News  Indigenous communities organize grassroots resistance to oil and gas corporations

Mel Bazil calls for decreased energy consumption, systemic change

“I come with a lot of memory of facts of the industries that are threatening our lands, but also potential ideas to create something in their place, to create a better world.” Mel Bazil introduced himself to the community at the Native Friendship Centre following traditional indigenous protocol, asking permission to come speak and detailing what his contributions would be. Bazil, a Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en organizer and anarchist, came to discuss Indigenous resistance to pipeline projects as part of the May installment of Under the Weather, a monthly lecture series on climate change hosted by campus-community radio station CKUT. The broadcast also featured a performance by the Buffalo Hat Singers, a contemporary pow-wow group.

In his talk, Bazil explored the roles of overconsumption and capitalism in the destruction of the environment. He emphasized that it is these factors that lie at the root of oil and gas expansion, and that these issues must be dealt with in order to permanently stop pipeline projects.

“We could stop hundreds of pipelines, […]” said Bazil in his speech, “but if we do not stop the main pipeline that is overconsumption, if we do not stop that main pipeline around the planet, we will have to stop thousands more pipelines here.”

Bazil urged people to shift to a more humble lifestyle, and reminded the audience of a time when people took only what they needed to live from nature and left the rest.

“[Indigenous communities] could adapt the pace and scale of our mining,” he said. “It didn’t destroy waters, it didn’t devastate future generations’ possibility to live in a healthy environment.”

For the last few years, Bazil has been working along with the Unist’ot’en Camp, a community located in Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia, in their fight to keep gas and oil companies from using Wet’suwet’en lands for pipeline projects. The Unist’ot’en Camp has identified 11 currently proposed pipeline projects that would run through Wet’suwet’en territory. These pipelines would transport a range of oil and gas products, including bitumen, liquified natural gas, and natural-gas condensate – a corrosive and flammable substance often used to dilute crude oil extracted from tar sands. Bazil described how the extraction, transport, and consumption of these substances can cause severe harm to the environment, as spilled or leaked chemicals contaminate waters and accumulate in the surrounding ecosystem, resulting in a loss of biodiversity.

The Unist’ot’en resistance to these pipeline projects is further motivated by the devastation of other communities that have cooperated with oil and natural gas companies, such as Fort Nelson, British Columbia, where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, occurs. According to Bazil, clean water is now brought to some of the local communities in this area by trucks because natural water sources have become too polluted to drink.

Bazil also spoke to the adverse effects of oil and natural gas extraction for non-Western communities. “We’ve seen and heard of the spills in Bhopal, in Nigeria, in Ecuador, and all these spills are from the chemical companies that are providing to these hydraulic fracturing companies; […] at the point of extraction it’s devastating for communities just like ours.”

Irene Dambriunas, Women/Trans rep at CKUT and organizer of the Under the Weather series, told The Daily that one reason she invited Bazil to be part of the series was to get a unique perspective on the environmental issues faced by Canada today.

“Canada is going to be like open-heart surgery with arteries everywhere with the number of pipelines that are being proposed. And I wanted there to be a voice on pipelines that wasn’t corporate-driven, that wasn’t [a] dominant white male oil [company] CEO.”

“I would say that there’s no easy solution to what we are faced with,” Paula Peña Navarro, a Montreal resident attending the event, told The Daily. “But the most important thing is to focus on yourself and understand who you are as a person, and if you can do that you can effectively help other people.”

To conclude the presentation, Bazil reminded the audience of the importance of proactively creating change – learning from others, decreasing consumption, and having meaningful conversations – in addition to resisting and criticizing the status quo.

“That is really important because that is what’s necessary across the board. If we’re all looking to abandon nation states and their practices, we have to create something in its place.”