It was an honour to witness and take part in the events in Bella Bella on Sunday. After several months of preparing to give testimony, the Heiltsuk community organized a day of events to coincide with the arrival of the Joint Review Panel.
Dozens of children and their families walked up to the airport from the school and lined the road, holding signs voicing their opposition to the Enbridge pipeline and tanker traffic on the coast. Many more community members, representatives from neighboring Nations, and other supporters gathered outside the airport with their own signs to hold up for the JRP to see. Dressed in full regalia, the hereditary chiefs lined up on the tarmac to welcome the head chief who was returning home for the hearings. As Chief Wauyala stepped off the plane, the Heiltsuk singers and drummers erupted in song and brought a powerful energy to the scene.
The assembly returned to town where they were joined by more peaceful protesters. The singers and drummers led a procession to the community hall for a feast. For the next several hours chiefs, community members, guests from the Gitga’at, Kitasoo, and Oweekeno Nations, and visitors from elsewhere around the coast spoke out, making their unwavering opposition to the pipeline and tankers clear. The community feasted on herring eggs, salmon, halibut, and oolichan, clearly demonstrating their connection with the seas and how much they stand to lose.
While each and every speaker was passionate and articulate, the youth in Bella Bella may have been the most remarkable at expressing their opposition. From the elementary students who walked the three miles to the airport and back to meet the plane, to those who sang a touching song with their Heiltsuk language teacher, to the high school students leading a 48-hour hunger strike, the youth have been a tremendous source of strength and inspiration for the entire community. I have spoken to children from kindergarten on up and it is remarkable how informed and concerned they are. We at Pacific Wild are proud to follow their lead and continue to oppose the Enbridge pipeline, tanker traffic, and any other threats that would damage the future of coastal people. We wish those giving oral testimony over the next few days well and we thank them for standing strong.