Reading about the ‘geotechnical challenges” which are posed along the proposed route of the Northern Gateway pipeline, while anywhere outside of central Alberta or British Columbia, makes it hard for lots of people to be empathetic about this situation. The prairies, for example, can’t relate to the ‘risk of landslides, avalanches and wash-outs,’ that would wash DilBit (diluted bitumen) into a river with fish, both because they’re very flat and extremely jealous of mountains, and like most Canadians are overwhelmed with the many issues of the day, conveniently hashtagged into #bitesizedrunonsentences. What works best to convey the importance of a topic to an apathetic and/or physically removed population is the human element, the face behind the story. It’s the most effective way to put oneself in another’s shoes and realize the significance of an issue.
Line In The Sand is an important project that humanizes the risks associated with the Northern Gateway pipeline, and it is being told through the stories of ranchers, Grand Chiefs, pipeline workers and fisherman. They are people vehemently, and eloquently, against the pipeline. The videos are laid out geographically, putting the face to the place. Set to become a documentary with accompanying coffee table book, the site features short stories from the interviews they gathered over their journeys.
Here’s a short video of a former oil pipeline worker, Donald Prince, who refused to do the high paying work after losing faith in the pipeline design.
Line in the Sand, let’s be clear, is a one sided look at the effect that the Northern Gateway pipeline will have on the environment and the economy. Sure, they cite the temporary and permanent jobs that will be created by the pipeline construction, and the royalties that will be paid out to First Nation and Métis bands directly affected. But they also take care to do the math, and the numbers show their biased hand. Observe:
“The company has also offered First Nations and Métis communities a 10% equity share in the project valued at an estimated $280 million in revenue over the next 30 years…”
Wow, that sounds swell!
…or an average net income of $70,500 per year, per band.”
That is less than swell. That’s pathetic!* That’s nothing!
Don’t get me wrong here, embracing one’s bias is great. But I am wondering what a pro-stance video would look like. Where would people be physically located on the map? Part of me suspects that, like the math, a pro-pipeline voice would do just as much to help their cause.
Here, Sylvia Thomas talks about the economic struggle in their community, weighing clean water and land next to handouts from the pipeline. “No amount of money can pay for the damage that will happen here.”
If you’re still not feeling it, if you’re still not convinced this affects you, here’s one last shot. It’s a really important reason why we should all care, no matter where we are in Canada. This can happen to you, and it’s happening more often than you think. Southern Ontario nearly had it’s clean aquifers, that supply fresh water to over 1,000,000 people, polluted by a mega quarry. New Brunswick First Nations and non-native community members are fighting oil and gas exploration in their own backyards, yet the province is moving forward regardless of these protests. Energy East is a current initiative that will carry 1,000,000 barrels of crude oil from Alberta to the East Coast, with new construction in eastern Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Be aware, reader; the way other Canadians are being treated on these environmental and First Nations sovereignty issues are likely coming down the pipe to a backyard year you. Knowing this is the first step to making a difference.
We wish Line in the Sand well in their documentary endeavor and hope to feature information about the film when it is released.
*I realize that this average is misleading because it won’t be divided up as an average. Some groups will get lots lots more and others will get lots lots less depending on their proximity to the pipeline and their ability to make a case that they are affected. What sucks in situations like this is that it sows division between stakeholders who try to out-prove one another that they are more affected in order to get a greater piece of the 10% pie.
Michael Tyas is the managing editor of One River News. He graduated the University of Manitoba with an honours degree in environmental studies, and is a professional videographer and video trainer. He produced the feature length documentary "One River, Many Relations" in Fort Chipewyan. He continues to work with indigenous communities to share their stories around resource extraction, industrial development, and impacts on traditional territories.