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Armada of ocean-going canoes paddles against Kinder Morgan

An armada of seafarers took to the Burrard Inlet over Labour Day weekend, embarking on a two-hour journey in opposition to oil pipelines and tankers, followed by a Save the Salish Sea music festival in North Vancouver.

More than 100 members of Squamish and Tsleil-Wautuuth nations took to the waters of the Salish Sea on Saturday, paddling their flotilla of nine ocean-going dugout canoes, several kayaks, a few motorboats, and even two paddle-boarders from Ambleside to Deep Cove.

After deftly ploughing through the swift-moving waves under the Second Narrows Bridge, the boats rallied together in front of the oil giant Kinder Morgan's operations -- the site of an existing pipeline from Alberta's oil sands which, if approved, would expand to feed a proposed supertanker port in the inlet.

"This is too big of a risk to have on our waters -- too big of a risk to jeopardize the future connections for our children and future generations," said Rueben George, Sundance chief of Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, standing to address the shoreline crowd from one of the large canoes. "Today we paddled together to share our loving connection that we have here -- the good feelings we get paddling as one heart and one mind.

"In paddling here, we did today what our ancestors have done for thousands of years. . . That's what we paddled for today: for a brighter future for all of us, that we can all share, so everybody can experience what we experienced today. . . We have to say no."

For the Chief of Squamish First Nation, the proposed tanker ship route out of Kinder Morgan's proposed terminal expansion is simply too dangerous for the Earth or its residents.

"The potential for an oil spill is too high for our people, our community, and this region," said Chief Gibby Jacob, as paddlers prepared to set out on their Salish Sea journey. "We are exercising our Aboriginal rights and title and will uphold our Nation's cultural and environmental values."

Kinder Morgan hopes to more than double the oil flowing through its Trans Mountain Pipeline, at a cost of $4.1 billion, accompanied by expanding Burnaby's Westridge Marine Terminal to allow larger oil tankers to access the port.

Environmental and indigenous opponents of the proposal point to an accident on June 24, 2007, when a backhoe broke an oil pipeline under the Barnet Highway, spilling 234,000 litres of crude into a residential area. 

On Sunday, a coalition of First Nations and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee held a Save the Salish Sea festival, featuring local bands the Boom Booms and others, plus "Shock Doctrine" author Naomi Klein speaking out against oil pipeline expansion in the province.

"We're here because our back-to-school resolution is to stop this outrageous plan to turn Vancouver into a major port for dirty oil," Klein said. "We're here to protect the Salish Sea and all the people who cherish and depend on it, and all the creatures who live in it and above it. 

"We are here to protect all of that from all the unacceptable risks embodied in the Kinder Morgan expansion."

David P. Ball is a Vancouver-based journalist.

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