Say the Names...

Al Purdy wrote a wonderful poem called "Say the names say the names" which celebrates the names of Canadian rivers - Tulameen, Kleena Kleene, Similkameen, Nahanni, Kluane and on and on in a celebratory song.

Enbridge is planning to build a dual pipeline that will carry bitumen and condensate across hundreds of waterways between Edmonton and Kitimat. Some of these waterways are rivers like the Parsnip (or what's left of it), the Nechako, the Morice and others are smaller creeks whose names are often known only to the folks who live along their banks or who fish in their shadows or who bend to wash or drink as they cross paths.

I want to collect the names of these rivers and creeks, to collect your stories, your poems, your songs so we can collectively give voice to the land living under the line Enbridge plans to draw.

People have also sent me copies of their presentations to the community oral presentations. If you'd like to add your voice, email me ( your stories and I'll post them for you. The copyright remains with you.

All the best.
Sheila Peters

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Stay strong

The following note was sent out to members of Friends of Morice-Bulkley this evening  - thanks to them for keeping us focused.

Dear Friends of Morice-Bulkley,

It is the eve of the Joint Review Panel’s recommendation to Cabinet regarding Enbridge Northern Gateway. They are set to release their report at 1:30 pm tomorrow, December 19. This is an important moment in our work to stop this pipeline but it is not the end. 

No matter what the JRP says, Enbridge does not have social license or First Nations approval. For the people of BC, nothing changes: we have clearly expressed our opposition to the pipeline, tankers on the coast and the threat of bitumen spills. First Nations have formally banned pipelines from their territories and tankers from their seas.
A yes recommendation, with conditions, wouldn’t be a surprise. The NEB has a record of approving almost every project brought before it and it is clear that industry lobbyists have undermined this review process. 

You have all done incredible work to give this movement the strength that it has. From marching in the streets, to writing letters, to testifying in front of the JRP, it is your stories and your passion for this place that has created a province-wide movement of opposition. 

In Smithers, 119 residents opened their hearts to the JRP and shared their love for their homes and their passion for protecting it. To revisit those moments, or if you weren’t there and want to be inspired by the powerful testimony of your friends and neighbours, here are a few links to the transcripts: 

We will be paying close attention to the release of the report tomorrow and following up with you. Until then...
FOMB Steering Committee

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ah, those beautiful names...

Thanks to Norma Kerby for her poem - a welcome response to the recent reports
of the Harper government's extensive spying on anti-oilsands groups. It's from a Terrace Art Gallery poetry anthology, The Rivers Speak, due to be launched this Friday, Nov. 22. It is a collaboration of eight visual artists and 22 poets, edited by Joan Conway and Katherine Bell. The book is being used to raise funding for the Terrace Art Gallery.

Lists of lovers

There are lists of lovers    river lovers    dangerous people
who murmur  in foreign tongues
Kitimat   Zymoetz   Kitsumkalum

They stand in front of hearings   speak to newspapers     sighing for
lovers they can never own
Babine   Bulkley   Kwinageese   Bear

Emotional people      careless dreamers of river waters rushing free
Exstew   Kasiks    Kispiox   Clore

Greedy people      they think that lovers are forever
but lovers only pass in the night
Kinskush   Kitsault   Kwinamuck   Dak

We have lists         lists of lovers     river lovers
writers of poems to angry waters
Stikine  Skeena  Spatsizi  Nass

good citizens come and go
they know that rivers    cold northern rivers   are not forever
money can buy warm embraces in
tropical seas
hotel pools gentle and soothing
whispering comforts
whispering   forget   forget   forget

But these lovers   these river lovers  northern river lovers  they cry out   they
will not be quiet   they shout  slogans   meet in rallies
never confess that rivers are lovers for moments not lifetimes

Lists of lovers   river lovers    Jim and Wade and Cheryl and Shannon       
Walter   Dennis   even Ali

We have their names.  We watch.  We listen.

Lists of lovers     who speak of rivers    northern rivers

Friday, November 15, 2013

We're all in this together - join the National Day of Action

I had a wonderful few days on Gabriola Island this past week as a guest of Save Our Shores Gabriola (SOS) and the Gabriola Friends of the Library. Thanks very much to Kristin Miller for taking such good care of me. (Thanks also to The Writers Union of Canada for funding.)

Six creative souls came to the poetry workshop in the poetry yurt, run by Poetry Gabriola,  set in the trees beside The Commons

Photo: Viviann Kuehl
The workshop was meant to inspire people to express their anger, frustration, distress about events taking place in the world. We explored some darker themes and then lightened things up by writing limericks – it’s hard to write a limerick without laughing. There won’t be any Nobel Prizes forthcoming (whoopee, Alice Munro) but it was fun.

Photo: Viviann Kuehl

Photo: Viviann Kuehl

I also gave a reading at the library from my novel, The Taste of Ashes, with a focus on the ways in which activism propels and informs my writing. Over time it has become clear that an interest in, concern about and a sense of wanting to bear witness to people’s courage are fundamental issues in the work I admire most. It’s little wonder that those same values and concerns for social justice show up in my writing. 

Photo by Liz Ciocea

And what an audience! The collective knowledge and wisdom in the room was awe-inspiring. One woman had been to Afghanistan with Global Exchange – the amazing group that facilitated my trip to Guatemala when I was researching The Taste of Ashes. 


The visit ended with an SOS Gabriola dinner meeting – a group of Gabriolans committed to preventing oil pipelines and tankers in BC lands and waters. It was an honor to be a part of their month-long celebration of Art and Activism around the island. All around us hung quilts made for the Clayoquot Sound protests twenty years ago now. 

Bravo to SOS for calling it a celebration – all too often we are taught to think of this work as negative because we’re against what industry likes to call development. Exploitation is a more accurate term. 

As well as sharing a delicious meal, we talked about the ways in which people respond to the dangers posed by our ever-increasing use of fossil fuels. How do we motivate people to act? How do we support and value people who don’t feel able to stand up and speak up? How do we support all the differing ways community members contribute on the ground (creating and maintaining a place like the Commons, for example) and in the oh-so-impure corridors of power (MLAs, MPs, larger environmental organizations, for example)?  As Bill McGibben writes in Oil and Honey, the story of the rise of the movement, environmental activism is long-term – it’s not something that’s going to get done, like that deer fence you need to build around your garden. Jean McLaren was one of the first Raging Grannies, was arrested at Clayoquot Sound and is still taking part in events in her eighties. She and Heidi Brown shared dinner with us last week; twenty years ago they edited the Raging Granny Songbook.

I was happy to tell the folks from Gabriola that in the north we, too, have people with that long-term commitment. We have young people who are being mentored by those who have been doing this work for over thirty years (with many successes) and those same young people are bringing their amazing talents to the table. 

Eight community groups in eight communities across the north are working with First Nations to stop the Enbridge Gateway pipeline; others are springing up to try to unravel the “plate of spaghetti” of proposed LNG pipeline routes; all are committed to resisting the free-for-all that is both provincial and federal government policy around tar sands, fracking and coal. 

And artists – musicians, visual artists, poets, and dancers – are standing beside scientists, farmers, fisherpeople, and others who are beginning to understand the price tag attached to fossil fuels, tar sands expansion and climate change. Artists are reading scientific reports, carvers are putting up blockades, biologists are making quilts, and poets are running for city council. And fishermen like Guy Johnston will be joining thousands of people across the country on tomorrow's National Day of Action against fossil fuels expansion. 

Find an event and get there if you can. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Arts & Activism

Kudos to Save our Shores on Gabriola island for organizing events throughout the month of November to celebrate  Arts and Activism. I'm thrilled to have been invited to be part of that and will be doing a workshop and reading there on Friday Nov. 8 & 9.

I'll also be showing slides and reading poems from my trip to the Artists Camp in the Muskwa-Kechika (The Muskwa Kechika Fire Poems) at the Island Exposure Gallery in Parksville on Wednesday, Nov. 6 at 7 pm.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Nobel Women's Initiative speaks out on oil sands expansion

The Nobel Women's Initiative uses the prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize and courageous women Peace Laureates to increase the power and visibility of women's groups working globally for peace, justice and equality. The Initiative is led by Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman and Mairead Maguire. Last fall a delegation came through the north and met with women to discuss the proposed Northern Gateway project. Today they released their report and the following press release.
Industry & gov't not listening to those most impacted by oil sands expansionReport documents resistance of women living along proposed pipeline route

(Ottawa)—28 October 2013

A new report released today shows that despite efforts to muzzle the voices of communities resisting oil sands expansion in Alberta and the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, resistance is alive and well—and being led, in many cases, by women. Breaking Ground: Women, Oil and Climate Change in Alberta and British Columbia delivers findings from a delegation organized by the Nobel Women's Initiative to the region.

The high-level group of women, that included Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams as well as a University of Alberta scientist and an energy efficiency expert from the US, met with over 200 women in 13 communities last October.

The women in Alberta and British Columbia included indigenous leaders, community outreach workers and grassroots activists. They voiced their concerns about a range of economic, health, and social impacts of oil sands expansion—from homelessness, spiraling inflation, breathing problems, undrinkable water and increased cancer rates to domestic violence and unequal access to jobs.

"What we heard in western Canada echoes very much what I have heard from communities throughout North America," said Williams. "Women are frustrated that very real concerns about potential oil spills, their families health and well-being—as well as climate change—are being ignored.  So they are organizing, and demanding to be heard."

Some women in western Canada say they are under high levels of pressure from government, industry and even other community members to not speak publicly against the oil sands. The report notes that recently introduced restrictions limit public participation in National Energy Board hearings on pipeline expansion—and raises concern that by "reducing debate and decision-making around oil sands industry expansion" there will not be "honest and open discussion of the cumulative effects of the development".

The oil sands industry is the fastest-growing single source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.  Oil sands production is projected to expand from 1.4 billion barrels per day to 5 billion by 2035.  Mining has damaged over 680 square kilometres of land in the region—and pipeline construction has cut through thousands of kilometres of pristine forest and polluted streams and lakes.

"While people look at the environment and climate change, very few look at it from the perspective of women," said Williams. "And as with many crises the world over, it's the women and children who suffer the most when their environment is destroyed. I am so inspired by the strength and courage of women who are standing up for their communities in Alberta and British Columbia."

Williams, who is in Ottawa this week for a series of events, is calling on the city of Ottawa to become a global leader on climate change. Her visit coincides with rising debate in Ottawa over TransCanada's proposed plans to build the Energy East pipeline. That pipeline would carry over a million barrels a day of tar sands oil from Alberta to New Brunswick, making its way through Ottawa and across the Rideau River.

Read the full report online:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A folk storm coming...

Here's a letter Murray Minchin of  Douglas Channel Watch has had published in many BC newpapers - thanks, Murray for sharing it here.

"Despite our best efforts to prevent spills, incidents occur".

The less than reassuring quote above is from Enbridge's own corporate social responsibility reports, where they have to document all their pipeline spills from the previous year. Interestingly, it disappeared from Enbridge's reports after their 3.8 million litre diluted bitumen spill into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

As scary as that shoulder shrugging admission of guaranteed pipeline spills may be, it pales compared to how Enbridge answered the following question during the JRP hearings; "It’s my understanding that there is an operational life expectancy of this pipeline for 50 years. Do you foresee running it for any time longer than that, and how long would that be?"

Enbridge's Ray Doering answered, "Really, the...each pipeline that an operator manages has a unique internal corrosion management program, integrity management program associated with the operation of that pipeline, and a very valuable asset that’s proactively managed with that inspection management program really will have an indefinite life. In 30 years or 50 years, or beyond, the condition of that pipeline really will be the same as the condition when it was first put into service."
It is said the first casualty in war is truth, and so it must be with Enbridge while in post Kalamazoo damage control, because Mr. Doering's answer was given while under oath.

Joint Review Panels used to have the authority to deny proposals, but that power was taken away (after Enbridge's proposal was submitted) by one of Prime Minister Harper's omnibus bills. The Panel can now only make a recommendation. Harper has manipulated the system so that he alone will make the final decision early in January, 2014, unless he allows Conservative MP's a free vote to vote as they wish, or as their constituents wish. 

Since the 1960's, British Columbia has had a voluntary moratorium on oil and gas exploration on BC's coast. Even though we're sitting on our own pot of gold, British Columbian's aren't willing to risk their coastline, salmon, or increasing whale populations. Why should we shoulder all that risk for Alberta? Besides, if the Tar Sands are the answer to Canada's economic wellbeing, why is Alberta in debt?

It is for these reasons, and more, that I believe it will be Canadians standing shoulder to shoulder who will stop Enbridge's Northern Gateway project if Harper decides to try and ram it through. First Nations, individual Cities and Towns, the Union of BC Municipalities, Alberta Unions, The United Church, and more, have taken official positions against the Northern Gateway proposal.

Kitamaat's Gerald Amos has been saying for years that there will be a 'Folk Storm' if Harper tries to force this project through against the wishes of British Columbians, and with such broad spectrum opposition in BC and across Canada, we may all be surprised at how large the protests will be.    

You can bet there will be rallies across Canada as Harper's decision day gets closer. If you oppose Enbridge's plans and haven't gotten involved yet, this is the time to contact your local environmental watchdog group to get on their email list. This will ensure you are notified where and when protests in your community will be held. Make this a priority before November. 

We need to send loud and clear messages that no bitumen will be shipped from the north coast of British Columbia. This is especially important as plans are being investigated to have 7 trains a day carrying diluted bitumen to BC's north coast, and natural gas pipelines can be converted to carry diluted bitumen as is being proposed in eastern Canada. 

Silence or non-participation will be interpreted as acceptance by Enbridge, their foreign investors, and Prime Minister Harper.

Murray Minchin
Kitimat, BC

Monday, October 21, 2013

Enbridge's charm offensive...

A long time Fort St. James' resident has responded to Enbridge's bizarre series of ads with a perceptive essay: Go to Brenda Gouglas's Vancouver Observer op ed piece to see what she has to say.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Resistance Poetry - join in!

Enbridge has done it again! 

Maybe it was all that poetic language we used in the JRP hearings...

...but  you can do better - check out the Living Oceans response.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tar Sands Tour

Last month, Josette Wier, who has been a indefatigable intervenor in the Enbridge hearings -  took a tour of the tar sands. This is what she wrote about her trip.

I feel run down and my throat hurts. Is it because I feel choked or is there something I cannot swallow? I have just returned home to Smithers from an Enbridge sponsored guided tour of the Fort McMurray tar sands. Upon request and to their credit, Enbridge agreed to include me in their latest junket in spite of my open opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project.

Fort McMurray is a hole in the boreal forest, 467 kms north of Edmonton. From the air, the sprawling housing for its more than 100,000 inhabitants looks as if it is bursting at the seams because Crown land allocations are limited and there are seemingly constant traffic jams. Everything is young and new, including the population whose median age is 31. Superlatives abound: largest airport traffic in Canada, nearly completed largest recreational complex in Canada. Average house prices have reached $650,000. 

There are two methods for extracting tar sands heavy crude called bitumen; mining and in situ recovery. Both require large quantities of water and energy. Mining is an open pit operation using the gigantic trucks often shown in the media. Interestingly 30% of the truck drivers are female who are very much liked for their gentler handling of the equipment. Bitumen mining requires the controversial tailing ponds lining the Athabasca River, which also receives the “treated” water. In situ recovery uses steam and does not require tailing ponds.

Suncor boasted about their 200 ha reclaimed area representing less than 1% of the land they used. A new directive from the Alberta Energy Regulations requires them to reclaim 50% in the future, albeit nobody knows if this is even possible.

While there, I felt a mix of fascination and horror; fascination came from witnessing the technological prowess and accomplishments. Horror came not only from the scale of the destruction, but also from a sense of planetary disconnection. There is no doubt that the young, happy, extremely well paid people and the significant number of foreign workers who could not dream of a $80,000/yr salary drying laundry in their own country, are all there for the money. However this is an unprecedented destruction of land, water and air allowed by extremely lenient federal and provincial regulations. A recently released report1 (July 2013) shows 4063 chronic and repetitive contraventions by the major players between 1996-2012 with an enforcement rate of 0.9% and a median penalty $4,500. Further, the area affected is larger than the extraction area. Carcinogenic products associated with bitumen extraction were found in lake sediments 90 kms from the extraction site2

None of that was mentioned in the factoids delivered by the attractive tour guide. Neither was mentioned the contribution of the tar sands extraction to global warming, the most crucial issue of our time. Even if, as claimed, the contribution is only a few percentage points to global carbon emissions, such added percentage points can be the tipping point for disastrous consequences to come. It appears like a delusional world propped up by our heavily lobbied federal leaders promoting their aggrandized vision of Canada as a super energy power. By tripling production in the next 20 years, the CAPP representative explained that there still will be 100 years left of production (instead of 500). Are we to continue letting giant oil multinationals decide on our behalf or are we to develop a vision that will protect the planet and include the well-being of future generations? 

The importance of the contribution of tar sands extraction to the Canadian economy is not supported by the numbers presented during the visit. If Alberta is receiving $2.3 billion in royalties, why has it recorded a $2.8 billion deficit in 2012? Federal taxes amounting to $1.5 billion represent a rather small percentage of the $1.74 trillion Canadian GDP.

No wonder I feel choked. For those of us who have not stepped into the “bitumen bubble”, it is clear that the future lies in careful planning for the reduction of our energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions with a renewed sense of world citizenship and deep care for the future generations.

1Environmental Incidents in the Northeastern's Alberta Bitumen Sands Region 1996-2012, July 2013, Treeline Ecological research and Global Forest Watch.
2Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, Nov. 2012: Legacy of a half-century of Alberta oil sands development recorded by lake ecosystems.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bound for Glory?

I wrote this piece while travelling across North Dakota in June. It seemed important to post it here when I read the following story in today's Dickenson Press:

The Bakken crude involved in the deadly train derailment and explosion in Quebec represents only a fraction of the oil shipped by rail from North Dakota each day. 

About 675,000 barrels of Bakken crude leaves North Dakota rail facilities daily, according to the most recent figures from Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

That averages to about 1,000 railcars per day, Kringstad said, and about 15 times the amount of oil shipped by rail from North Dakota three years earlier.

We left Minot, North Dakota on June 10, driving up the Mouse/Souris River toward the northwest. At first it felt like another wonderful prairie journey as we saw the way the land curls itself around the river’s necessity – water, transportation, and prairie flatness all flowing the way gravity takes it. The Mouse looks like a small river and is muddy this time of year, but in 2011 its floods took out about a fifth of Minot and it’s looking high again this year.

We'd left southern Ontario a few days earlier, caught glimpses of abandoned houses and neighbourhoods as we followed the freeway through Detroit and headed north. It’s been wet all across the Midwest this year, right into North Dakota. The ground is so saturated even a light rain pools up and runs off. Many fields are untilled; those that are, well, the furrows are shining. The road and railway ride through this flooded landscape on fragile causeways. Mirages of trees rise from vast pools reflecting the sky, barns are half-submerged, fences measure the depth of the water. Back in Wisconsin and eastern North Dakota people set up their lawn chairs along the highway and cast their fishing lines into the flooded fields. Walleye and Northern Pike, they tell us.

North of Minot, Highway 2 is busy. As we drove northwest, more and more huge mud-spattered trucks rumbled past carrying heavy equipment and big pieces of mysterious machinery. The attractive ranches tucked into the nooks and crannies of the land – always with long lilac hedges setting them off from the open prairie, maybe a white fence around a large lawn, and shining grain silos – began to be replaced by big tanks at oil collection sites. The occasional oil wells nodding their mechanical heads, yes, yes, yes, multiplied, and soon acres of modular housing appeared: containers stacked one on top the other with a couple of windows and a door plugged in; fields of trailers; vast stretches of townhouses that looked as if they had been built yesterday.

Some farms hunkered down into sections of green cultivation were surrounded, literally, by dug up earth, red dirt roads, well sites, and more work camps being built. The highway itself deteriorated into potholes and construction zones marked by miles of orange and white pylons. It shrank to two lanes and the small towns it passed through were muddied and diminished, their ‘welcome’ signs faded, their front yards and flowers splattered by the trucks trundling through from the oil fields.

As we waited at a construction halt on the highway, I remembered reading Woodie Guthrie’s account of the oil boom that came to his Oklahoma hometown when he was a boy and how it changed his community. Everyone scrambled to speculate on real estate, shoddy buildings were thrown up to house the workers – many of whom were killed in the terrible working conditions – the water was polluted and the town’s sense of itself evaporated. When it was over, and it was over pretty quickly, the town was left “tending the remnant damage” – which has a radiant kind of sound to it, but isn’t at all.

At that same traffic stop, we heard our first meadow lark. Sitting on the telephone wire just across the road from us, its beautiful song carried through the rumbling diesels. It sang the whole time we waited, a reminder to hold still and listen, to not be overwhelmed by the noise and enormity of what we’re seeing done to the landscape we’re travelling through, or of what some people want to do here in northwest BC. Indeed, the bird’s song was itself an act of resistance. This devastation, it tells us, is not what any of us needs. Slow down, it sings, slow down and listen.