Ottawa tarsands: Cree arrested at Parliament

By Brenda Norrell

Photos Ottawa protest/Copyright Ben Powless, Mohawk

Updated Tues. 9 pm

Cree protesters were among those arrested in Ottawa on Monday, demanding an end to the dirty tarsands and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, an environmental disaster in the making from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

George Poitras, former Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, and First Nation youths, were among those arrested Mon., Sept. 26, outside of Parliament, demanding an end to the tarsands which is destroying First Nation homelands. (Photo George Poitras on right.)

Clayton Thomas-Muller, Cree and among the organizers, said 212 people crossed the police line and risked arrest. Of those, 117 were arrested. More than 80 were released in a mass release by police when they got tired of processing those who crossed the police line.

Speaking at the rally on Parliament Hill, Chief Terry McKay, Tsimshian Nation, began with these words, “We come in peace, we have no quarrel. We see the birds dying, animals dying, and the elders don’t want to eat the deer, the elk, the moose anymore.”

“You come to our land and you take it, and you don’t put anything back, that is not right.”

Chief Jackie Thomas Sai’kuz First Nation said her people came to the Ottawa action to stand up with their brothers and sisters, the Cree and Dene. “We’re standing up to protect our water. We’re standing up to protect our Cree and Dene brothers and sisters.”

“We will put up a wall that Enbridge pipeline can not break through!” Chief Thomas said, to a roar of cheers from the crowd. (Chief Thomas is in photo on left.)

Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Lubicon Cree youth, said the government has put her family and all of the families at risk. “This behind me is the House of Commons -- not the House of Corporations.”

Cree actress Tantoo Cardinal also spoke of the suffering of the Cree people.

“We have suffered holocaust, we have suffered genocide. My mothers people knew, and know to this day: The earth is alive. There is no energy more powerful than the natural force. Thank you for standing with your heart, and standing with your spirit, for generations and generations.”

Joining First Nation activists and spiritual leaders was Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. Barlow said it is the energy companies that are driving policies, and not the other way around. She said they are violating the rights of the people, including the right to water.

“I am doing this because I love my grandkids.” Barlow said when she and the others crossed the police line, they would not be breaking the law in her opinion. “The people who are breaking the law are in the Harper government, in that building right there.”

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus was among those speaking at the rally during the planned civil disobedience organized by First Nations and environmental organizations, and endorsed by the Dene Nation.

Chief Erasmus spoke to the crowd of 1,000 people about the impacts of tar sands developments on Dene. Chief Erasmus said the Dene are already afraid to drink the water because of oil spills.

"Toxic tailings ponds already cover hundreds of square kilometers, and are growing by the minute, “Erasmus said. "Millions of liters of contaminated water leak each day from these tailings ponds into groundwater and tributaries in the Athabasca River watershed. These waters flow through Denendeh, from northern Alberta to the Arctic Ocean, and any pollution in the water impacts our communities. This is one of our main concerns about tar sands development."

Chief Erasmus said the Dene Nation has endorsed the Ottawa protests as previous efforts to lobby the government have fallen on deaf ears.

"It is unfortunate that we must resort to civil disobedience to make our voices heard, “Erasmus said. "But in this crucial time when tar sands developments are threatening our water, the fate of our climate, the lives of our children, and our Treaty and basic human rights, we can no longer afford to be obedient to this government and the fossil fuel industry."

Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network said,  said, "The tar sands represent a path of broken treaties, eroded human rights, catastrophic climate change, poisoned air and water and the complete stripping of Canada’s morality in the international community.

"Our communities should not be sacrificed on the altar of Canada’s addiction to dirty fossil fuel; wewant a new economic paradigm that protects our relationship to the sacredness of Mother Earth," Thomas-Muller said.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would transport 1 million barrels of synthetic crude oil each day from Alberta's tar sands to US refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Construction of the 2,700 km pipeline would facilitate a massive expansion of Alberta's tar sands, along with increased pollution, stress on water resources, and greenhouse gas emissions. Dene communities are downstream from the tar sands, and are threatened by the impacts of upstream water usage and pollution, and the impacts of climate change and global warming.

George Poitras, former Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation and among those arrested today, said oil company executives have attempted to silence Indigenous leaders in his community at Fort Chipewyan.

“Indigenous leaders in the downstream community of Fort Chipewyan have been chastised by oil company executives when they speak publicly to the press about their concerns of impacts from tarsands. They have gone so far as threatening, that should the Indigenous leaders continue, there would be repercussions to their First Nation-owned company’s contracts within certain oil company sites.

"Oil company executives regularly question the Indigenous leaders when their own community members speak out publicly on issues and I have seen those members silenced," Poitras said. 

Poitras said in the past year, and even more so in the past few weeks, a lot of debate has focused on the tarsands in northeastern Alberta as “ethical oil.”

Poitras pointed to an advertisement on the Oprah Winfrey Network that has been targeted with a boycott.

“Advertisements taken out on the Oprah Winfrey Network by, why Oprah Winfrey has endorsed this propaganda by big oil is anyone’s guess?! The advertisement suggests why should America be dependent on Saudi Arabian oil, ‘a state that doesn't allow women to drive, doesn't allow them to leave their homes or work without their male guardian's permission.’ That there is a better alternative, ‘Ethical oil from Canada's oil sands.’ Apparently meaning a more human alternative.”

“Names synonymous of this ‘ethical oil’ notion include Alykhan Velshi, Ezra Levant. Proponents who happily began to espouse the controversial two words include Canadian politicians like environment minister Peter Kent and prime minister Stephen Harper as they traverse the globe promoting investment in the tarsands."

Poitras described the history of pollution and cancers in the area of the tarsands.

“The tarsands have been mined, primarily open-pit, for the past 40 years in what is known as the traditional lands of many Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 First Nations. The total tarsands deposit, the size of England, is known to be the second largest oil deposit in the world, second to Saudi Arabia.

"Only 3 percent of the total deposit has been mined in the past 40 years. Dr. David Schindler, a world-renowned water expert, proved last year that there has been virtually no monitoring of what has also been characterized the largest industrial project in the world. It is a claim that the local Indigenous peoples have made for decades with proof of deformed fish, observation of poor water quality, receding water levels, impacts to animal health, and more recently in Fort Chipewyan, an increase in rare and aggressive cancers," Poitras said in a statement.

“When local physician Dr. John O’Connor raised concerns of disproportionate numbers of unusual cancers in Fort Chipewyan in 2006, the government of Canada, or physicians from the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, lodged complaints against him including a charge of ‘causing undue alarm’ to residents of my community of Fort Chipewyan. Canada’s charges against a family physician have never before been heard of in the history of Canada.

"For my community of Fort Chipewyan, this unprecedented action by the government of Canada essentially signaled to us that Canada did not care what claims Dr. O’Connor was making or that people in Fort Chipewyan might be living in a situation with an epidemic of rare and aggressive cancers.

"The claims were eventually proven by an Alberta Cancer Board Study in 2009 because of our unrelenting efforts; perhaps we shamed the Canadian and Alberta governments into doing so by successfully making our concerns a part of the international debate of this ‘dirty oil’ campaign and not because the governments felt it was the 'ethical' or 'humane' thing to do.

Poitras said despite this, both the Alberta and Canadian governments continue to this day, to deny there is any concern with cancers in Fort Chipewyan.

“The governments of Alberta and Canada have for the past 15 years relied on the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP) to monitor the Athabasca River and the fish health," he said.

“Every study since then has concluded that there was little to no impacts from tarsands development on the water or the fish health. A position that was proven wrong by Dr. David Schindler. Essentially, the RAMP which is 100% funded by the oil companies and who’s data is proprietary, and the Alberta and Canadian governments have been lying to the downstream impacted communities but also to Albertans and Canadians. They both shamefully admitted this following Schindler’s study just days before Christmas in 2010.

“Fishermen in Fort Chipewyan have been saving deformed, tumoured, discolored, and other problem fish for many years. Many residents in my community have chosen not to eat any fish from the Athabasca River or Lake Athabasca, a sad commentary to impacts on a people’s way of living. In June 1970, a Suncor pipeline break spilled 19,123 barrels of oil, roughly 3 million liters, into the Athabasca River, which reached Lake Athabasca. This shut down the fishing industry on Lake Athabasca for two consecutive years. The fishermen held a press conference in October 2010 in Edmonton, Alberta displaying many of the collection of problem fish. This generated further international attention to the tarsands industry and its impacts to water and fish health."

First Nations leaders from British Columbia, North West Territories and Alberta, three provinces most heavily affected by the tar sands development, have been joined with support from Indian Nations in the United States.

"Enbridge is trying to ram its tar sands pipeline right through our territories and the lands of many other First Nations,” said Chief Jackie Thomas of Saik’uz First Nation, amember of the Yinka Dene Alliance.

“We have used our laws to forbid these pipelines in our lands. We will use every means available to us under Indigenous, Canadian and International law to enforce our decision and stop the Enbridge pipeline. If we take care of the land and water, it will take care of us. If we ruin our water with oil spills and once the tar sands kill the waters of our brother and sister nations, our people will be finished."

On September 16 and 17, on the Rosebud Sioux Nation land in South Dakota, an Accord was signed opposing the proposed Trans-Canada Keystone XL pipeline and endorsing the Ottawa Action. The emergency Tribal meeting, which included Canadian First Nations and Native American Tribes affected by the proposed pipeline, focused on Tribal opposition to the Trans-Canada Keystone XL. The Accord highlights the neglected concerns of First Nations in Canada regarding the Canadian tar sands, the industry’s disproportionate impacts on Treaty and Aboriginal rights and the detrimental health and social consequencesfor affected First Nations communities.

Native Americans and First Nation members were among the 1,252 people arrested at the White House during the recent Tar Sands Action.

Watch video and see more photos of protest in Ottawa:

About Brenda Norrell

Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 34 years. She is publisher of Censored News, focusing on Indigenous Peoples, human rights and the US border. Censored News was created after Norrell was censored, then terminated, by Indian Country Today after serving as a longtime staff reporter. Now censored by the mainstream media, she previously was a staff reporter at numerous American Indian newspapers and a stringer for AP, USA Today and others. She lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, and then traveled with the Zapatistas. She covered the climate summits in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and Cancun, Mexico, in 2010.

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About Brenda Norrell

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Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 34 years. She is publisher of Censored News, focusing on Indigenous Peoples, human rights and the US border. Censored News was created after Norrell was censored, then terminated, by Indian Country Today after serving as a longtime staff reporter. Now censored by the mainstream media, she previously was a staff reporter at numerous American Indian newspapers and a stringer for AP, USA Today and others. She lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, and then traveled with the Zapatistas. She covered the climate summits in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and Cancun, Mexico, in 2010.