Center for World Indigenous Studies
Join the movement Donate Amazon Smile

Oolichan, Salmon Decline and Oil

Published: November 26, 2010, Author: Rÿser Rudolph C.

The “Coastal First Nations” is the name of a enormously important alliance between the Wuikinuxv Nation, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xaixais, Nuxalk, Gitga’at, Haisla, Metlakatla, Old Masset, Skidegate and Haida nations located on the northeast Pacific Ocean along the coast of Canada and Alaska.  Formed in early 2010, the Alliance pits the resources and political will of ten indigenous nations against the economic interests of major oil companies and governments of Canada and the United States in their opposition to a Trans-Canada Oil pipeline sponsored by the Enbridge oil company. The Canadian company Enbridge has been responsible for oil spills in Canada and the United States.

Chief George Manuel leading the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the World Council of Indigenous Peoples vigorously opposed and helped stop efforts to build a Trans-Canada oil pipeline in the early 1980s.  He argued such a pipeline threatened oil spills on the coast and on the land jeopardizing the life and cultures of indigenous peoples, wildlife and the land.

Now the Coastal First Nations alliance argues persuasively the same position to prevent yet another attempt to feed the “engines of oil” while risking the devastation of the basic support systems of life.

One of the world’s remaining “sea life nurseries” is located in the swirling Pacific northeast coastal waters off of Alaska and western Canada. Wildlife in the forests, fish, and ancient human societies live in relative balance in this region dependent on the “nursery”. The construction of oil ports and oil pipelines by Enbridge from oil sands in the province of Alberta to a port on the coast risk more oil-spill catastrophes such as the Exxon Valdez on the coast of Alaska 21 years ago that dumped nearly 11 million gallons (40 million liters) of crude onto beaches and in the waters. The irresponsibility of the oil companies producing oil dumps throughout the world and notably in the Gulf of Mexico (British Petroleum, Haliburton) confirm and support the reasonable opposition of the Coastal First Nations alliance to the proposed 1,170 kilometer pipeline.

Many of the nations in the Coastal First Nations alliance (notably the Nuxalk and Wuikinuxv nations) sounded the alarm years ago over the decline and literal disappearance of oolichan runs–a keystone species of fish that serves as a “first food” for people, seal, whales, salmon, bears and the forests along the Alaskan and Canadian coasts.  These small fish that swarmed by the millions are rapidly disappearing from the Pacific Coasts of the United States and Canada (Oolichan runs into Oregon coastal rivers no-longer exist and those returning to the Columbia river have declined to a mere trickle while runs up the Frasier River and the Bella Coola rivers have become virtually non-existent.)

Salmon like the oolichan were so abundant along the northeastern Pacific Coast that “you could literally walk across a river on their backs.”  They are no longer.

Development in the coastal regions where both the oolichan and the salmon spawn has devastated the headwaters of rivers and streams. Pollution produced from concentrations of human populations in cities along the coasts has made plastic bottles, chemicals and hazardous waste common place in ocean waters. Over production of hatchery salmon along the coasts of Canada, the United States, Japan and Russia contribute to the suffering ocean.

Wild salmon runs are threatened with starvation owing to the decline of the oolichan and other foods resulting from contamination of the waters, and hatcheries.  When these pressures on ancient nations, fish and wildlife combine with the construction of an oil pipeline, the very source and continuity of life is threatened.

The Coastal First Nations alliance appears to be the only responsible obstacle to the pipeline; and other coastal indigenous peoples must now join in the effort to prevent further destruction of life that development brings.

Chief George Manuel Memorial Indigenous Library

The library is dedicated to the memory of Secwepemc Chief George Manuel (1921-1989), to the nations of the Fourth World and to the elders and generations to come.

access here