Chief Art Sterritt of the Coastal First Nations sets the record straight at a recent press conference

Why First Nations are undeniably united against pipelines, tankers…and the Sun is full of crap

Chief Art Sterritt of the Coastal First Nations sets the record straight at a recent press conference
Art Sterritt of the Coastal First Nations sets the record straight at a recent press conference

Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this editorial, The Vancouver Sun has published a form of a correction story on its front page Monday – though no mention of the mistakes it made with its Saturday headline story.

There is a reason – a big reason – chiefs of all First Nations in line to be adversely affected by oil pipelines and tanker traffic are so stubborn. You see, they understand that the consequences can be summed up by the words “certain catastrophe”. These little words sum up why Prime Minister Harper and Premier “photo-op” Clark are getting no traction with bribes in exchange for pipelines and tankers.

My colleague, Damien Gillis and I attended a press conference last Thursday called by First Nations who would be impacted by scheduled pipelines and tankers to outline their “Save the Fraser Declaration” – a document that leaves no doubt about their unified opposition to these proposals. In all, 131 nations have now signed on.

Moreover, this declaration almost certainly will be signed in the near future by the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, who face the proposed expansion of KinderMorgan’s pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to the their traditional territory on the Burrard Inlet. The Tsleil-Waututh first came out against the company’s plans – which could see up to 300 supertankers loaded with Alberta bitumen plying the waters of Vancouver – in a press release last month.

On this point, the Tsleil-Waututh’s Community Development Director, Rueben George (grandson of Canadian hero Chief Dan George) strongly intimated that his group will soon endorse the Fraser Declaration, once they’ve completed due process within their community. I have no doubt that the federal approval of KinderMorgan’s ability to export more oil from the line, arrogantly coming along side Thursday’s press conference, will guarantee the expected response from First Nations in and around the Burrard Inlet.

When the Tsleil-Waututh do sign on to the Fraser Declaration, that will formally unite the battles against both proposed pipeline projects in BC, drawing together an unprecedented alliance of First Nations and non-indigenous supporters around the province.

A couple of weeks ago there was an article in the business section of The Globe and Mail, where Art Sterritt, Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations, was quoted in a manner that suggested that perhaps the First Nations might bend on the pipelines if the environmental studies warranted it: “’If we could have a fresh start and were able to build a good relationship, the Coastal First Nations might be willing to take another look at the project,’ Art Sterritt, the group’s executive director, said in an interview. ‘That wouldn’t mean we would necessarily come out and agree with it, but we would certainly take a closer look at it.’”

At Thursday’s press conference, Damien gave Mr. Sterritt an opportunity to address that article and the way his words and Coastal First Nations’ position were presented within. The chief responded that he had been quoted out if context and the nations he represents were unequivocally opposed to the pipelines. Without diminishing the comments of others, Chief Sterritt’s uncompromising words were among the strongest of the day and left no doubt that no pipelines or tanker traffic will pass through lands and waters claimed by First Nations. “Tanker traffic is banned from the Great Bear Rainforest, from the Great Bear Sea. It will never happen,” Sterritt declared to the assembled press gallery.

Chief Sterritt’s words should be paid careful attention; since you can have all the pipelines in the world but if the oil can’t be taken by tanker to its destination, or if permitted to do so, can’t ship it out, there’s no point building pipelines. It’s a football game with one goal post and end zone missing – there can be no “game”.

As a bit of a cynic I had wondered if what we were seeing were negotiations and Enbridge was considering a counter-offer that First Nations would accept. After this press conference, my cynicism left and I’m convinced that it’s not a matter of negotiation but a clear statement that the issue is not negotiable, no matter what the final bribe might be offered.

This point cannot be over-emphasized, given the poverty in many bands. Unlike what we see in other segments of Canadian society, many First Nations are putting culture and the future of their children ahead of bribes – no matter what the amount is.

There’s been concern expressed – by me as well as others – that at the end of the day the northern pipelines and tanker traffic might not happen because the KinderMorgan line, which already brings unrefined oil to Vancouver Harbour, will be expanded so as to allow it to take more Tar Sands bitumen, thus making the northern lines unnecessary. Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh, while he is still canvassing his members, stated firmly that there would be no Tar Sands gunk passing in or through First Nations land.

I have a couple of personal observations – just why the Campbell/Clark government would grant Taseko Mines the right to start construction on its Prosperity Mine before it had been approved by the federal authorities is utterly beyond me. Talk about throwing gasoline onto the fire! This displays – as if any further proof were necessary – the insensitivity and arrogance of a government that has badly lost its way. That insensitivity and arrogance came out in the aboriginal writ hearing for an injunction against Taseko drilling and road construction – which the First Nation thankfully won this past Friday.

Leaving aside First Nations, why on earth would any government want to inflict huge environmental catastrophes on British Columbia? Is the answer to that they simply don’t give a damn about it? Is it as the late mayor of Vancouver Gerry McGeer said, “It’s only 2500 miles from Vancouver to Ottawa but it’s 25,000 miles from Ottawa to Vancouver.”?

Finally, a warning to both senior governments and the corporations involved – unpleasantness unto violence can clearly be seen ahead if these propositions are not quickly buried. Given the insensitivity and arrogance that has marked this issue, rising hostility from First Nations can be expected. I simply don’t see any common ground – it’s a dispute incapable of any “middle” ground settlement. And probably it always was.

Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t heard anything, not a soupcon of suggestion, of violence from First Nations, I simply raise the question: Given this solidarity by First Nations every inch of the way from the Tar Sands to and down the coast of BC, what other outcome can anyone with a modicum of intelligence expect if the companies, blessed by our political leaders, try to push ahead?


Since penning the above, we get absolute proof of the bias of the Vancouver media, especially the Sun.

Friday’s paper contained a lone article, buried in the BC Business section, on the historic declaration by over 130 First Nations opposing the Enbridge pipelines from the Tar Sands to Kitimat down our perilous and beautiful coast destined for China. Saturday’s paper, by contrast, bore a full front-page story, with a whole series of related features, trumpeting, “Gitxsan Supports Enbridge Pipeline – First Nation to Generate $7 Million as Equity Partner.”

The Vancouver Sun gave its front page to ONE First Nation that had allegedly signed with Enbridge. But within hours of the story breaking on Friday, the hereditary and band chiefs of the Gitxsan had come out blasting the story and setting the record straight. Turns out it wasn’t the First Nation partnering with Enbridge, but rather a single man – one Elmer Derrick – who is not even a chief but a representative of the Nation’s treaty negotiation office! [Ed. correction: Mr. Derrick is one among some 60 hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan, in addition to his role as a treaty negotiator]

Here’s some of what his own chiefs said about the situation in a press release on Friday:

“The Gitxsan people are outraged with the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Agreement”

to the announcement of Elmer Derrick of today’s date, the representatives of the Plaintiffs to the British Columbia Supreme Court Action No. 15150, cited as Spookw v. Gitxsan Treaty Society, oppose the Agreement. The Gitxsan plaintiffs include Hereditary Chiefs and four Gitxsan bands with a population of over 6,000 Gitxsan people; the majority of whom are House members in the Gitxsan traditional system represented by Hereditary Chief, Spookw, in the court action.

The representatives do not support Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline agreement entered into by Elmer Derrick and state “Elmer Derrick and the Gitxsan Treaty Society/Gitxsan Economic Development Corp. does not speak for all Gitxsan. The Gitxsan people had no knowledge of the proposed Agreement nor were they consulted.”

Oh, and one other tiny little detail: The proposed pipeline doesn’t even run through Gitxsan territory!

So 131 First Nation chiefs sign an agreement to oppose the Enbridge pipeline and tanker traffic and no front page story – yet one renegade bureaucrat supports Enbridge and is the main headline and story on the front page.

Though it hardly needs proving, here The Vancouver Sun, in the clearest of evidence, demonstrates its bias with the subtlety of a logging truck coming down a logging road.

This is a gross breach of journalistic ethics which does have a clear message – if you want a fair newspaper account of anything that fights big business, look elsewhere. The Sun is a paper that manages, by shabby news reporting, tepid columnists, and establishment-friendly use of the op-ed page, to make it clear that no matter what the subject, if corporate predators are involved, they must be looked after.

We are seriously considering cancelling The Sun and the only thing that holds us back is that we would miss Rex Morgan MD in the comic strips.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at

19 thoughts on “Why First Nations are undeniably united against pipelines, tankers…and the Sun is full of crap

  1. We are a bunch of volunteers and starting a brand new scheme in our community.
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  2. Mike, what a sweeping generalization of the 205 or so First Nations around the province…So because many aboriginal people suffer in the Downtown Eastside, we should turn our backs on those fighting to protect their traditional territories from a catastrophic oil spill? Why should one negate the other?

  3. rafe if you really knew the first nations culture you would realize that many of these chiefs are as relevant to the native populace as stephen harper is to the ordinary canadianthese native leaders for the mostpart well off and can well afford cultural considerations .the real victims of the cultural genocide are in the downtown eastside and smaller ghettos throughout bc and canada they have no voice in these photo op treaties and recieve none of the monies their neotistic oligargic leaders do

  4. Don’t know why, but just for one tiny moment, a millisecond, really, thought it was true..very relieved to read that it isn’t..Quit reading the Sun years ago, used to buy it on Saturdays for the crossword puzzles, but quit doing even that..for anyone who is interested the Victoria Colonist has them for free, a bit dated, but then no money to the Sun!
    Works for m…
    And Crusty and King Harpo better be careful not to mess any further with the seniors in this province..we’ll be out th3re in full force should they be stupid enough to try and push it through…

  5. Thank you both, Rafe and Damien for such a clear representaion of bias in the MSM. As people of any heritage, we must stand up for what we value and the more we stand the more powerful we are. The Fraser deserves protection from the headwaters to the estuary and the latter continues to be destroyed by plans for a second terminal , a railyard and the SFPR. More for sale signs are up on farmland, suggesting owners are ready to cash in. Port Metro Vancouver wants us to import our food from Asia while they pave what farmland we have left. We must say ‘NO’ just as strongly there

  6. This was just another dirty tactic of our government, to try and cause discord among the different F.N. communities.

    I automatically considered the Sun, as another biased article, in favor of our government’s atrocities, for the Enbridge pipeline and the Chinese dirty oil tankers.

    Harper and Campbell pretty much shredded BC into nothing. All we have left, is the beauty of this province, and the F.N. hunting grounds. They also rely on the sea to feed their family’s. Our useless governments have done nothing about, our salmon being killed off by the filthy diseased fish farms.

    I can see the day when, the only places we can see our wild creatures, is on F.N, lands. They want to log the rain forests and cut down, the last Boreal forests in North America, to get at the bitumen. As usual, greed comes first.

    Man is the most destructive animal on earth, and the most stupid one at that.

  7. Indeed, the first governor general of BC was the person who initially coined this phrase in 1851;

    “The final solution.”

    The final solution being the idea that certain tracts of federal land be held in reserve for the Native populations. This is what Trutch saw as a solution to the “savage problem.”

    Trutch was a product of his time period; when the British Empire was readily spreading their ignorance and bigotry on a worldwide basis.

    It is very important right now for the First Nations that will be affected by this pipeline to not degenerate into he said/ she said quarreling.

    Both governments will continue to skirt the process on this one because they want confusion and infighting to reign amongst the First Nation’s peoples.

    Both levels of government will continue to bring forward permits and other things to keep the courts busy striking down the new permits or whatever. Both levels of government want to keep the First Nations coffers drained by using up valuable funding on continuing court applications and challenges.

    As far as the Vancouver Sun, I have no comment on something of no value.

  8. The BC Liberals knew that issuing permits to Taseko without consulting with the Tsilhquot’in would be struck down in court, but they went ahead and did it anyway. Why?
    The Vancouver Sun headlines an incorrect story that the Gitxsan signed a cooperative deal with Enbridge’s pipeline proposal knowing that it would be quickly refuted. Why?
    If these were honest mistakes, the culprits would admit it and apologize. Short of that it appears that the two tactics are part of an integrated, ulteriorly motivated strategy to undermine First Nations’ negotiation positions on unresolved land claims treaties which are the biggest single obstacle to things like mining and pipeline proposals. The strategy is straight out of Joseph Trutch’s policy play-book: Indians are savages unworthy of treaty.

    First Nations are, as the BC Liberals and the Vancouver Sun know full well, entitled to comprehensive treaties. The Supreme Court of Canada has proved this beyond dispute; inasmuch as most FN land claims are as yet unresolved, there is opportunity, as far as the BC government and Enbridge are concerned, to whip up negative, racist prejudice against FNs. It goes back to joseph Trutch 140 years ago.

  9. Sadly, it appears that the CBC is caving into the relentless pressure from the Harpercon poodles who are delegated to besmirch the CBC with threats of defunding and eventually cripple it’s impartiality.

    If the Harpercons were really concerned about cost savings, they would/should defund their 1500 member Harper bogus ideology dissemination bureau.

  10. Ktitmat is my home, I derive income, sustenance and drinking water from the kitimat river. No means No! Less than 50 permanent jobs, to risk a way of life? the JRP is looking at whats in our nations best interest. To give an example of cost benefit I will use the Aluminum smelter in Kitimat. It has been here for almost 60 years and has employed up to 2500 employees, it still employs 1200 plus contractors and is going through a 3 billion dollar retrofit. Although the smelter has made some serious environmental impacts they dont compare to the tar sands. Or the potential destruction the pipeline and tanker traffic pose. So 50 employees just does not cut it, for me. Enbridge needs to drop this project and the Alberta and canadian government need to get together and do something with this oil that is truly beneficial for Canada.

    In solidarity Phillip Dennis

  11. Marianne, I’m only representing Mr. Derrick as he has represented HIMSELF – which is a the head treaty negotiator for the First Nation. It is abundantly clear from the strong denunciations of Mr. Derrick by other hereditary and elected chiefs in the community that he does not speak for the Gitxsan and had no right to make this deal. These are the facts. Why are you defending him?…Moreover, nothing you say can take away from the fact that the Vancouver Sun put this story on the front page without doing its homework and is now reduced to retraction stories: They gleefully stomped all over the historic banding together of 131 First Nations and their supporters in opposition to the Enbridge Pipeline with a shabby excuse for journalism – elevating one rogue bureaucrat to a higher status that 131 legitimate First Nations chiefs, councils and hereditary governments.

  12. Thanks Kim. I encourage readers to contact Postmedia, the CBC and other major media outlets who at this moment have yet to retract or correct their erroneous Friday stories on the Gitxsan (or, rather, one Elmer Derrick – which they didn’t even bother to find out!)

  13. Thank you Rafe.

    You have again written as clear a review and analysis as anyone could ask for. No means NO!

    British Columbians of all stripes can be thankful for the clear and unambiguous leadership First Nation communities have shown in opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline. They speak from a place of integrity and authority having known and loved the lands and waters which they now seek to protect.

    I look forward to your continuing coverage of this important Canadian issue.

    In appreciation of your witness…
    Rob Pollock

  14. The CBC website is still posting the incorrect story. Yesterday I posted a link to the Terrace Daily Frontpage, where the statement you refer to by the Gitxsan was posted, and requested the cbc do their homework, and they did not publish the comment.

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