‘Unbreakable wall’ extends to Kinder Morgan pipeline: Interview with Rueben George

Published in rabble.ca | September 4 , 2012 | Circulation: 250,000 unique monthly readers

This Saturday, an armada of First Nations ocean-going canoes and other boats paddled between Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations territory, up the Salish Sea — Burrard Inlet — to celebrate their connection to each other and the waters.

The flotilla did ceremony on the water in front of Kinder Morgan’s crude oil facility. The two nations then signed a declaration to protect the Salish Sea from the firm’s proposal to double its pipeline capacity to the facility. The proposed $5-billion project would push crude oil capacity to 850,000 barrels a day from the current 300,00, bringing more and bigger tankers to Vancouver waters.

Rueben George is Sundance Chief for Tsleil-Waututh First Nation. He paddled on Saturday with more than 100 others to oppose the pipeline terminal expansion, and to celebrate and protect the Salish Sea.

George spoke to W2 Media Mornings today, on Vancouver Co-operative Radio, with co-hosts (and fellow rabble.ca contributors) David P. Ball, Brigette DePape and Maryam Adrangi.

David P. Ball: You had a big hand in the Save the Salish Sea weekend … Could you talk a bit about that canoe journey and the significance of it?

Rueben George: It was really beautiful, but it’s funny: we talked about this a year-and-a-half ago, and found it there was such a beautiful thing to it, to have it play out the way it did. What was said by our elders was that the waterways were the highways of our people. That’s how we traveled to visit each other… I grew up on the water here — we always played in the water, we swam in the water. Our elders often said that when the tide goes out, our table was set. So when the tide goes out, there were clam beds and crabs out there. We’d go out and it was such a beautiful thing.

Later in life, when I got a little bit older, my family taught me to do ceremony in the water. We used to have — and still have today — canoe festivals. We would use smaller canoes than we did [this weekend] — some would be the same length but skinner — and we’d race each other, all the nations in Coast Salish territory. The canoes we used on Saturday are ocean-going canoes, for traveling distance and trips. The significance of paddling together is one heart, one mind, through rough water — as it is with the two straights that we have here. The Lions Gate bridge it gets really rough. It encourages [us] to continue to paddle: to move forward. So that’s what we did.

We took all those things that I learned to love and to embrace — the reason why we have a loving connection to the waters … so when we did that ceremony, as I explained, what we learn from the waters is only goodness. So what we want to go into the water is only goodness.Kinder Morgan – what they put into the water isn’t good [laughs] — it isn’t goodness. It’s not healthy for us all. The experience that we have is that everybody has the right to that. Everybody has the right to that. Even Kinder Morgan — and future generations of their children — we want goodness for them too.

Brigette DePape: What are the different forms of resistance that the Tseil-Waututh [are] taking? This was such an incredible weekend, and definitely not the ways that we would expect to see protecting the waters… The resistance seems to take so many different forms.

RG: We have been stewards of our land; we have been taking care of our land. Even in investments that us, as the Tseil-Waututh people, have voted on – how we want it to be is that there are alternatives. The government gives more than $1 billion in subsidies each year to fossil fuel companies; if they directed that towards green energy, that would be great news. The Tseil-Waututh people invested in wind turbines – we sell and manufacture wind turbines. So even the business ventures we think we want to get into are green energy. Green energy jobs are three-to-one more jobs than fossil fuel jobs. We have been working towards that to sustain ourselves and sustain our environment for the future. What we believe in, right now at this point, is educating our B.C. community and our Canadian community and our Vancouver community – that’s what we’re working on right now. Just like myself, I’m a family councillor and director of community development here for our nation. Two years ago, I didn’t know much about what’s going on with the tar sands, the pipelines and oil tankers. Now that I know as much as I do, I’m really vocal about having alternatives and stopping this destruction.

What we’d like to do is also educate the communities. Canadian citizens are very passionate about our country and where we live, and the land that we’re on. I really believe if they really knew what was going on with the lands, they would want to make better decisions. So right now, at this point, that’s what we’re doing – that’s our goal: we want to have, in the near future, more community hall meetings, so we can inform communities about what’s going on. Originally in the North Shore, then eventually over in Vancouver, and even up along the pipeline.

DB: A lot of people in B.C. have an environmental consciousness. We’ve seen this arise with the opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline, in particular. But a lot, at least on the settler side, don’t understand the idea of Indigenous self-determination and sovereignty. And yet, what we saw on Saturday was, in my view, a real expression of that sovereignty – through that canoe paddle, through doing a traditional journey between Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations. Can you say a bit more about that?

RG: For the rest of Canada, there have been treaties signed. But for the people who live in British Columbia, it’s unceded territory – meaning that we didn’t sign a treaty and we didn’t lose any battle. Actually, that works a bit in our benefit, for the direction that we’re going, to claim our lands and protect our lands. So that’s going to help us a lot, because that’s what we mean to do: protect our lands. That’s one direction we feel we’ll go in – and eventually, if we have to, in court – and use our Indigenous rights – to exercise them – and make sure we can continue to protect the lands.

Maryam Adrangi: … I was just recently watching an interview with [Chief] Michael LeBourdais of the Whispering Pine First Nation [Pellt’iq’t band], and he was commenting on a conversation he’d had with Ian Anderson, the president of Kinder Morgan Canada. Ian Anderson said something along the lines of, ‘If you’re going to complain, I’ll just rip out the pipeline and you won’t get any taxes from that.’ And Michael LeBourdais’ response was, ‘Okay, I’ll operate the backhoe!’ I was wondering if you’d been hearing about other First Nations’ opposition to the Kinder Morgan [pipeline] – because definitely we’re hearing a tonne from the Tsleil-Waututh, the Squamish and Whispering Pine. I’d love to hear a little more if information’s been coming your way?

RG: Yeah. At the beginning of the summer, we signed the [Save the] Fraser Declaration. That was a declaration created by the Yinka Dene [Alliance] to protect our lands and our waters – and to follow our Indigenous rights to do so. Back then, just over 100 nations signed it. Now there’s 206 – not only First Nations, but First Nation organizations like the B.C. [First Nations] Summit, the [Assembly of First Nations] – Alberta, the Yukon and British Columbia [people] have all signed it together. I like what Chief Jackie Thomas [of Saik’uz First Nation and Yinka Dene Alliance] said: The First Nations have created an ‘unbreakable wall’ that no pipeline will be able to pass through. So there is a lot of support. Our communities are coming together.

What is beautiful about it, too, is that some of our communities – I did hear that story about Kinder Morgan and Ian Anderson offering some of the First Nations what sounds like substantial money – which would really help some of the First Nations come out of some of the impoverished situations they’re living in – but there’s no price that you could put on … [what’s] sacred. Even though millions of dollars would help put us in a better situation, we’ll still continue to say, ‘No.’ The message is still consistently, ‘No.’ I haven’t heard of any First Nations still having agreements with them, but we’ll see. So far it’s been great to see – not just First Nations, but when more people find out. It’s not a First Nations problem; it’s not an environmental problem – it’s all of our problem. Just like how First Nations are saying no, I think everybody will say know.

DB: On Saturday, in fact, one of the canoes was piloted by people from the Western Canada Wilderness Committee and Tanker Free BC; Brigette was in that one. So on one of the nine [canoes], it seems like you welcomed in environmental allies from outside the Indigenous communities. In fact, I heard that Ben West from the Wilderness Committee drowned his cellphone getting out of the canoe at one point [laughter]. Could you say a little bit about allies in this struggle?

RG: In particular, the groups that you just talked about – the Wilderness Committee, Ben West and Rex Weyler, one of the founders of Greenpeace, and all the others – it was a good experience… We give back and forth. We also taught them too. One of the ways we’ve been taught – under the guidance of our beautiful Sundance Chief Phil Lane, Jr. – he insisted that before we meet with any of the environmental groups, we’ll pray with them… That’s why we did the ceremony. Just like how we wanted to show to the communities our loving connection through the ceremony and the canoe journey – the spiritual connections that we have in protecting something sacred – we shared some of our ceremonies with some of the environmental organizations… It really united us and brought us together. It’s been a great, beautiful relationship that just continues to grow and grow. As we’ve seen on Sunday with theSave the Salish Sea concert – there were so many volunteers that came out from all the organizations, and really made something really beautiful happen to educate our community. The experience of working with environmentalists has been really great.

DB: Well I really want to thank you for coming on today, Rueben, and for sharing your words with us –

RG: Sure. Can I share one more thing? … You know, one thing I believe is this work has been done before. Civil Rights – the war to change slavery and bring human beings to [inaudible] – was a beautiful thing. Then the Civil Rights movement of the 60s and 70s for equality for all human beings – that happened to Salish people, to save lives. I think it’s going to take a similar movement like that for us to stop all this destruction that’s happening to our Earth by these fossil fuel companies. So what I really believe is our nations have to stand up together – not to save other peoples’ lives, but to save our own lives. I really believe that. I thank you all for all the work that you’re doing, and thank you for having me on.

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