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article imageEnvironmental Minds Unite at (de)Occupy Talks Special

By Chris Riddell     Mar 21, 2012 in Environment
Toronto - Activists staged a panel discussion in Toronto on Tuesday concerning the Tar Sands, ethical oil, and First Nations land rights
People young and old gathered at Bloor Street United Church in Toronto on Tuesday night to discuss the effects of Tar Sands development, and the inescapable reach of the Big Oil giants.
(de)Occupy Talks featured a panel of environmental and First Nations activists all with extensive experience in fighting the destruction brought on by the oil industry. The message of the night was clear: The Tar Sands need to be stopped and the rights of First Nations people must be respected and their sacred land preserved.
“(de)Occupy is an attempt to expand the meaning of occupy,” said Dave Vasey, event organizer. “Occupy has certain connotations particularly for first nations. (de)Occupy, with the bracket, is just an attempt to bring narratives of decolonization which is an important basis for why we do these things.”
The evenings’ first speaker was Ron Plain. He is an activist and member of the Aanishanaabe Tribe who has spent the last 12 years crusading against the oil industry. Ron laid out the message in plain terms. He related personal stories from his home town of Sarnia describing the horrible pollution that exists there due to the oil companies which process tar sands crude in his neighbourhood.
“We found one company that produced a vinyl chloride monomer,” Plain said. “It was 1.5km from our community. That creates sarcoma of the liver and the only known cause of that sarcoma of the liver in the world is vinyl chloride monomer. Still the Ministry of the Environment here in Ontario said it was caused by a lifestyle choice.”
By “lifestyle choice” they mean excessive drinking, smoking, and partying.
The fires of industry have contaminated the air with fine particulates that can cause lung disease and cancers. He says that people in his tribe have been falling ill in increasing numbers, and to diseases which are not common or normal.
“I can’t believe that the powers that be allow this to happen. They don’t think twice,” he emphasized the carelessness and hopelessness of it all.
Second to speak was Isaac Asume Osuoka, a York University doctoral student in Environmental Studies. Osuoka worked for 10 years in Nigeria and The Gulf of Guinea region to affect changes in policy regarding government, financial institutions, and oil corporations.
Living in Africa he suffered much violence and trauma from the conflict brought on by oil. He hoped that Canada would be a safe refuge from the chaos, but he has found that in Canada First Nations people are subject to the same human rights violations that countries in South America, Africa, and the Middle East are subject to.
He feels the oil company’s don’t care. It doesn’t matter as long as they get their oil.
“The industry is claiming that will return the land to a sustainable land that is equal to how they found it,” Osuoka said while reading a scientific report. “It will be replanted with the same trees and plants and formed into habitats for the same species.”
“They talk as if the planet is a toy that can be fixed,” he said.
Eriel Deranger was next to speak. She was present via telephone link and her voice echoed and boomed throughout the cathedral. Her heritage lies in the Dene Tribe and she is a campaign coordinator with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) of North Alberta. She grew up in the Athabasca area and is a first-hand witness of the destruction.
She related a story to everyone about how her father once took her on a walk north of Fort McMurray when she was a child and showed her the Syncrude plant. He said to her, “This is what the white man does. The white man rapes Mother Earth. He pulls the oil out of the ground and he poisons the air and he poisons the ground, and he’s doing it all for money. He’s doing it all for oil. These are the people we’re fighting, and when you get older you will fight them too.”
She didn’t understand it then, but now she is fighting with all her might. She is even taking up a law suit against Shell, the largest oil company in the Tar Sands, for violating Native rights and land claims.
“When we don’t look at what’s happening we are slowly eroding the rights of these people and our people are intrinsically linked to the land. When you destroy that land you are essentially destroying who we are,” Deranger said.
Fourth to speak was Syed Hussan, a Toronto based writer and activist. He spoke about the connection between oil and war. Essentially, a lot of the oil mined out of the Tar Sands goes towards supporting the US military-industrial complex. This organization wages wars and causes death, destruction, and despair all over the world.
Hussan said, “Canada exports over half of its oil, over 750,000 barrels of oil every day to the United States making it the single largest foreign supply of oil to this country. The Pentagon uses 395,000 barrels (of this oil) per day. ”
“It fuels the bombs that are dropped on Palestine and Iran. It fuels the planes and the trucks that carry the United States soldiers into combat in the killing fields.”
There was a large message of fostering respect for First Nations people. So much of their land has been ravaged by the tar sands development and this is land that has long been held sacred by the native tribes. They are a people who live in harmony with nature, never taking more than what they need and never afraid to give back.
The oil industry is the antithesis of their way of life. They depend on the Mother Earth to provide their every need. Their food and medicines are taken from the Earth. Now they are finding that some of these medicines, (such as cedar, for example) cannot be used safely anymore because they’ve been contaminated with pollutants that could kill. Their way of life is being dissolved in the hot, sticky, corrosive flow of bitumen.
These people will not stand for it. “We need to create respect for indigenous sovereignty and we need to do it now,” said Hussan.
“We should be able to walk outside our homes and breathe air that isn’t harmful to us,” said Plain.
They all gathered to question the concept of ethical oil which has been floating around as an ideology. Deranger questioned, “How can you call something ethical if it doesn’t even encompass looking at the basic rights of our people that are supposed to be constitutionally protected?”
A good question and one that is difficult to answer.
All they want is to have their land back. The road to getting there, however, may be a very long one.
More about Big oil, Tar sands, First nations, Human Rights, Pollution
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