Feather dust-up highlights Enbridge’s culture clash with first nations – by Nathan Vanderklippe (Globe and Mail – August 8, 2012)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

CALGARY — The official with Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline walked into the Island Gospel Fellowship Church in Burns Lake, B.C., and got a face full of tiny feathers.

It was, the company understood, an act of hostility by the local Wet’suwet’en nation – perhaps even a death threat on a day of federal review hearings into the $6-billion twin-pipeline proposal. “These feathers covered the hair and clothing of the Northern Gateway representative targeted by this feathering incident,” Enbridge reported in a document filed with the National Energy Board. A member of the Wet’suwet’en then explained that local traditional laws against trespassers were “strictly enforced” and “punishable by death,” Enbridge wrote.

There is, according to the Wet’suwet’en, one problem with the account of that January day: The eagle down blown by an elder over both Enbridge and members of the federal joint review panel wasn’t a declaration of hostility. It was a declaration of peace – and the misunderstanding, they say, is the latest sign of the gulf that separates Enbridge from the first nations whose support it is seeking for Gateway, which would carry Alberta crude to the Pacific.

Enbridge drew the exact wrong conclusion from the eagle down, said Wet’suwet’en environmental assessment co-ordinator Mike Ridsdale, and then worsened it with a description of a “ceremonial incantation addressed to the ‘northern gods.’ ”

“We don’t have northern gods. We have spirits that guide us,” Mr. Ridsdale said. The Wet’suwet’en have demanded Enbridge correct the record.

The wording “shows total disrespect” for the Wet’suwet’en, he said, adding that with the eagle down misinterpretation, Enbridge is mischaracterizing its interactions with the Wet’suwet’en, who remain among the groups along the Gateway route most opposed to the project. For example, a Wet’suwet’en clan has erected a cabin directly on the proposed route as a pre-emptive blockade. Enbridge officials have also been handed eagle feathers – different from down – as a notice of trespass on Wet’suwet’en land, while at one meeting, the Wet’suwet’en “sang a traditional war song,” Enbridge reported.

But the eagle down was important, since it was meant as a shift in tone, Mr. Ridsdale said.

“It was an attempt by the Wet’suwet’en to make sure there was peace during the joint review panel hearing,” he said. “Nobody would be mad at anybody.”

In a statement, Enbridge said “the traditions and underlying intentions implicit in a subsequent eagle-down ceremony were not described at the time of the ceremony,” and it is “pleased” they have now been made clear.

The significance of eagle down is, however, widely known: It is clearly explained, for example, as “a symbol of peace” in the opening pages – and even on the back cover – of Eagle Down is our Law, an important book on the customs in the area.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/feather-dust-up-highlights-enbridges-culture-clash-with-first-nations/article4468736/

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