene people in the NWT have suffered from an Enbridge oil spill last year that the company didn't even know about until our local people smelled the oil. We don't wish that fate on anybody else. We are standing with our sisters and brothers here in British Columbia and together we are going to put a stop to Enbridge's pipeline and tanker plans, and the unchecked tar sands expansion that will go with it."

Last month, the Yinka Dene Alliance travelled across Canada on the "Freedom Train" to take their refusal to approve Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline directly to Enbridge's shareholders meeting in Toronto. The Yinka Dene Alliance is a coalition of five First Nations whose territories include more than 25% of Enbridge's proposed pipeline: Nadleh Whut'en, Nak'azdli, Takla Lake, Saik'uz and Wet'suwet'en.

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