Ecumenical voice cries out for pipeline consultation, ethics

JOURNEY TO JUSTICE

Bob McKeon

May 21, 2012

A surprising story appeared in the news on Good Friday. The Anglican bishops of British Columbia and Yukon chose Good Friday to issue a statement on the Northern Gateway Pipeline (www.provbcyanglican.ca).

The B.C. Anglican bishops wrote to express their hope that the public hearings being conducted by the National Energy Board (NEB) demonstrate integrity and fairness, be thorough and credible, and be free from political pressure and improper industry influence.

I was curious about the timing of this statement. Why Good Friday? The Anglican bishops spoke of the relationship between the created world and the life of Jesus. I thought of the Canadian Catholic bishops in their 2003 Letter on the Christian Ecological Imperative which addressed this relationship explicitly:

"Through his Incarnation, Jesus Christ not only entered and embraced our humanity: he also entered and embraced all of God's creation. Thus all animals, great and small, are consecrated in the life, death and resurrection of Christ."

The B.C. Anglican bishops said it is critical that all people living along the route of the pipeline be able to speak at the NEB hearings, especially the First Nations whose traditional lands and waters would be impacted by the proposed pipeline and supertanker traffic.

STREAMLINING LAWS

They expressed concerns about recent federal government proposals for "streamlining" laws associated with environmental assessment reviews.

The B.C. Anglican bishops urge serious study of the published statements of the aboriginal peoples. Specific mention is made of the Fraser Declaration of Indigenous Peoples where 61 indigenous nations state their opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines.

The B.C. Anglican bishops encourage people of faith to read the ecumenical national ecumenical KAIROS statement which affirms native rights and raises critical environmental questions with respect to the proposed pipeline.

As I read this Good Friday statement, I thought back to the time of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline debate and the Berger Commission over 30 years earlier. The major Canadian churches, individually and working together through Project North, spoke out in public statements and raised critical ethical concerns.

OUTSTANDING CLAIMS

While much has changed over the years in the debates over these two pipeline proposals, one constant theme remains. Both pipelines have proposed to cross extensive tracts of traditional aboriginal lands where treaties have never been negotiated and land, natural resource and self-government claims are still outstanding.

In 1975, the Canadian bishops in Northern Development: At What Cost? insisted that a "just land settlement" be achieved with the affected native peoples prior to government approval of large-scale natural resource projects.

The public hearings associated with the Berger Commission invited wide public participation, especially by the aboriginal peoples in the North. Significantly, over 25 per cent of all presentations to Berger were from Church groups (of these, half were by Catholic groups).

In early May, I saw a notice saying that B.C. First Nations along the path of the proposed Gateway Pipeline had organized into the Yinka Dene coalition and were traveling on a Freedom Train to Toronto to attend the Enbridge annual meeting. They were making stops along the train route, including two days in Edmonton.

On May 2, the Yinka Dene chiefs gathered with local supporters on the steps of the Alberta Legislature and marched to the Enbridge building. The sight of the B.C. chiefs in ceremonial clothing marching along Jasper Avenue to the sound of traditional drums proclaiming their aboriginal rights made the debates associated with the Northern Gateway pipeline visible and personal for us here in Edmonton.

The proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline is to carry oil from the Athabasca oilsands. Three years ago, Bishop Luc Bouchard wrote a pastoral letter examining the moral issues associated with the Athabasca oilsands.

Significantly, he insisted that "industrial projects that directly affect the traditional way of life for First Nations and Metis people must receive their support and approval." He said that massive projects posing a danger to the environment must be "approached in a deliberate, open, and consultative manner."

ABORIGINAL RIGHTS

While presently there is much debate for and against the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, it is clear that if there is to be any moral integrity to the final decision about this pipeline, the public hearings have to respect aboriginal rights, take seriously both relevant ecological and economic issues, and ensure that all those potentially affected can have full participation and voice in the public hearing process.

(Bob McKeon: sjustice@caedm.ca)