Tag Archives: industry

Idle No More

Our ancestors wanted this land Canada so damned bad that they crossed the ocean, crossed the country in wagon trains, fought each other, fought the indigenous peoples, and cleared forest for pasture and crop land. Subsequent waves of immigrants saved up for steerage passage to the New World.

ox-in-field-hrsbstaff.ednet.ns.caNow we, descendants of these migrants, stand idle and leave it to the First Nations peoples to fight to save the land. Idle No More is not just about protecting existing First Nations and treaty rights. It’s about protecting all of us, and our shared homeland, from legislative changes that may have serious repercussions down the road.

Bill C-45

first-nations-panow-idle-no-more-protest-dec.-21-2012-newstalk650.comBill C-45 was a catalyst for Idle No More.  Now passed, it is a 443 page omnibus Bill consisting of changes to over 40 diverse pieces of legislation. Its amendments to two Acts in particular are of concern to Idle No More. They are changes to Canada’s Navigable Waters Protection Act and to the Indian Act regarding reserve land.

Reserve land is owned by the Crown, held for use by the resident First Nation. The band can “surrender” land to the Crown (federal government) for sale or lease in order to have developments not possible under the strictures of Indian Act land title. Until now, doing so required approval by a majority of a majority. Over half of those eligible must vote and, of those, over half must vote in favour in order for it to pass. Bill C-45 has changed this to simply a majority of those who vote. So if 100 of 1000 eligible voters vote, a yes vote by 51 means it passes. The potential for skewed results is mindboggling.

‘Speed things up’

Also, before Bill C-45, the entire federal cabinet had to approve the vote result before it took effect. Now only the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs must approve it. The Idle no more victoria-bc-21-Dec-2012-r-a-paterson-wikicommonsfederal government says the new rules will speed things up. The old system, government says, took months and even years for change to take effect. But why not speed up the implementation instead of changing the ground rules of democracy?

Land surrender might be used for a shopping mall or something wanted by a reserve’s residents and affecting only them. But it also might be used for negotiating agreements between industry and governments. Maybe for plans that only a very small minority of band members, and Canadians in general, want.

Protection of waterways is another biggie in Bill C-45 with potential for huge destruction of Canada’s environment. Although this is not an aboriginal-specific issue, it seems it’s rabble.ca-blogs-2012-12primarily First Nations that are upset about it. By removing most of the country’s lakes and rivers from federal protection, management and development can occur at the provincial, municipal and private levels without consultation with the federal government.

That can be a good thing when you’re talking about small streams and local management that can do quite nicely without federal red tape. The downside is it also lessens the ‘red tape’ of environmental assessment. So large-scale inter-provincial developments can go ahead more easily.

See something similar in both these cases? Less consultation and assessment making an easier process for development. And current large-scale projects like the Enbridge pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, just wishing First Nations, environmentalists and environmental impact studies would go away.

Idle or Action

banner settlers in solidarity with 1st nations beaconnews.ca-2012-12If we think that our immigrant ancestors’ efforts in settling Canada were worthwhile, we should remember that, by and large, they used their new homeland carefully and respectfully. We all have reasons to protest changes wrought by Bill C-45.

See also a legal discussion of First Nations and environmental impact of the bill.

Ocean Ranger 30

Ocean Ranger view from airThirty years ago the Ocean Ranger drill rig sank off the coast of Newfoundland.  The entire crew, 84 men, drowned.  During the early hours of February 15th, in a bad winter storm, the rig began listing.  Emergency personnel got there but there was nothing and no one left to save.

Cedric and kittens in box Feb 16 1982That night I was awake.  My new cat had put her week-old kittens in bed with me.  One by one, she picked them up in her mouth, jumped up on the bed and deposited them beside me.  She then went as far away on the bed as she could get, gave me a look that clearly said “they’re yours” and went to sleep.  Needless to say, I couldn’t, not with five tiny bodies beside me.  So I listened to CBC Radio until it went off the air, then thought about stuff and drifted off for a few minutes at a time.  When CBC came back on the air at 5:30 a.m., it was all about the Ocean Ranger.

No one knew what was going on.  Announcers gave details as they got them then corrected themselves.  Reporters were with officials map of hibernia showing Ocean Ranger positionand emergency responders from Mobil, Odeco and whoever else was available on land and at sea.  Boats and helicopters searched for survivors.  But the rig had sunk and no survivors.  I knew many of the oil industry voices on the radio.  I worked as an office temp, and drilling and oil companies, including Mobil, were my regular clients.

Everyone knew somebody

Like pretty much everyone in Newfoundland, I also knew people who Worker on deck of Ocean Ranger 1980worked on the rigs.  A fellow student and friend worked on the Ocean Ranger.  Was he on or off that week?  I couldn’t remember.  He was off, thank God.   So was a friend of his, also someone I knew.  But the husband of another fellow student was on the rig.  She was widowed and their infant son left fatherless.

Newfoundland was shattered.  The offshore oil industry was new and had so far delivered only jobs and good times for all.  Then, just like that, 84 men dead – the biggest single sea disaster in many years.  It took the shine off the paradise that Hibernia had promised.  “And have not shall be no more”, in the ringing words of Premier Brian Peckford who got a good deal for the province in oil revenues.

Ocean RangerInvestigations into the disaster showed slipshod safety practices and rig design that really could not withstand the worst that the Grand Banks could give an unmoving platform.  The workers’ nickname for the rig became widely known:  The Ocean Danger.

Ocean Ranger memorial in St. John'sI’ve never forgotten that night. The joy of a cat trusting me with her babies, all of us warmly tucked up while the storm lashed my windows. Then listening to early morning radio to hear panic and confusion happening right here, right now.  So that’s why I never will have faith that any technology is fail-safe against nature’s powers.

The names of the men lost on the Ocean Ranger are:

Robert Arsenault, George Augot, Nicholas Baldwin, Kenneth Blackmore, Thomas Blevins, David Boutcher, Wade Brinston, Joseph Burry, Paul Bursey, Greg Caines, Kenneth Chafe, David Chalmers, Gerald Clarke, Daniel Conway, Gary Crawford, Arthur Dagg, Norman Dawe, Jim Dodd, Thomas Donlon, Wayne Drake, Leon Droddy, William Dugas, Terrance Dwyer, Domenic Dyke, Derek Escott, Andrew Evoy, Robert Fenez, Randell Ferguson, Peter Fogg, Ronald Foley, Melvin Freid, Carl Fry, George Gandy, Guy Gerbeau, Reginald Gorum, Cyril Greene, Norman Halliday, Fred Harnum, Tom Hatfield, Capt. Clarence Hauss, Ron Heffernan, Gregory Hickey, Robert Hicks, Derek Holden, Albert Howell, Robert Howell, Robert Howland, Jack Jacobson, Cliff Kuhl, Harold LeDrew, Robert LeDrew, Robert Madden, Michael Maurice, Ralph Melendy, Wayne Miller, Gord Mitchell, Perry Morrison, Randy Noseworthy, Ken O’Brien, Paschal Joseph O’Neill, George Palmer, Clyde Parsons, Donald Pieroway, John Pinhorn, Willie Powell, Gerald Power, Douglas Putt, Donald Rathburn, Darryl Reid, Dennis Ryan, Rick Sheppard, Frank Smit, William Smith, William David Smith, Ted Stapleton, Benjamin Kent Thompson, Greg Tiller, Craig Tilley, Gerald Vaughn, Woodrow Warford, Michael Watkin, Robert Wilson, Robert Winsor, Stephen Winsor.

from memorialsonline.com/ranger.asp and Gonzaga High School Annual Prayer Service Feb. 13/15 (in photos on Friends and Family of the Ocean Ranger FB page )

St. Thomas Ford Plant

Selectivity tower at Ford plant erected 1968In Grade 11, at St. Thomas’ Arthur Voaden Secondary School, I was the only girl, and only Art student, in an English class with Shop boys. I had read most of the assigned books already, in school or on my own. So the teacher said for me to just get my papers in. If I had any questions, come to him. Then he left me alone and concentrated on the boys. There was one boy he left alone too, one who really had a hard time in school. He could read a little bit and should have had remedial help. But he wasn’t worried. His dad worked at Ford.

He and I sat in the very back row of desks and played tic-tac-toe during class. The teacher knew but he ignored what we were doing. We talked some, in low voices. I must have worried about how he was going to get through school and what he’d do after. He told me his dad could get him on at Ford and he’d make $20 an hour. It would be a job for life and it didn’t matter if he “couldn’t read too good.”

Over the years, I’ve wondered how he got on. I felt kind of sorry for him, until I moved back to St. Thomas and found out, yes, people at the Ford plant did make very good money and the jobs were pretty much for life. If that boy was hired at Ford, where, yes, children of employees did have a better chance, he’d have done a lot better financially than I had despite university degrees and having read The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Ford Plant Closure

Falcon on St. Thomas Ford assembly line 1968Until two years ago when Ford announced the Talbotville plant would close. The boy I knew is now probably retired with full pension. I wonder if his son followed him to Ford. If so, he may be one of those facing layoff with a good severance package but with the belief in the “forever” job gone forever.

Possibly the big suburban house, the big gas-guzzling Ford pickup in the driveway with the bumper sticker reading “Out of a job yet? Keep buying foreign.” – all financed on expectations of overtime pay, all in jeopardy. Some will do ok, if they lived within their real means, and if they can think outside the factory environment and build a new job for themselves. Some, if they didn’t or can’t, will be in trouble.

The real estate market has been glutted with big, expensive new houses ever since Ford began the layoffs. Food bank usage has increased. We’ve seen that first-hand because we have a pet food donation programme and it can hardly keep up with the demand.

Restaurants, bars, stores – all are feeling the impact as people stop going out, stop buying. Everyone in the amalgamated municipality of Southwold will suffer with increased taxes to make up the shortfall caused by Ford no longer paying property and business taxes.

“Out of a job yet?”

Out of a job yet bumper sticker on Ford pickup“Keep buying foreign” – not a lot of choice when the manufacturers move outside the country. A job forever? – not likely in “the new normal” of global economics.

I guess I’m glad I never had a job that was a sinecure, whether in a factory or government. You learn to expect job loss and be prepared for it. To my friend from Grade 11, dark hair and dark rimmed glasses, I hope you and your family are doing ok.

Tilting at Windmills

My mother had trash compacting and recycling down to a science cans of food in cupboardbefore the words were part of our lexicon. After she opened a can, she removed the label, rinsed it, then removed the other end of it. Then she put it on the floor and stomped it flat before putting it in the garbage. The label was kept with other scrap paper and used as tinder for campfires. No bottle or jar was put in the garbage unrinsed. Few were put in the garbage at all. They were used for storing things or kept in the back shed for future use as storage containers.

I don’t know what she did with food scraps. She didn’t grow a garden so wouldn’t have composted them. But she hated smelly garbage so I can’t imagine she put them directly in the bin. Years later, I’ve seen her back stiffen when she’s seen someone scraping leftovers into the garbage container. Our output for the garbage man would be one partial can or a small bag. She looked with horror at the huge bags and bins full outside other houses.

full recycling binThis is to explain why I was amazed at her reaction when recycling blue boxes came to her town. I thought she’d be all over that programme since she’d been doing it her whole life. But, no. She was furious. “I’ll throw out anything I want, any way I want. Who are they to tell me I have to take a label off?” She got irate when I laughed at her. I said “Mom, you’ve taken labels off as long as I’ve known you.” “Well, what I do with my garbage is my own business.” Eventually, she and my dad got to enjoy the recycling routine of sorting and bagging every week. But she still said no town council had any business telling her what she could and couldn’t do with her garbage.

Hazards of Windmills

Windmills in AmsterdamI thought of this when I read a recent column by Sun Media’s Christina Blizzard on the hazards of wind turbines. What is the big deal about windmills? It’s not like it’s a brand new, untested idea. The premise of harnessing wind to make power has been around a very long time. It’s not like nuclear power generation, for instance – something that is comparatively new with unknown risks.

There are risks to windmills – to birds certainly, to human psychic rhythms perhaps. Some find a sea of offshore windmills aesthetically unpleasing. Perhaps, but I can’t imagine a sea of offshore drilling rigs would be a whole lot prettier. We know for sure that rigs aren’t safe for birds either.

So why the big furor over windmills? Also from QMI, in our paper on modern wind turbinesthe same day, was an article from the solar power people asking farmers with solar grids not make their complaints public. The spokeswoman basically said the industry has enough problems with government (especially the Conservative members) and the public, and they don’t need the farmers fueling those fears.

Is it because these forms of energy production are tagged with the environmentalist label? Although both sun and wind are perhaps the oldest forms of energy known to humanity, somehow they’re seen as “new” and “lefty” and part of some conspiracy to “tell us what to do.” It seems to me similar to the American fears about government provision of health care; some weird attitude of “I’d rather pay huge premiums or go without health insurance because then I’m free!”

Rare Earth Minerals

Christina Blizzard talks about the people of China who must live near the tailing lakes of the mining of the rare earth minerals used in the computers for windmills. They can’t eat food from the nearby contaminated land or rivers. Adults and children have developed strange illnesses and cancers. Yes, this is a real and tragic problem that needs addressing.

However, she lost me at: “Every time I see a new turbine I’ll think of those children dying horrific deaths. And I’ll hang my head in shame at the environmental disaster we’ve created.” And so should we all. However, I Man with electronic waste at recycling depot in Chinahope she isn’t so busy tweeting and emailing that message that she wears her smart phone out. The market for rare earths is in all computer production, not just wind turbines. And rare earths are an important component in cell phones. So every time she uses her Blackberry, iPad, laptop or desk top, I hope she’s also thinking of those children in China.

I also hopes she thinks about the ones in China, Ghana and elsewhere in the Third World where our cell phones and computers Kids recycling electronics in Ghana dump, from PBSare dumped when we want to upgrade to the new version. People there are getting sick and dying from recycling our electronic garbage. That’s also a really big problem, and one that just has to do with us wanting the newest bestest toys. Work is needed to improve safety for the environment and people affected by wind turbines. But at least they are meant to lessen reliance on non-renewable and ozone-layer depleting fuel sources.

Pipelines through Paradise

starfish on fjord shore, Jack DykingaThis past October, there was a documentary by Karin Wells on CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition about a RAVE (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition) to document and showcase the coastal British Columbia rainforest.  The First Nation community of Hartley Bay, near Prince Rupert, coordinated it.  Hartley Bay and the other aboriginal communities of the area asked photographers from all over the world to come to the northwest coast to capture its essence for the world to see what is valuable about it.

This project was the First Nations’ response to a plan by Enbridge to build the Northern Gateway Oil Pipeline.  That would send oil and gas from the tar sands of Alberta to the Pacific coast for shipping to wherever.  The pipeline would end at the seaport at Kitimat.

Northwest coast proposed pipeline map, Northern Gateway siteSo oil and gas would be transported through pipelines across two provinces and then loaded onto supertankers which would navigate through the waters of the northwest coast to the open Pacific. Between Kitimat and open sea there still are plenty of islands, points of land and shallows a ship must navigate safely through.  Many a slip between cup and lip, or oil sands and market.

Northwest Coast Ecosystem

In the summer of 1978, I went to the BC northwest coast to work for the Haisla Tribal Council.

aerial view of a pipeline, from Northern Gateway siteSpearheaded by the band council of Kitimaat Village, the Tribal Council member bands were researching their traditional use of lands because of a proposed industrial development. Yep, that development was a pipeline from northern Alberta carrying oil and gas across the north to the port of Kitimat for transportation to US markets.

men fishing, RAVE photo by Cristina MittermeierAt that time, the tack taken by the Tribal Council was the practical need for the land and rivers to be kept usable for traditional food and resource harvesting.  The heart of this research was the nutritional value of “country foods” compared to store-bought.

The First Nations believed that basing their opposition to the pipeline on demonstrable health and economic value of their traditional way of life would be more effective than only using land rights and cultural arguments.  Aboriginal land rights and the overall importance of safeguarding land as part of preserving the environment and wildlife, maintaining First Nations’ sociocultural integrity, keeping material cultures alive, protecting historical economies are all valid points. But they can sound like so much blah blah blah to industrial developers and a public wanting cheap gasoline.

Country Food Study

Salmon jumping upstream, Florian SchulzA thriving natural environment, they wanted to demonstrate, meant a real and measurable quality of nutrition in First Nations diet.  So the key person in this project was a nutritionist who weighed, measured and calculated nutritional content and values of traditional country foods and compared those to their store-bought equivalents.

She and anthropologist John Pritchard planned the research methodology and analytic framework.  I replaced Dr. Pritchard in the actual community fieldwork when he had to take time off.   Five villages were in the study:  Kitamaat Village, Metlakatla, Fort Simpson, Kitkatla and Hartley Bay. After the data collection, we all convened in Victoria to analyze it.  We had bags of food and lists of the quantities of wild food that people had in their freezers, in canning jars, smoked and dried – salmon, oolichan, game animals and birds, berries, tubers and greens.

Interviews gave us information on how much country food each household ate in a week and how much store-bought food.  We asked householders how much they spent on food bought at local stores or supermarkets in Prince Rupert.  We researched prices of store-bought food and calculated the cost if they had to replace the wild food with what was usually available in the stores.  Also we calculated the cost of store-bought food that had the same nutritional value as country food.

Socio-cultural Value

Bella Coola women drying fish, Cristina MittermeierOf course, we asked people about the social and cultural value of hunting and fishing. What it meant to them to be able to live on a diet familiar to their ancestors.  We asked about the ritual aspects of hunting, fishing, food gathering and preparation. As well, we asked about the material culture parts of those activities.  What equipment was needed, how did they make it, when and how did they learn these parts of their livelihood?

fisherman and halibut, Thomas P. PeschakThe results confirmed what the Tribal Council had thought. The nutritional value of country foods was far superior to that of store-bought meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.  The expense of buying food to replace country food in their diet would be astronomical in these isolated villages.  The quality of diet could not be matched with the income available to people.  And, realistically, it would be impossible to stock such fresh, high-quality food in local stores.

It was a good and important study.  In the end, they didn’t need it. That particular pipeline project died at the developer’s end as oil prices dropped. But the First Nations were happy to have the study. They knew it was only a matter of time before another pipeline was planned. And there has been talk of one over the years since then. And now there’s the Enbridge plan.

More Pipelines

fjords near Bella Coola, Cristina MittermeierI hope the photographs and videos of the Great Bear Rainforest help stop the pipeline plan.  I would hope common sense would prevail and the developers would see the folly of supertankers wending their way through the complex waterways of the northwest coast.  When they’re in Kitamat or Prince Rupert, perhaps, they will look at the mountains and the sea. They will realize this is a fragile beauty that is necessary to keep safe.

The map and pipeline aerial photo are from the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline website.  All others are from the iLCP Collection, Great Bear Rainforest RAVE Media Gallery.  Photos are by Cristina Mittermeier, Florian Schulz, Jack Dykinga and Thomas P. Peschak.