Granny’s not for sale

👤Joanne Campbell 🕔Feb 01, 2012

It has been said that those who are pushing for approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline are so greedy they would sell their own grandmother. But, that is not fair to say. It’s not their grandmother they’re trying to sell.

The grandmother they’re trying to sell is old and fragile. She lives in the bush, and minds her own business. She doesn’t pay much in taxes. What is she worth, if not on the open market? A few cans of salmon? A couple of stories about berry picking? Pffft. Sell her! We can use the money. Isn’t losing someone’s grandmother just the cost of doing business?

This ‘grandmother’ is the First Nations that live along the path of the pipeline.

Most of the arguments against the Northern Gateway Pipeline are made on the assumption that the pipeline will eventually leak, and not just once; and that an oil tanker will eventually rupture and oil will foul BC’s pristine shores. Enbridge cannot guarantee its pipeline won’t leak and we all know that if ships don’t fail, their captains can and do. As it’s been said many times: an oil spill is not a matter of if but when.

I’ve heard proponents from Alberta cheerfully claim, “Hey, we’re used to pipelines, you’ll get used to them, too! We even have them running through our back yards!” Most of Alberta is flat and unshakable but imagine the outcome if a freak accident occurred—say an oil tanker-truck careened off the highway and into one of those flat Alberta back yards and smashed a hole into one of those pipelines. If, by luck, only their vegetable garden was contaminated, the home-owner could shrug nonchalantly and pick up their lettuce from the local supermarket. If their entire back yard became unusable, the home-owners would curse their luck and move to another house with another back yard.

On the west coast of BC, mud slides and earthquakes aren’t freak occurrences; they could cause pipeline ruptures that would foul streams and rivers with long-term effects on associated watersheds. If super-tankers founder in our treacherous winter storms, oil would grease hundreds of kilometers of BC’s pristine shoreline ecosystem.

First Nation populations have lived on these lands for thousands of years, they can’t just pack up and find another back yard. Their culture, their spirituality, their history is embedded, sometimes literally, in their territories. If their fisheries are decimated and harvestable plants and game animals poisoned they can’t just go the local grocer to replenish the foods that fuel their culture and feed their communities.

First Nation elders are reintroducing aboriginal youth to traditional ways in an effort to reduce the heartbreaking suicide rate. This hands-on cultural education of the younger generation gives them pride in their heritage so they can regain their strength. Interrupt that process with an oil spill and there may be nothing left to learn. By the time the land or sea is healthy again—which the Exxon Valdez experience suggests may be hundreds of years—the elders will have died and taken their knowledge with them.

Canada is still a young country, we can’t comprehend what it’s like to be rooted in a territory that our ancestors have lived on for millennia. Is it fair to endanger such continuity in exchange for monetary benefit? Why not keep the oil in Canada and refine it here—use it instead of the oil we import for use in eastern Canada? Or refit the existing pipelines that run east and ship it out that way. Or keep it in the ground for future use. Or redirect some of the billions that are spent to extract the bitumen into research and development into cleaner energy sources.

Enbridge proponents say that emotion doesn’t have a place in this argument. If someone was holding a double barrelled shotgun to your grandmother’s head in a game of Chinese roulette would you calmly say, excuse me a moment while I compile some logical reasons why she shouldn’t be the one staring down the barrel? Wouldn’t your hands shake a tad as you compiled your case? Opponents of this pipeline can be forgiven an occasional bout of emotional reasoning. To their credit, the discourse has been eloquent, intelligent, respectful and firm. No one’s hands are shaking yet.

This isn’t a NIMBY situation, about possibly polluting someone’s back yard or spoiling property values. It’s about preserving a people’s culture, food security, spirituality. Which do we value more highly: profit margins or a people’s survival? What is granny worth?

It doesn’t matter what granny’s worth. We don’t sell grandmothers. Do we?