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What a 10-Year-Old Did for the Tar Sands

Why a First Nations student from British Columbia is taking on a controversial trans-Canadian pipeline project—through song.

Ta'Kaiya photo by Carol Carson

Photo by Carol Carson.

Ta'Kaiya Blaney's song, "Shallow Waters," co-written with her music teacher, was among B.C.'s top five finalists for the David Suzuki 2010 Songwriting Contest.

Ten-year-old Ta’Kaiya Blaney stood outside Enbridge Northern Gateway’s office on July 6, waiting for officials to grant her access to the building. She thought she could hand deliver an envelope containing an important message about the company’s pipeline construction. But the doors remained locked.

“I don’t know what they find so scary about me,” she said, as she was ushered off the property by security guards. “I just want them to hear what I have to say.”

The Sliammon First Nation youth put in a great effort learning about environmental issues and the pipeline in particular, and hoped to share her knowledge and carefully crafted words. Enbridge officials said they were unable to provide Ta’Kaiya space or time and failed to comment because the Vancouver office is staffed by a limited number of technical personnel. Their headquarters are located in Calgary.

So Ta’Kaiya stood outside, accompanied by three members of Greenpeace, her mother, and a number of reporters and sang her song “Shallow Waters.” The song’s video has hit YouTube and been viewed more than 53,000 times.

She co-wrote her song after learning of Enbridge’s bid to build twin 1,170 km pipelines to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to British Columbia’s north coast. Like the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline that would connect the Canadian tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, Enbridge’s Alberta-B.C. pipeline is widely opposed, largely because it would bring hundreds of oil supertankers a year to the Great Bear Rainforest—an ecologically significant region along a particularly dangerous route for tankers.

“Oil pipelines and tankers will give people jobs, but if there is an oil spill like the [BP spill] in the Gulf of Mexico, that will take other people’s jobs and the wildlife will die,” said Ta’Kaiya.

According to a Greenpeace website, “Twenty-two years after the Exxon Valdez tragedy, crude still coats Alaska’s shores. Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council estimates that 21,000 gallons of the 11 million gallons of crude oil that bled from the stranded tanker Exxon Valdez on the night of March 23, 1989 remain in the subsurface.”

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And Dustin Johnson, a Tsimshian youth who works at the Sierra Club in Edmonton, says that the tankers that are proposed to transport tar sands crude from northern Alberta to the B.C. north coast are much larger than the Exxon Valdez. "If the tar sands pipelines are successfully built on the coast," he said, "this would lead to at least 250 tankers per year navigating the intricate B.C. coastline—a risk the salmon- and ocean-dependent Northwest coast communities and economies cannot afford to make."

Greenpeace reports that 80 percent of British Columbians support an oil tanker ban in B.C.’s coastal waters. More than 70 First Nations in British Columbia have banned the transport of tar sands oil through their territories, including along the proposed oil tanker routes.

While Ta’Kaiya was waiting outside for Enbridge officials, B.C. Premier Christy Clark sent the girl an email, saying she had “watched your YouTube video and commend you for your talent. Your message is very clear—we must be concerned about the environment.”

Clark said the B.C. government supports the ongoing environmental review, a process that has met much criticism from First Nations communities, environmental groups, and political leaders.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., opponents of a different project—the Keystone XL Pipeline —are preparing for two weeks of mass civil disobedience at the White House with the hopes of convincing President Obama to stop it in its tracks.

More information at www.tarsandsaction.org


Angela Sterritt is a freelance journalist based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She blogs at angelasterritt.wordpress.com.

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