Coast Salish tribes gather for water ceremony before NEB hearings

"This is a way of sharing our connections with each other, and taking care of the water that takes care of us," said Grand Chief Pennier.

Deborah Parker

Coast Salish tribal leaders from the U.S. and Canada met for a sacred water ceremony by the Fraser River at Island 22 park in Chilliwack Wednesday.

They gathered before giving testimony at the NEB hearings at the Coast Hotel later that afternoon, showing firm opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.

With an eagle flying overhead and rain holding off, they emptied containers of water into a tiny creek snaking down to the river.

Coast Salish tribes from Washington State had tribal leaders, elders, fishers and youth who made the trek to Chilliwack.

They brought fresh water from their territories to mix with local water from the Fraser, emphasizing the interconnectedness of both the people, and the life-giving waters.

Sto:lo Grand Chief Kat Pennier welcomed the visitors from tribes like Swinomish, Suquamish, Tulalip, and Lummi. The ceremony was a fitting ritual since local Sto:lo have been networking with American Coast Salish tribes on a range of environmental issues they have in common to do with the Salish Sea, he said.

“This is a way of sharing our connections with each other, and taking care of the water that takes care of us,” said Pennier.

The U.S. tribal reps are against the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline expansion project because the increased tanker traffic “threatens the economy, culture and way of life of all Coast Salish Tribes,” according to joint a press release.

Swinomish Tribal chair Brian Cladoosby, who is also president of the National Congress for American Indians, said it was “very important” that they come together and do the work.

“We need to do it more often.”

He said while Coast Salish look upon on the fish and waters as “their brother,” others only see it as “money.”

“Our elders prayed that their grandchildren would stand up as stewards of the most beautiful place on earth; to be that voice to let them know that what has been done to Mother Earth in the past 100 years is no longer acceptable.

“Our voice is going to continue to get stronger as we come together like this to show the world we are united. We may be few in numbers, but we have that opportunity to tell our story, to tell our story, to tell our story. It’s to let them know it cannot any longer be business as usual.”

Deborah Parker, tribal leader of the Tulalip Tribes, said each person there was taking care of Mother Earth, and they had connected through the water ceremony.

“It was to make us as one,” she said.

Tribal reps are concerned the project will interfere with fishing rights, access to fishing areas and the catastrophic risk of a spill in the Salish Sea.

“This is heaven,” Parker said of the beautiful surroundings at the riverside. “We are all from a piece of that heaven, and if we take care of that heaven, we take care of this mother, and she will take care of us.

“And that is why I believe each and every one of us is here today is to take care of Mother Earth, and as a mother myself and as a life giver, that means the world to me.

“When we set our tables, how are we to set our tables if there is no fish? How are we to feed ourselves?” she asked.

The proposed pipeline project would roughly triple the capacity of the existing pipeline, and it would run alongside an existing pipeline that stretches from the Alberta tar sands oil fields to an oil shipping terminal in Burnaby, greatly increasing the traffic of oil tankers carrying diluted tar sands bitumen through Canadian and U.S. waters.

“The proposed pipeline, if approved, will increase the risk of oil spills and cause more disruption of our fishing fleet.

“The Suquamish Tribe has a duty to stand up to further threats to our Salish Sea fishing grounds, which have sustained our people since time immemorial,” said Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman.

Several local First Nations also oppose the project, and were before the NEB last week including Shxw’owhámel First Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Kwantlen First Nation, Musqueam Indian Band, Peters Band. Katzie First Nation and Hwlitsum First Nation also made presentations.

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