Here in Greater Victoria, the Enbridge pipeline and oil tanker drama is unfolding on the six o’clock news as a battle between the Liberal government desperate for a whiff of voter traction and the opportunist New Democrats spoiling for a constitutional dust up.
That’s a shame because the real story about Enbridge and its companion oil tankers brimming with gooey bitumen is unfolding in very human terms in remote settlements like Hartley Bay, 700 kilometres north of here.
This past week I got a glimpse at that reality from the most unlikely source, a 23-year-old mechanical engineer, Chris Hinkley, who has just kayaked from his home in Juneau, Alaska to Chemainus.
Hinkley is one of 12 Juneau adventurers who have embarked on a 14,000 kilometre expedition to Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina. In Chemainus this week, they will trade their kayaks for bicycles and start stage two of their odyssey.
Chris and I met up in Oyster River where he told me that his visit to Hartley Bay galvanized his thinking about pipelines and oil tankers.
The village of 200 souls is located at the mouth of Douglas Channel about 80 kilometres southwest of Kitimat. It is home to the Gitga’at, “the People of the Cane.”
When Chris and his kayaking compatriots arrived in Hartley Bay, they were met at the dock by children wearing “Say No To Tankers” sweatshirts that portrayed oil spilling from the hull of a super tanker and transforming into tears flowing over a broad native face.
The Juneau adventurers were welcomed with a feast of halibut, herring eggs, and Dungeness crab. They picked blueberries with the kids and met Gitga’at councillor Cameron Hill while he was preparing a fresh sockeye salmon for the smoke house.
Hill was eager to share his thoughts.
“We are not going to sit back and watch our territories be mismanaged anymore, we are going to fight for what we have left,” he told the expedition camera crew.
Chris said the underlying focus of the trip is documenting the rich connections between people and their places all down the Pacific Coast.
“We are not a group of environmentalists out to document the pipeline fight, but we encountered so much passion … we realized this is an issue we have to talk about.”
“Hartley Bay is a place where stories matter, where children know how to smoke fish and love the taste of oolichan oil. This is a place where roads are made from wooden planks and grocery stores do not exist. Whether time here is spent filleting fish or harvesting seaweed, an appreciation is born in the process,” the kayaker said. “I believe that somewhere deep in every human lies a craving to connect to the natural world. Hartley Bay embodies this connection. Its residents respect the resources that sustain their lives.”
Back here, the urban debate unfolds in a political context. Premier Christy Clark wants B.C. to secure its entitled share of the oil spoils to compensate for our eco-inconvenience.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix wants to one up Clark and arm wrestle with Prime Minister Stephen Harper over environmental sovereignty.
As Chris cycles off to Argentina, he leaves us with this: “As we continue our journey south, Cameron’s thoughts will continue to resonate with me. He told us: ‘There is no other way to say it — if the pipeline goes through, our way of life is dead.’” M