As Chief of Saik’uz First Nation, I have spent many years working to defend our territory and future generations from the risks posed by oil pipelines. That’s why I was so dismayed to see recent media coverage of the proposed Eagle Spirit oil project, suggesting broad First Nations support for the proposal.
The Eagle Spirit initiative is a business seeking to make money. It does not speak for our communities, and it certainly does not speak for Saik’uz First Nation.
Saik’uz First Nation spent a decade working with the Yinka Dene Alliance – an alliance of First Nations representing 25 per cent of the proposed route of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline – to uphold the decision made according to our laws that oil pipelines would not be allowed in our territories.
In this work, I and other Yinka Dene Alliance leaders have supported Coastal First Nations leaders in calling for federal oil tanker ban legislation. In 2016, I travelled to Ottawa to meet with federal ministers and urge them to pass a law banning oil tankers on the Pacific north coast – a law that would finally take this toxic issue off the table.
A legislated oil tanker ban on the Pacific north coast is about more than protecting the ocean. It is also a recognition that the Yinka Dene Alliance and many other First Nations worked long and hard to ensure that our territories would be protected from unwanted oil pipelines like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project.
In this light, I was frankly outraged to see Eagle Spirit’s chief executive publicly claim that Indigenous leaders supporting the federal Oil Tanker Moratorium Act are “puppets and props” of foreign interests. This is profoundly disrespectful, and it sounds unfortunately identical to the dismissive language that the federal government directed at our communities when we opposed Enbridge.
If Eagle Spirit believes that we as Indigenous people cannot think for ourselves, then it is no different from the many other companies that have sought to impact our territories without our consent.
In Saik’uz, we care deeply about providing for our future generations. That means we need to know our great grandchildren will look back, when they are elders, and feel grateful that we always made decisions with them in mind, decisions that support healthy lands, waters and the long-term well-being of our communities.
Oil megaprojects do not fit with our vision. That is why we prohibited oil pipelines like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway in our territories, that is why we do not support Eagle Spirit’s oil project, and that is why it is time to pass the federal Oil Tanker Moratorium Act.
Jackie Thomas is Chief of Saik’uz First Nation. She is a Frog Clan member with four children and one grandchild.