Barlow protests environmental award - her own
|Star File Photo|
|Maude Barlow in 2007|
Only Maude Barlow would help organize a protest at an event where she's being honoured and delivering the keynote address. But that's what she plans to do tonight when she receives the Canadian Environmental Award's Citation of Lifetime Achievement, at Toronto's Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex. In Brando-esque style, Barlow will give up her $5,000 award to the Sacred Headwaters Coalition and the Iskut and Tahltan First Nations of northern B.C. for their fight to protect their salmon fishing grounds from development by Royal Dutch Shell.
It gets more interesting. Shell Canada is a sponsor of tonight's event, among several companies and organizations putting their financial muscle into environmental prizes, including HP, TD Bank Financial Group, National Geographic and the World Wildlife Foundation. (Barlow's particular award is sponsored by National Geographic and HP.) In Barlow's view, she can do more by accepting the award -- David Suzuki and Sheila Watt-Cloutier are past recipients -- than by boycotting the event.
Barlow sent along a copy of tonight's speech. (Ticket details and event information are available at the award's site.) She plans to discuss the importance of the fight to save the headwaters of the Nass, Skeena and Stikene Rivers from a coal bed methane mining operation by Royal Dutch Shell.
"It is here that three of British Columbia's greatest salmon rivers find their source and where grizzly, caribou and stone sheep still roam free," says her speech. "Royal Dutch Shell plans to extract coal bed methane gas from the area's anthracite deposits across an enormous area of one million acres, using a highly invasive mining procedure that leaves behind a legacy of toxic water."
Barlow asserts commercial coal bed methane gas production has "never before been contemplated in salmon-bearing watersheds" and adds that local First Nations communities, area residents and salmon fishermen strongly oppose the project.
Barlow is a veteran activist, author, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians and co-founder of the Blue Planet Project. Her latest book is: Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water. Three years ago, the Council added their clout to the fight over B.C. salmon waters that has brought together the Iskut and Tahltan First Nations with the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, ForestEthics, Sierra Club, Pembina Institute, Greenpeace and the Dogwood Initiative.
Barlow is indefatigable. I remember when I was the Star's Latin America Bureau chief, based in Mexico City, getting off the telephone with her one afternoon in 2000 and feeling guilty. She wanted me to fly right away to Bolivia to cover the "Cochabamba Water Wars" over the privatization of water by the national government, in conjunction with an international consortium that included Bechtel Enterprise Holdings. I had a dozen stories on my plate. Nevertheless, I felt like a slug compared to the peripatetic Barlow. Agree with her opinions or not, she's undeniably a force of nature and it's nice to see her being honoured.
And so tonight, she'll protest against Royal Dutch Shell outside the event, then dash inside to challenge corporations and governments for, as she sees it, putting First Nations at the sour end of petrochemical operations.
"It is crucial to support their right to determine when they do not want this kind of destructive energy extraction on their lands ... Surely it is time to put a halt to this destructive cycle of intensive energy production in this country and listen to the wisdom of our First Nations Peoples who can teach us once again what it means to live with the land, water and air around us instead of off them."
The core theme of water goes beyond Canada. In Bolivia, the people won their battle and the failed attempt to privatize water became a significant factor in the 2005 election of leftist Evo Morales Ayma, a Quechua Indian, as president. Barlow insists corporations can't be allowed to take control of water resources.Tonight, she expects to remind her audience:
"Mother Earth is heating up; our glaciers melting; our rivers running dry; we are on the brink of the 6th great species extinction. Everyone I know knows this, and millions of engaged citizens around the world are working as hard as they can to save our planet and ourselves. Why are we not making more headway."
In closing she turns to the words of a Hopi elder:
"You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour. Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. This could be a good time! Gather yourselves! Banish the word "struggle" from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration ... We are the ones we've been waiting for."