Over the past few years, opposition to the Alberta Tar Sands has escalated into a continent-scale struggle as communities have mobilized to stop the flows of this dirty, destructive oil through their watersheds. Much of the attention has focused on the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines. However, our own region here in South-Western Ontario is also at risk of having Tar Sands oil transported through it.
Enbridge is currently moving to reverse the flow of their Line 9 pipeline between Sarnia and Montreal to transport Tar Sands oil through Ontario and Quebec to ports on the Atlantic.
On the evening of September 27th, an event called Stop the Flows: No Line 9 Reversal was held in Hamilton to raise the profile of Line 9 and lay the groundwork for community resistance to this project. As the event’s MC pointed out, it’s no small thing that more than 65 people to discuss this, since this was the first truly public meeting to take up the concerns that exist around the reversal.
The federal government cancelled the environmental assessment of this project along with thousands of others in the omnibus budget bill last fall. However, many people involved in the Stop the Flows event see opportunity in these changes, because it means communities are able to define and discuss the issue for themselves, without channeling their concerns into narrow bureaucratic processes. “This means we can frame the issue ourselves and make sure that issues of climate change and Indigenous sovereignty are central to the discourse right from that start, in addition to the more specifically local concerns around spills,” one organizer said.
Don spoke first, describing in broad strokes how the Line 9 reversal supports the Tar Sands which in turn fuels catastrophic climate change. “I come in particularly from a concern about climate change – what is happening to the planet as a result of the exploitation of fossil fuels.” He described the record-breaking drought in Hamilton of this past summer and the crop failures that accompanied it, then reminded us this was mild compared to the drought in the United States and the accompanying massive forest fires. This in turn is minor compared to what happened to Pakistan in 2010, where colossal floods turned that country from a food exporter into a food importer. “Currently, about 400 000 people die each year from climate change, and we know that what is driving this is fossil fuels. Politicians and CEOs aren’t ignorant. They are committing crimes on a global scale… When fighting Enbridge, we’re fighting a company actively trying to make things worse.”
Sakura explored in more detail the way that the gutting of environmental oversight by the Conservative federal government is creating opportunities for activists by delegitimizing their own process. “Hamilton is taking advantage of this by stepping in as a municipality,” she said, refering to the report city council comissioned from their staff about the Line 9 reversal. She went on to describe the ways that pipelines deeply endager the communities they go through: “The Kalamazoo River oil spill turned many of its survivors into impassioned writers, driven to recount their experiences. Line 9 is very similar to that line, and there are now many eloquent and frightening accounts of what we might expect were it to break.” Sakura asked us to remember that Enbridge had a major pipeline spill every two weeks this summer, and that these spills are not usually noticed by the company itself, but rather by residents or passing airplanes.
Wes began his talk with the important truth that the Line 9 pipeline goes through Haudenosaunee territory. It enters Haudenosaunee territory when it enters the 1701 Nanfan treaty area (which Ontario courts have made clear supercedes provincial law and which covers much of South-western Ontario). It crosses Haudenosaunee territory when it enters the Haldimand tract, six miles on either side of the Grand River. It recrosses the Haldimand tract as Lines 10 and 11 go down to Nanticoke and Buffalo, and it enters Haudenosaunee territory again on the way to Montreal. Wes emphasized that the need for non-Indigenous people to co-operate with the Haudenosaunee is great – we might each have a little success separately, but together we can stop it. “We need to be nice to each other so we can be dangerous together, we need to co-operate to get things done,” he said, and the first step in that is education, understanding, and open lines of communication in the spirit of the Two-Row Wampum treaty. Wes is currently looking towards the October 17th meeting of the General Issues Committee of Hamilton City Council, where he will be speaking on this issue.
After the panelists spoke, there was some time for clarification questions, then the attendees were split up into smaller groups for discussion. Each group was named after a plant or creature found in the Beverly Swamp where Enbridge’s Westover Terminal, the junction of four pipelines, is located: “Golden-crowned Kinglets over here by the washrooms, Tamaracks and Silver Maples on the far side!”
In the small groups, the strong “no” the speakers have towards the Line 9 reversal and the Tar Sands in general was echoed strongly. The campaign to stop Line 9 is an opportunity to build a truly watershed-scale resistance and to act in solidarity with folks across the continent. It is a chance to refuse corporate and political control over the land and water we depend on – not just to stop this project, but to mount a challenge to the whole notion that anyone’s home should be toxified for another’s benefit. As we left, we were handed a leaflet entitled, ‘Next Steps’ that listed three more events about the Tar Sands and Line 9 happening in the Hamilton area this month, including a rally called for 9am on October 17th at City Hall. If you haven’t already, head over to hamiltonline9.wordpress.com to find ways to get involved, or write to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.