Approximately 150 people gathered in Burns Lake on Aug. 17 for an afternoon rally. Titled, ‘1000 drums rally: Burns Lake Ground Zero’, the gathering was a show of opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project to transport diluted bitumen from northern Albert to Kitimat.
The rally was announced shortly after July 10, 2013, when Village of Burns Lake (VBL) resident and business owner Gwyndolyn Nicholas was informed that she would have to respond to two complaints that her “No to Enbridge” sign was offensive.
The sign went up on the side of the prominent sidewall of her business and is very visible to east bound traffic through Burns Lake. As an active member of the Lakes District Clean Water Coalition (LDCWC), Nicholas said that the sign reflected her own concerns, as well as those of many area residents regarding the proximity of the proposed pipeline to Burns Lake.
Within the Burns Lake area, the pipeline would be serviced by a pumping station north of Boer Mountain and would cross under the narrows between Burns Lake and Decker Lake.
Intense, and sometimes misinformed, scrutiny was levelled on Burns Lake for about a week after a Facebook post made by Vancouver’s Dogwood Institute drew a page view count that reached close to 170,000 views in less than 48 hours.
Burns Lake village council is neutral on Enbridge, at least until the federal Joint Review Panel (JRP) into the Enbridge proposal reaches its final recommendation early in 2014.
Many Enbridge critics are not satisfied that the JRP currently has the authority to meaningfully oppose the project. One of the most prominent critics of the JRP, as it exists today, is Skeena-Bulkely Valley Member of Parliament, Nathan Cullen.
In comments read during the rally on his behalf by Burns Lake resident and LDCWC activist, John Phair, Cullen said, “The company has spilled over 800 times since 1999, and has never been honest with us about the risks of this project. We know from hard evidence and the track record that Enbridge doesn’t learn its lessons, and doesn’t deserve our trust.”
Preliminary pipeline field work slated for this fall in the Burns Lake area does not sit well with the hereditary Chiefs of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en (OW), whose traditional territories include the Burns Lake area.
John Ridsdale – hereditary chief Na’Moks – attended the rally and reaffirmed the OW’s recent formal rejection of not only the Enbridge proposal, but all proposed pipeline projects through Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.
Locally, despite what appears to be strong support among First Nation citizens against the Enbridge proposal, some in elected band leadership positions are perceived to be complicit through their silence on the issue.
In particular, the Burns Lake Band (BLB) is divided by those band members who distrust their elected Chief Albert Gerow and counc. Dan George to represent their interests on Enbridge and other pipeline proposals.
Burns Lake Band’s second elected councilor, Ron Charlie, spoke during the rally. Charlie stands with the hereditary chiefs – and many members of the BLB – in their opposition to Enbridge.
For Charlie, attempts at neutrality on the Enbridge question are unacceptable.
“We have a responsibility as fathers and mothers to stand up for our kids’ future,” Charlie said.
The rally in Spirit Square ended with a roundtrip march through town that included a symbolic stop in front of the ‘No to Enbridge’ sign that served to provoke so much pent-up energy, and a stop in front of VBL offices, where village council will vote on the offensiveness of the sign this Tuesday during a regularly scheduled council meeting.
In the already-released agenda, VBL staff have recommended to council that the sign permit application for Nicholas’ sign be approved, despite the two complaints against it.
Village council is scheduled to discuss and vote on the recommendation on Aug. 20, 2013.