Last weekend the city of Victoria hosted the largest climate change convergence in BC history, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it. Coming from New Zealand, I went into the weekend with a basic understanding about the Alberta tar sands, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and the climate disasters they represent. What I came to learn is that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the Canadian government has planned. I met indigenous people whose land is targeted for nine separate proposed pipeline routes. I learned about the east to west pipelines planned to deliver tar sands oil to tankers on the coast, in particular the Northern Gateway and Pacific Coast Pipelines, which seek to traverse some of the most beautiful temperate rainforest in the world, the Great Bear Rainforest. I learned about the Kermode bear, or spirit bear, who calls these forests home - an incredibly special animal, notable for the white coats of around 1/10th of their population. I learned that these pipelines are in fact dual pipeline systems, with one pipe carrying oil condensate to Alberta to thin out the bitumen from the tar sands. With all of these pipelines criss-crossing the country, spills are inevitable. Enbridge, the company proposing the Northern Gateway pipeline, proclaims that they are protecting Canada with the safest pipeline ever built. But the reality is that they have an unenviable history of 558 spills from 2005 to 2012, which released over 15.5million tonnes of oil.
There was a strong indigenous voice at this Powershift, calling for climate justice activists to be allies and join the battle alongside First Nations. I suspect the Harper government expected to be able to sneak many of these proposals through with little resistance, due to the low population density of the areas in question. What's more, First Nations communities are still reeling from decades of repression, and the legacy of the residential school system. Much of this land is unceded indigenous territory, meaning that no treaties have ever been signed with the native people, and no consent was ever given to the crown to govern this land. Thankfully the government and oil companies have been shown what happens when they ignore indigenous rights. There has been widespread resistance as First Nations have resolved to "Warrior Up." Communities are occupying their ancestral lands directly in the path of proposed pipelines, one of the most inspiring being the Unis'tot'en Camp, a resistance community protecting sovereign Wet'suwet'en territory from several proposed pipelines and Hydraulic Fracturing Projects. I met young people from the Yinka Dene Alliance, a group of six First Nations whose territories are to be intersected by 25% of Enbridges proposed pipeline route. They expressed frustration that the government and corporations pat themselves on the back for including First Nations in their 'consultation' process, while completely missing the point. The Yinka Dene communities do not want to be treated as just another stakeholder; they want the government to engage with them as equals, as sovereign people living on unceded land. In the meantime, indigenous people continue to suffer the negative impacts of tar sands development; for example, residents of Fort Chipewyan, a community 200 km downstream of Fort MacMurray, the heart of Canada's tar sands production, have significantly higher cancer rates that those living elsewhere in Canada. I heard of hunters bringing deer home to their family, only to find the meat green, poisoned, due to chemicals in the tailings runoff entering the foodchain. The injustices brought me to tears more than once.
So then we talked about action. I went to a panel discussion on the history of direct action in BC and Canada, what we can learn from the experiences of others, and the value of direct action in a campaign. I met a girl from southern Texas who has been involved with high profile blockades against the Keystone XL pipeline, and sees direct action as "an opportunity to embody your activism." I learned about the growing divestment movement, where universities and faith institutions around the world are withdrawing any investments with ties to the fossil fuel industry, the catch phrase being, "if it's wrong to wreck the climate, it's wrong to profit from the wreckage." There are over 300 active divestment campaigns in Canada at the moment, and I was able to connect with students campaigning for UBC divestment. I was terrified to learn that 80-90% of Canada's carbon reserves must stay in the ground in order to stay within 2 degrees of warming, the target agreed to by world leaders at Copenhagen in 2009. Finally, I marched alongside hundreds of the most inspiring people in Canada, and we delivered an inflatable oil pipeline to the steps of the Legislature, to tell the Premier that that's the only one she's gonna get! As shady characters in suits observed us from upper level balconies, we ran blockade training on the steps of the Legislature, sang a native warrior woman song, and danced, and hugged. It was an empowering afternoon which simultaneously addressed a serious issue and gave a strong message, while being fun and positive. I walked into Powershift as an outsider with a small understanding of the local issues and a burning desire to connect and achieve our common goal of climate action. I walked away as a part of a strong, diverse, thriving network of warriors, feeling educated, inspired and moved beyond words. Massive thanks and gratitude to all who made the weekend what it was, I look forward to seeing many of you again!