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First Nations prepared to fight Harper government, Enbridge in international court

Aboriginal leaders from British Columbia and across Canada talk land rights and share songs at the Idle No More Vancouver rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday.

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Dancer Harriet Prince from Manitoba
Harriet Prince, a visitor from Manitoba dances at the Idle No More rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Darla Goodwin wasn’t surprised when she first heard about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.

“We have ancient pictorials and scrolls that speak of a time when the women rise up,” she said. “A great snake was supposed to cross the land and poison Turtle Island, and we’re looking at that as the pipeline.”

Goodwin, an organizer for the Idle No More Vancouver and a member of the Cree First Nation, points to a prophecy, made several hundred years ago and passed down through the indigenous peoples of North America, that describes a time when a great snake will travel across the country, poisoning the land, the water and the air. There is another prophecy that references a time when one of the races would lose its way, and it would be up to the others—the women in particular—to remind the fallen nation what is means to steward the land.

She said her people were definitely not surprised when four women from Saskatchewan founded Idle No More in response to Bill C-45 and began a movement that now spans the country.

Matriarchal First Nations societies are based on traditional teachings of the moon and earth as female beings, the Mother and the Grandmother, and the 28-day cycle.

“In our culture the women are actually the leaders of our community,” Goodwin said. “The clan mothers were the ones who decided when people would move, they decided who married who, what grounds were good to hunt on.”

Goodwin’s grandfather was present for the signing of Treaty 4, but she said it was the clan mothers who decided what needed to go into that treaty.

“Traditionally, non-indigenous folks would see chiefs standing out in front, but what the people didn’t know was that those chiefs took their directions from the women.”

Now, with the Enbridge hearings taking place in BC and Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence entering her third week without food in Ontario, Goodwin said the struggles of First Nations across the country come down to one key issue: will Stephen Harper respect indigenous land rights?

One of the biggest misconceptions non-indigenous Canadians have, she said, is that Crown lands belong to the government.

“All the Crown land across Canada is owned by Aboriginal people and Canadians do not know that.” BC’s unceded Coast Salish territory, while not covered by its own treaty, is still Crown land, and by law, the federal government is required to have free, prior and informed consent from First Nations before undertaking any measure that affects the land.

“I don’t foresee Harper backpedalling whatsoever,” Goodwin said. “I know that our next stop as indigenous people is to fight him on an international scale. … And if it has to go to international court, it will. Until we lose in international court we will not stop.”

But Goodwin is quick to stress that this is not an indigenous movement. It’s not solely about a First Nations issue. It’s a labour movement and it’s a women’s movement. It’s a people’s movement in response to a human rights issue.

This was immediately apparent today at the Idle No More Vancouver rally on the steps at the Vancouver Art Gallery where First Nations leaders and youth were flanked by members of the BC Nurses’ Union, CUPE and migrant justice group No One is Illegal.

“We are wanting to educate non-indigenous people, especially seafaring people, farmers, unions, educators, that this bill affects them as well,” Goodwin said.

More than a dozen speakers took the mic this afternoon, including elders and grandmothers from nations all over the country, members of Aboriginal youth groups, dancers and drummers.

Grand Chief Phillip Stewart, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said the failure to honour the treaties has voided them, and demanded Harper negotiate with the First Nations. He told supporters that nothing could stop the uprising of the women and their people.

“There is nothing that will stop these prophecies from being fulfilled,” he said. “There is not death. Just a change of worlds.”

Kelly White, Idle No More organizer and a member of the Squamish First Nation, said that by rights, Harper should no longer be in power at all.

“We’re going for impeachment,” she said. “Actually, by law the house should impeach him, but the house remains silent.”

She echoed Goodwin’s sentiments that Bill C-45 is an affront to all Canadians, indigenous or not. “The Harper government just impeached the voices of the unions and First Nations because there was no outreach to the public,” she continued. “He just passed bills without even the protocol in the house for members of parliament to represent their constituents.”

One of the last speakers of the day was Crystal Molina Smith, a poet and a member of the Gitga’at Nation of Hartley Bay. With her 10-month-old son strapped to her chest, she read a poem about becoming a casualty of Enbridge oil and told the crowd she began writing poems when she was 15 to express her anger at the government.

“In the past, our ancestors lived in a good way,” she said, her voice quiet but firm. “I want to look to the future on a positive note, but Enbridge, if they get their way, there will be no positive future.”


To learn more about the dramatic story of the proposed Northern Gateway Enbridge pipeline and First Nations' resistance to it,  read Vancouver Observer's in-depth book, "Extract".

Get it on Amazon here:






(17) Comments

keith cummings December 24th 2012 | 1:13 PM

keep up the good work gals, we're stopping Enbridge, in the eyes of most Canadians Northern Gateway is dead, and most agreeably. And maybe Harper will get impeached after this debacle with Enbridge, we can only hope so.,

Michael J. Kaer December 24th 2012 | 7:19 PM

We really need to love and thank steven for bringing us all together. Thanks steve, we could not do it without you.


Tupac Enrique Acosta December 24th 2012 | 8:20 PM

The Law of Exceptions - NAFTA and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Open letter to the Ministers of State and Public Constituencies of Canada-US-Mexico

Stevie harper thinks i won the election  , i can do any single thing i want and there is nothing canadain taxpayer can do period and he does not care what natives think or do.the fact that the actual land and logging rights are being sold to Chinese company's. They can do whatever they want and hire whoever they want. I guarantee you they are not in business to benefit Canadians.Do the gullible Canadian thinks the parts while be made in Canada, they will be made oversea and assembly in canada using Temporary Foreign Worker program to built it, All politicians are happy to have us race to the bottom of the economic ladder in order to ensure their political backers can get increased profitsStevie Harper isn't putting corporations before people. He is only putting OIL corporations before people. oil corporation official tell Stevie what to do.The money is just too big for Stevie and his corporate pals to refuse,Canadian taxpayer have zero say . Stevie Harper is george w Bush north. He has the same playbook.Stevie Harper doing everything in his power to dismantle every environmental protection law Canada has created.Enbridge complains that the laws are 'too onerous'. Maybe they are onerous because that is what is required to protect the environment. The laws were put into place for a reason.The Enbridge pipeline is just a part of the this mad rush to fuel the USA and China. The government is jonesing like crazy to push this pipeline through and will try and change whatever legislation that is in the way to show the USA and China that they want to do business regardless of what Canadian taxpayer vote or think Oil wins, the 1% rule the 99% of passive , gullible taxpayers.Really nice how we the Bc taxpayers say NO PIPELINE and the politicians we elected do an end around to stick it to us..

mary inga December 25th 2012 | 5:17 PM
What the native people and the women in particular are doing is wonderful, but we all need to get on side, start thinking that we all are in some essential ways, native to this place called Canada, and work to achieve political power sooner rather than later. In that regard, I suggest we all get on side with the one party that does oppose the Gateway. Individual or group affiliation actions are important, but defeat at the polls, and replacement of the Harper conservatives with the present NDP opposition is also crucial. Canadians need to wake up...and kick start both their vision and their courage. Radical new directions in economic and public policy are needed, and all of us who care about our children's future need to get real, get radical.........and vow with our first nations people to "be idle no more".....and while we're at it, middle of the road fence sitting no more either. We can and must, stop this pipeline, and the quick buck mentality that building it.........and other toxic snakes, represent. Stop the Gateway. Stop the Kinder Morgan. Stop Harper
Daisee December 25th 2012 | 9:21 PM

not yours government! As if it ever was. 

Ameri-duh December 27th 2012 | 3:03 AM

Good to see some outrage and people fed up. Way to go Canada! Here in the States, replacement refs in football games get more outrage than ANYTHING else. 

alicia desjarlais December 27th 2012 | 2:14 PM

im so proud to be first nation and it makes me proud that idle no more went global....thank you non-first nations as well for all the support :)

DJBALL December 27th 2012 | 6:18 PM

Harper will not stop until Canada resembles Mordor.

paul magnus December 27th 2012 | 9:21 PM

There will be no pipeline crystal do not worry.

JK Canepa December 28th 2012 | 8:20 PM

Just a note from those of us in the USA who are working to stop these pipelines that we support the first nations, labor, and the brave women who put their hearts into protecting the earth. It's wonderful to know the truth about Crown land. Thank you. May we all connect faster than the pipelines!

linda's picture
linda December 29th 2012 | 7:07 AM

To learn more about Canada's tar sands pipeline politics and First Nations' responses, read "Extract" by the Vancouver Observer.

Get it on Amazon here:


Mike Hansen December 29th 2012 | 6:18 PM

If Harper would stop wraping his lips around the u.s. govt "cock" he might be a GOOD leader!!!

carl shalansky January 1st 2013 | 9:09 AM
..well,at least they’re consistent ...?   Little Oversight for Enbridge Pipeline Route that Skirts Lake Michigan. ----see this link for full story---Dec 27,2012    Excerpts follow; Because the pipeline runs so close to Lake Michigan—and because it is being built by a company with a history of pipeline spills in the region—a growing coalition of environmental groups is demanding that it be given extraordinary oversight and protection.BUT GETTING THOSE PROTECTIONS WILL BE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE.A major spill into one of the Indiana rivers would be even more disastrous than the Michigan (Kalamazoo) spill, the environmental groups say, because the pipeline's crossing points are so much closer to Lake Michigan..and on and on! You can recognize the pattern no doubt;of all places , in Michigan!—Yep,same OLDE Enbridge! I, along with others no doubt, have been looking for that new Enbridge culture –I suggested an Enbridge Board of Directors ‘Operations Safety EPIPHANY’;ha ha my friends said; they were right!——Enbridge are big and have an huge opportunity to capitalize on North America’s booming, huge ,new oil production opportunities;Bakken,tight oil and of course bitumen—all the pipeline gang ,including Trans Canada and Kinder Morgan are planning to build pipe lines—TO EVERY WHERE! Yes all governments are desperate for revenue and our cries for safer pipe line operating  practices are not likely to be given serious consideration —UNTIL we voters become a factor—you know that most significant item in a politicians survival handbook—‘POLLS’. We know that most pipelines eventually are built –and more will be built—and for that reason and the fact that existing pipe lines don’t improve with age—we need to press our law makers to make the ‘pipe liner’ more accountable for safe operations practices—starting with the Boards of Directors. 
bill January 2nd 2013 | 1:13 PM

Dear editor:
I was reading over Rainy River Resources’ views on the Rainy River Gold Project environmental assessment process and I saw how they have nonchalantly placed native consultation and consent for the project within a planning reference statement: “plans to involve and seek feedback from Aboriginal community, neighbour, and other interested stakeholders.”

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I have seen how First Nation elders have been brought to various mining sites and events as a promotional backdrop to the perception the native community is being consulted and support mining projects per se.
However, I have yet to see any co-ordinated effort by the FN leadership to examine the potential affects of gold mining on our waterways above and below ground in terms of polluting or depleting our water source, of which flow into the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods basin.
I also am unaware of any examination being completed on the effect a gold-mining operation could have on the wildlife habitat relative to our surrounding area.
And yet, the federal and provincial environmental assessment processes are proceeding concurrently which, in my view, basically are sanctioned instruments to rubber-stamp the shift of resource exploitation from wood to mineral extraction.
Except for potential labour benefits, all profits derived from mining operations will be destined to external stakeholders and investors of Rainy River Resources, with no payments identified yet in recognition of unresolved land title and ownership interests of the First Nations of Treaty #3.
I have not seen or heard of any guarantee from the governments of the Crown or Rainy River Resources that mining will not contaminate our water basin. And if it did happen, how would it be cleaned up and how would concerned interests be compensated?
I have not seen any Crown government fulfilling the duty to consult or engage concerns directly at the First Nation level in respect to gold mining on our traditional lands and territory.
Over these next couple of years, my attention is going to be directed amongst the First Nation community and on the requirement of consent being demonstrated via referendum by the people for the Rainy River Resources’ gold-mining project.
In my view, it is not enough for Crown governments or industry proponents to fund person year salaries or meeting expenses of political offices and leaderships in support of resource extraction plans (e.g., Rainy River Resources) without seriously taking a look at the true impacts.
This includes recognition of the collective land title interests of Treaty 3 First Nations, and providing the same with real opportunity to benefit from development and investment if that is what ultimately is approved by the Anishinabe people.
Sonny McGinnis
Rainy River F.N.

kathieace January 9th 2013 | 9:09 AM

Thank you Linda Solomon and the Vancouver Observer for supporting and promoting the stories that are the nexus points on our Mother the Earth for creating life for all beings for all time on a level playing field of equals. Yes to life! 

Ra'Am Ayan May 16th 2013 | 8:08 AM

A message to all my First Nation brothers and sister.

We live in a world dominated by corporate and economic interests.

We think we are fighting about rights and freedom; we are fighting over money and power games.

One of the most important things we can do in this fight, is find alternative solutions for clean, renewable energies that cost less, produce more, and have no harm on the envioronment.

We need some of the TOP energy scientists in the world to create professional and thorough reports on these solutions, and we need to find COMPANIES that operate in the clean energy paradigm to step up to the plate, to take the contracts, and to vouch for their ability to produce this energy and the financial benefits that come from it without hurting the land.

Rather than simply protesting, we are now creating solutions that support a new paradigm of energy;

If this is done in a cogent, comprehensive and thorough manner, it could be the piece that helps tip the scales...

I am glad however, that this is creating unity amongst our people and allowing us to find our voice and power again.