First Nations chief draws attention to oil sands threat at international tourism expo in Germany

Photo by David Biene

A bold move by a First Nation leader disrupted an event linked to a large tourism expo in Berlin, Germany, drawing attention to the issue of Canadian oil sands development.  

Dene Nation Chief Bill Erasmus came to an Embassy event, where tourism officials from Alberta and other parts of Canada were promoting the natural beauty of Alberta and BC. Erasmus delivered a letter to tourism officials discussing concerns over Canada's economy and the tar sands. 

The letter was being delivered at a critical time during which the European Union is deliberating whether tar sands oil meets its standard Fuel Quality Directive, which would put a higher price on unconventional, carbon intensive fuels like Canada's oil sands.

Below, a copy of Erasmus' letter: 

Dear friend,                                            Berlin, March 8, 2013

My name is Bill Erasmus, Dene National Chief of the Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories in Canada. Our Nation is currently undergoing a transition from hunting and gathering to a wage-based economy and we partly depend, just like you, on tourist coming to our area. At the moment, thousands of visitors from around the world come every year to enjoy the pristine nature of our homelands. We want these tourists to keep coming in the future, we need them for our income and we want to share the natural beauty of our territory with them. But the continuing extraction of tar sands in Alberta and especially the planned expansion is putting this at risk.

We are not against economic development in Canada or Alberta, but the tar sands extraction is polluting our rivers, destroying our natural resources and thus the economic basis of our survival – and yours. This is a model of economic development, tied to boom and bust cycles, which will not bring lasting prosperity to our country. What we need is a sustainable economic model for a diversified economy that does not depend on exporting fossil fuels.

We want you to understand that the existing proposed tar sands expansion will continue to harm the economic interests of Canada. Canada’s greatest asset is its untouched nature and natural environment, that’s what Canada is known for in the world. But we’re running the risk of losing this image – and with it the visitors. The Canadian government is heavily lobbying European countries to derail European climate change efforts, such as the Fuel Quality Directive aimed at reducing emissions from imported transport fuels. This is wrong; Canada is interfering in the European legislative process and needs to accept the proposed criteria. Environment and climate are our joint responsibility and we need to protect them. For us, for our children and for the tourists we want to come to our home.

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