Oil extraction equipment pumps crude out of the ground on a Husky Oil site east of Bruderheim, Alberta. The town is east of a pumping station to be built by Enbridge pending approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline. The Enbridge project is undergoing a review process that includes participation of hundreds of intervenor groups in Kitimat, BC.
Credits: IAN KUCERAK/QMI AGENCY
The group of 40 Aboriginal Canadians, known as the Yinka Dene Alliance, is made up of people from territories in northern British Columbia.
They started their journey in Jasper, AB, on Monday, and will make stops in Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg before ending at Enbridge's annual shareholders meeting next week in Toronto.
They are protesting the 1,177 km oil pipeline which will link Alberta's oilsands to the west coast.
Public hearings are currently underway in BC and Alberta about the proposed pipeline.
"Enbridge offered our tribal council quite a bit of money, but we refused," Chief Martin Louis said after leading a drum chant before more than a hundred observers at the Jasper train station.
Louis represents the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation from the central interior of BC, and he fears future devastation to his people's water and land if the pipeline were to leak.
Enbridge's offering to the Nadleh Whut'en was part of a 10% share in the project proposed to aboriginal groups living on the proposed Northern Gateway's route, amounting to a total income of $280 million for First Nations over 30 years.
"First Nations peoples in Canada have been poor all the time, money doesn't matter to us," Louis said. "It's good to have money for our children's futures, but at the same time, it's more important for the land that we save the water and animals."
Chief John Ridsdale of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation boarded the eastbound train for the same reason.
Living on 22 square kilometres of land near Hazelton and Smithers BC, he foresees destruction to his people by an inevitable spill. Ridsdale said in the numerous financial offers and proposals Enbridge made to the Wet'suwet'en, they could not give a guarantee that the pipeline would not leak at some point.
"We know that it will break; it's not a risk, it's a guarantee," he said. "Anything man builds will break."
When the Yinka Dene Alliance reaches the Enbridge shareholders meeting in Toronto on May 9, Louis is not optimistic that the energy corporation will consider halting the Northern Gateway plans. But he hopes to gather government support over the next week of cross-Canada demonstrations.
"I don't think we can sway Enbridge's mind. They're going to try to get this through anyway they can and they have the money to do it," he said. "But the more that we can convince our government about protecting the environment, I think it would be better for protecting the future of the kids."