One reason I’m proud of my mom

(That’s my mother in the lavender sweater, two other civilan presenters seated to her right, the JRP panel across from them, Enbridge’s lawyers at the table marked “Applicant,” and a guy I think was a National Energy Board staffer.)

My mom, Sharon Priest-Nagata, was there to offer her thoughts on Northern Gateway because she had the foresight to sign up before the cutoff date: October 6th, 2011. That was before minister Joe Oliver called skeptical Canadians foreign-funded radicals, before Enbridge pipes popped in Alberta and Wisconsin,  before the manufactured security scare in Bella Bella and the multi-million dollar ad campaign and the omnibus bills and the missing islands and the fired cartoonist.

I was the only guest my mother was allowed to bring into the hearing. There was one other guest, a security guard, a stenographer, and two A/V technicians. I know my sister and a family friend both listened to the live feed online. A handful of other presenters were able to watch on a screen in an adjacent room, along with Emma Gilchrist from the Dogwood Initiative, Jenny Uechi from the Vancouver Observer, and some kind, helpful NEB staff members. Thank you all for bearing witness. I’m not sure how many curious members of the public were watching the video link at the other hotel, 14 blocks away, but I thank them too.

The panellists no longer have any power over the approval process. Our family’s testimony is of no interest to the people who will render the final decision. A couple of dozen people, all told, heard or will read my mother’s words. Why participate at all?

The best answer I can give is that this process has become an expensive, clunky opportunity to simply hear each other as neighbours and allies. It’s ten minutes to get a sense of how another person in your community came to a complex and emotional decision. I think that’s worth something. The people who presented (and I’ll note that the majority that day were women, many of them my mom’s age) are the people who saw the folly of this project from the outset, and had the tenacity to jump through all the hoops to get into that room and be heard. They’re probably the people we should be listening to. I thank them all for their testimony.

I didn’t expect my mom to get the panellists chuckling, or for another presenter to come up to her afterward in tears. I left the hearing unexpectedly moved. You don’t have to read the whole 1200 words. But in the spirit of the exercise, I’d like to post the official transcript here, publically, as it was delivered.

***

25911. MEMBER BATEMAN: Ms. Priest-Nagata? Have I pronounced it correctly?

25912. MS. SHARON PRIEST-NAGATA: Yes.

25913. MEMBER BATEMAN: Thank you for coming. Please present your
views.
— ORAL STATEMENT BY/EXPOSÉ ORAL PAR MS. SHARON PRIESTNAGATA:
25914. MS. SHARON PRIEST-NAGATA: Yes, thank you.
25915. My name is Sharon Priest-Nagata. I was born and raised in a very
small town, Pemberton, B.C. It was a little logging town in a farming valley, and
that’s where I learned to respect the land and — and the forces of nature.
25916. I’ve lived all my life in B.C. and our family now runs to five generations
born and raised here. Some are farmers, some resource workers,
some professionals. And I have friends and family who live along the proposed
route to Northern Gateway, but until last summer, I’d never seen the country west
of Prince George.
25917. Last August, I took the opportunity to write a letter of comment to the
Panel and two days later, I left on a solo camping trip. It was pretty exciting. It
was the first time I’ve done anything like that on my own.
25918. I wanted to go up to Prince George and then along the whole western
half of the route and then down the Skeena. And I’m seeing everywhere that I
went up there. So I went to Kitimat and then I went back to Terrace and then I
followed the Skeena down to Prince Rupert and caught the ferry and came down
the inside passage.
25919. It was a wonderful trip that I’d maybe like to tell you a little bit about
that later in the presentation.
25920. I was inspired to see these lands and waterways that the proposed
pipeline would push through just in case that it was approved and it might never
look like that again. I’m here today to speak for myself and also for other people
who weren’t able to speak today and for people who can’t speak for themselves,
including those who believe as I do that the proposed pipeline — excuse me. So
many people saying the same things, but thank you so much for listening.
25921. I don’t believe it should be approved at this time or — or any time in
the future.
25922. I also want to speak for my beautiful Mother Earth, who has rights, in
my view, including the right not to be destroyed just so other people — so that
people can become extremely wealthy before they die. And we all die. I don’t
believe the project is about prosperity for Canadians.
25923. It looks more and more like a very small number of people would
profit, people who don’t believe or can’t afford to believe that our biosphere has
become fragile and can’t tolerate the stresses of extracting and shipping and
burning the oil.
25924. The Enbridge Northern Gateway project is audacious in scope and in
daring. The engineers who would have to cross that rugged territory scraping out
a right-of-way with huge machinery and hand tools to lay the big pipes, they’re
brave, talented people and they’re used to hard work in all weathers, just like the
men I grew up with.
25925. We have a long history in B.C. of courageous men working on
dangerous projects. I think of the British and American surveyors who scratched
the 49 th parallel out of bush and bare rock in the 1850s and the British army
sappers who started in 1860 to build the highway up to Fraser Canyon and later
the Kettle Valley Railway with its steep ascents and skyscraper trestles. We
remember the Chinese who were worked, often to death, to build the CPR back in
the 1880s.
25926. These projects were all probably as controversial as the Enbridge
proposal is today. The difference is that back then it seemed like we had more
leeway. There truly was unbroken wilderness in all directions for hundreds of
miles and the toxins involved were more easily absorbed into that impressive
blanket of trees. The natural systems were not stressed as they are now and the
atmosphere had yet to fill up with all these gigatonnes of noxious gases.
25927. Even still, 100 years ago mistakes were made that can’t be undone. In
1910, the CN Rail line was being built along the other side of the Fraser River and
they were dynamiting for the rail bed. And at that time, they didn’t understand
very much about the salmon.
25928. In fact, I think there’s still a lot to be learned about them. And they
didn’t realize that the timing was crucial. And when they were dynamiting, the
river was full of rock and silted up and they actually killed the salmon run. So to
this day, the Adams River run only has three years out of the four. There’s a year
missing. It never was possible for it to recover because there’s nothing there.
25929. This brings me to my main concern with this project, and it’s really
just the speed in which it’s happening. I realize that for those of you on the Panel
this process may not seem very fast, but to me it feels like it’s moving quite
quickly. And I do appreciate your due diligence, but it just seems like the project
as a whole is galloping along.
25930. I work as a counsellor and a trauma therapist. That’s my area of
expertise. In trauma therapy, we help people by slowing down the traumatic
event. We inject what was missing at the time, for example, of an impact which
is time and space.
25931. When trauma happens, a mammal doesn’t have any time to orient or to
take appropriate action or to take care of itself. And I think that the speed at
which these change are happening, this project is moving, is literally traumatizing
for many of us. Concerned citizens don’t have time to orient to events as they
happen.
25932. We can’t decide even if we’re given an opportunity whether or not
these are, indeed, good for Canadians and I say to people, well, everything still
looks good out there. The crops are growing. The trees are standing. We all go
to work. We come home at night. But the natural systems that we depend on are
all very delicate and everything has a breaking point and every person does, too.
And this I know very well in my work.
25933. Generation Y — that’s my son, Kai, over there. He’s a Gen Y, the 20-
somethings. They blame the boomers, and I’m a boomer, for amassing wealth
instead of protecting the environment or for amassing debt, pursuing their own
dreams and falling asleep at the wheel.
25934. I wish I had time to tell you about my last year. Twenty-twelve (2012)
was my year to wake up, and I credit this project with uniting me with my
children and their friends. And I thank Enbridge for inspiring me to take the most
beautiful trip of my entire life. I’ve never been happier than I was in that two
weeks all by myself, driving my trusty old Toyota all through that area.
25935. The Bulkley Valley was everything I’ve every heard about. It’s just a
jewel. It’s a place where three ecosystems come together. It’s stunning. I stayed
in campsites and riverbanks and beaches.
25936. The drive from Smithers through Moricetown — somebody’s phoning
me; I’m so sorry. I watched the dip-netting that’s still happening just like in the
old days in Moricetown. I went to Terrace. I took a side trip to the lava beds in
the Nass Valley. I went to Kitimat and the old Kitamaat Village. And the most
breathtaking drive I’ve ever been on was from Terrace down to Prince Rupert
along the Skeena. It was pure delight.
25937. And I remember longing to see whales and spirit bears and all those
things I’d heard of, but the most exciting animal I saw was actually a caterpillar,
but it was like the size of my finger and it was moving along this riverbank with
nothing in site. Where did it come from? Where was it going? And it was moving at
such a great rate. And I just thought, well thank you. So I took movies of that
caterpillar. Nobody cares. They didn’t want to see it.
25938. The absolute highlight, though, was the ferry trip down the inside
passage. And I will say I’m pretty staunch, but I got sick in the Hecate Strait and
the weather was pretty calm, but there was just that little area there of open ocean.
25939. So why should any or all of that be threatened by a project that even
without having a spill would contribute hugely to the destruction of the liveability
of an entire planet? I’ve discovered that it’s actually very hard to live happily in
the face of this knowledge that our own government and many people we live
amongst are willing to let this species die out rather than put their expertise and
their dollars to work developing clean energy. Because if we did that, we could
then as a nation contribute something positive to the world and be proud of
ourselves again.
25940. And so I stand opposed to this sad project because the risks to our
beautiful wilderness and the coast and the livelihoods of everyone along the coast
are unacceptable to me. And I have concluded that the best way to stay happy
and psychologically healthy so I can keep doing my work and being a mom and
being a person is to become politically aware and to also have some kind of
spiritual practice.
25941. And so I will continue to stand up for my great mother and all the
beautiful, irreplaceable food and medicinal plants and the fish and the rivers and
the streams, the wonderful trees, the birds and the insects, because nature is what
humbles me and brings me joy. And in nature I feel at home.
25942. Thank you.
25943. THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you for sharing your views with us.

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13 comments
  1. thank you dear one. Can you forward this to Poppa please?

  2. rrrwong said:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! Your mom rocks! I presented at the JRP yesterday and also found it surprisingly moving to hear so many experiences and such love for the lands and waters that keep us alive.

  3. jean hamilton said:

    wow! beautiful, powerfully written with simple but moving words. gawd i wish i could write better, i mean’t that as thanks and as a compliment.

  4. jean hamilton said:

    also, I want to see the caterpillar film!

  5. Daniel Murphy said:

    kai, this is brilliant. thanks for sharing it, and a major thank you to your mom. -dan

    • I’ll pass it along. She’s a big fan of your work too.

  6. Bob Priest said:

    Hey. That’s my daughter!. I’m proud of the fact that she is a free thinker, and does not hesitate to express her thoughts and ideals’

  7. judith gray said:

    I love your Mom and her ability to voice her opinion. I too am very proud of her.

  8. “One Reason”? Your mother represented ALL reasons! Thanks Ms. Priest-Nagata and thanks Kai for posting this.

  9. Your mom is awesome. Truly. Thanks for the post

  10. Heather said:

    So eloquent and heartfelt. I would be bursting with pride if she was my mom too. Thank you for sharing this.

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