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ABSTRACT: No Place for Indians:  (presentation to soils science group, Land and Food Systems, UBC.  Nov. 9, 2012).

Energy exports and related development projects are rapidly restructuring traffic and access along BC’s North Coast.  Famed for both the well known Inside Passage and lesser known ‘Outside’ Passage, this area of the coast lies mostly beyond the gaze of the rest of North America.  Recent development plans to export tar sands crude to the Orient has brought the region under closer scrutiny as urban-based environmentalists voice their opposition and concerns.  While much of the public focus has been on the risks associated with oil spills on land and sea the significant impact on Coastal First Nations will be reduced access to traditional waterways and fishing grounds.  Between the proposed tar sands facility and planned LNG plants more than 1000 large bulk tankers (oil and LNG) will be travelling through this part of BC’s north coast leaving no place for Indians in their wake.

The multi-billion dollar project to pipe and then ship tarsands crude to China places a unique ecological and cultural heritage zone at serious risk.  Over the past several years our UBC/Gitxaala reserach team has been surveying and documenting Gitxaala’s portion of the area known to many as the Great Bear Rainforest.  This region encompasses much of Gitxaala and adjoining Gitga’ata and Kitasoo territories.  Enbridge Northern Gateway plans to send 400+ very large crude tankers through the entire length of Gitxaala’s territory as they ship tarsands to China to fuel that country’s massive industrial explosion.

Over the past several years our reserach has focused on identifying and documenting ancient Gitxaala villages.  Our reserach shows that until very recently (the early 1800s) thousands of Gitxaala people and their neighbours lived along the path of the proposed tankers.  Each village has been surveyed, mapped, and scientific samples of soils and faunal remains have been collected.  What we are learning will ultimately contributed to a major shift in our overall understanding of the nature of BC’s coastline.  Our project, like a handful of others along the coast, is revealing the detailed and extensive use of the entire coast by historical and contemporary Indigenous communities.

The tankers place this critical Canadian cultural heritage at risk in several ways.  First, there is the risk (however small) of a catastrophic spill like the Exxon Valdez that could wipe out not just cultural heritage, but undermine the local ecology that Gitxaala people still depend upon for their livelihood and culture.  more insidious, however, is the long-term cumulative effects of the increased tanker traffic.  Combined with well documented models of increasing sea level intensive heavy ship traffic will lead to rapid erosion and destruction of cultural heritage sites that line the coastline of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Finding social and ecologically sustainable ways to meat our society needs that do not place at risk this important cultural heritage is essential.  Isn’t time to shift from mega-project developments to locally rooted solutions?  One of the really amazing things that we are learning from our reserach is their fine-tuned way that Gitxaala people lived in the thousands for millennia upon millennia within their traditional territories.  The key lesson?  Live locally within one’s means.

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