As First Nations prepare to take legal action against the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, an alliance of B.C. residents and non-governmental organizations has launched a grassroots fundraising initiative that aims to help First Nations cover their legal expenses.
The website Pull-Together.ca is supported by RAVEN Trust, an aboriginal legal defence organization, and Sierra Club BC.
Susan Smitten, executive director of RAVEN, said in a teleconference today that Pull Together is a response to communities who wanted to raise money and support First Nations' legal challenges, but didn't know how.
"It is a fundraising effort we hope will go national, maybe international," she said.
North West Watch, an environmental group based in Terrace, B.C., has already donated $2,000 raised through a community gathering and bottle drive.
"First Nations have been in the lead in opposing this project, and standing up for Canada," said Brenda Wesley of North West Watch. "Now, this is a way communities can stand with First Nations."
Pull Together allows people to donate individually, fundraise through a network, or organize a community event. In Smithers, a group raised $985 at a fundraiser film night. More B.C. communities like Haida Gwaii and Prince George are committed to host fundraisers.
The funds will help support the Gitxaala, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai'xais, Nadleh Whut'en and Nak'azdli Nations as they proceed with their court challenges.
Chief councillor Marilyn Slett of Heiltsuk Nation is grateful for the effort. "It is financial relief, but it also strengthens us as a nation to know that we are standing together and standing in solidarity," she said.
'They have inspired us all'
Since the $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline proposal was approved by the federal government on June 17, several First Nations have taken legal action to stop its potential construction in 2015.
Despite federal approval, which included 209 conditions, the pipeline still has to meet five conditions outlined by the B.C. provincial government.
"Our people have been really clear on the pipeline project from the beginning and we're very concerned about the devastating impacts to both our coast, our land, our culture, our sustenance, our way of life," said Slett.
Acting chief Clarence Innis of Gitxaala Nation said that the federal government's decision was misguided, and the Gitxaala Nation must protect its traditional law, land, and resources.
"By launching these legal challenges, these First Nations are clearly prepared to go it alone in the courts and do what it takes to stop Enbridge Northern Gateway," Sierra Club BC campaigns director Caitlyn Vernon said. "By doing this, they have inspired us all by taking a stand for our common future."
Although Pull Together doesn't have an exact goal for fundraising, it does have an estimate.
"Our initial target for fundraising is $125,000," Vernon said. "But we know these legal challenges will, in fact, cost much more than that."
Innis said that while legal expenses loom overhead, he hopes that Pull Together can make a difference for all First Nations, including his own.
"It's been a really expensive venture for Gitxaala," he said. "But the things we're protecting are priceless."
An initial court date for the First Nations' judicial reviews has yet to be established, with an anticipated hearing sometime in 2015.