Bill McKibben is coming to Vancouver March 4th, where he’ll be speaking alongside Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and other community leaders.
There’s a legend, told by Tsleil-Waututh hereditary Chief George Sla-holt, about a time when the world was slowly being flooded. To escape, Sla-holt told ethnographer Pauline Johnson, the people of Burnaby Inlet built a huge canoe: “the most stupendous canoe the world has ever known.”
For months, the men carved a giant cedar while the women worked to braid cedar bark into a rope large enough to hold the canoe against rising tides. As the waters rose, the canoe was piled with provisions.
When the rising seas overwhelmed the land, the youngest generation of Tsleil Waututh children were sent out in the community canoe, where they rode out the flood thanks to the sacrifice and foresight of their parents. The story has been passed through the generations to herald the importance of resilience and community unity in times of crisis.
It’s an ancient tale of survival that resonates in these uncertain times.
In coastal cities like Vancouver, without significant reductions in emissions, climate models predict that a one-meter rise in sea levels will drastically change the coastline, seawalls and beaches, rendering Stanley Park an island in the midst of rising waters.
A predicted rise in ocean temperatures would also spell doom for the Fraser River salmon run, a bounty that has been the lifeblood for Indigenous peoples for thousands of years.
Now, as during the times of that much earlier deluge, it may be time to pull together and start building so that future generations can tell our stories.
“Like everywhere, it’s a trench war between the fossil fuel-funded climate deniers blocking transition with everything they’ve got, and everyone else who sides with life,” says Bill McKibben.
Arguably the most prominent climate activist in the world, McKibben believes that BC is a ‘climate frontline’ where grassroots organizations, working in unprecedented alliances, have the potential to punch well above their weight.
McKibben is coming to Vancouver March 4th, where he’ll be speaking alongside Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, along with community leaders Chief Jackie Thomas of Staik’uz Nation and the Yinka Dene Alliance, and Jess Housty, a councilor with the Heiltsuk Nation whose recent experience battling a diesel spill on Heiltsuk fishing grounds offers a stark illustration of the unacceptable risks that projects like Kinder Morgan pose for coastal communities dependent upon the ocean for sustenance. Newly announced! Eriel Deranger of Athabasca Chipewyan Nation and Clayton Thomas Muller of 350.org as M.C.!
The event – Many paddles, One Canoe – is being held in support of the Pull Together campaign, a grassroots movement that was born during the fight against the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. Under the Pull Together banner, seven nations who stood in the path of Enbridge’s pipeline and tankers took the federal government to court — and they won.
Photo by Zach Embree.
Now, let by the Tsleil Waututh and Coldwater First Nations, “Pull Together 2: The People vs Kinder Morgan”, plans to kill Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline and tankers using the very same winning strategy.
“As I see it, pulling together is what it’s really about at this point in the game,” says McKibben. “First Nations standing up to the fossil fuel industry in Canada are some of the strongest and most dedicated organizers anywhere. And, right now, Coast Salish nations resisting the tar sands are asking for our support.”
An ectomorphic string bean filled with prophetic fervour, McKibben delivers his message with a bounding enthusiasm that has incited thousands of mainly young activists to join a fast-growing, nimble climate movement — 350.org — that stretches across the planet.
Youth-driven and lit by the urgency of woke climate advocates, it’s a wildfire that burns brighter and — McKibben hopes— will spread faster than anything the fossil fuel industry could possibly match.
The Kinder Morgan project, to build a new pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby’s Westridge Marine Terminal, has its detractors and its proponents. While Vancouver city councillors passed a motion Wednesday to request a judicial review of the project approval, others argue that the pipeline represents a least-worst-case-scenario to deliver Alberta oil to China and the U.S.A.
McKibben is unequivocal.
In light of overwhelming scientific consensus warning of dire climate impacts from carbon pollution, McKibben says “every piece of fossil-fuel infrastructure will have to be contested.”
“Since the Keystone fight launched this phase of the battle, campaigners have grown adept at using courts and local governments to block and slow pipelines and coal ports, frack wells and natural-gas terminals. Every month of delay adds new costs; every layer of uncertainty makes it harder for investors to justify.”
When the federal government approved the Kinder Morgan project, they expected opposition. After all, there had already been a groundswell of protests against the determination of fossil fuel companies to push pipelines from Alberta to BC tidewater. The Save the Fraser Declaration, led by the Yinka Dene Alliance and signed by over 130 Nations, banning tar sands products from their traditional territories.
But in approving this new pipeline — which would see a 700% increase in tanker traffic through Vancouver harbor and across the Salish Sea — the federal regulators may not have taken full measure of a climate movement in B.C. that is working in unity with justice-seeking Indigenous leadership.
When Kinder Morgan began carrying out exploratory drilling on Burnaby Mountain, it resulted in weeks of civil disobedience and arrests. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, who was himself arrested in those protests, warns, “We’re at a tipping point. Indigenous court cases serve notice on not only the government but on business interests— that they are simply not going to steamroll indigenous land rights and environmental considerations without us pushing back and taking these matters before the courts and politically challenging this agenda.”
While First Nations are holding a tough line, there are beautiful side effects from the convergence of diverse movements who are pulling together for climate justice.
“The unprecedented unity and solidarity we’ve witnessed in the last year is absolutely amazing,” Phillip marvels. “I’ve never witnessed the coming together of such a diverse group of people focused on a common cause of pushing back on the industrialization and commodification of the natural world.”
“Frontline communities have been remarkable at running these fights,” agrees McKibben.
“The nonviolent discipline of the Standing Rock Sioux has written a dramatic new chapter in the history of political resistance. It made crystal clear to the larger public what many of us have known for years: that Native Americans are leading much of this struggle. The rest of us can follow their example.”
Pull Together, an initiative of Sierra Club BC and RAVEN Trust, aims to raise $500,000 for First Nations who are in court to challenge the Kinder Morgan approval. Using a combination of online crowdfunding, and boots-on-the-ground organizing, the campaign has raised $85k in just two months. The March 4th event aims to kick that fundraising into high gear.
“The opposition will need to be savvy and dynamic, focused constantly on keeping the momentum of the energy transition growing, not slowing,” says McKibben.
“There’s no force in the country as powerful as the community we’re building,” says Jess Housty, who was part of the first successful Pull Together campaign that helped protect the Great Bear Rainforest home from oil tankers.
“I am incredibly grateful to stand shoulder to shoulder with every single person who is demonstrating their conviction. There’s room in this canoe for everyone who is ready to pick up a paddle. When we’re pulling in the same direction, there’s no distance we can’t travel together.”
Bill McKibben is coming to Vancouver March 4th, where he’ll be speaking alongside Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs along with community leaders Chief Jackie Thomas of Saik’uz Nation and the Yinka Dene Alliance, Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Jess Housty, a councilor with the Heiltsuk Nation.
All of these frontline leaders will connect the dots — from coastal fishing grounds to Alberta’s tar sands — offering stark illustrations of the unacceptable risks that projects like Kinder Morgan pose for indigenous communities.