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COMMENTARY · 8th March 2012
Merv Ritchie
March 8, 2012
Dear Sir, Ma’ams

You might have heard of me, I am the founder of the Terrace Daily News and website. I have met you Ms. Clark and have written you previously Mr. Harper. Ms. Redford I regret we have not had contact before. Today I must address all three of you together. I confess I have written quite harshly about each of you and feel I need to take this opportunity to explain why and encourage each of you to take an exceptional position, one which might boost your political ratings and maybe ensure your future. I do this even though I have not supported any of you and will likely not support you in the future, though if you consider the following even I might be swayed.

I write in regards to your collective interests in selling the petroleum products from Alberta through British Columbian ports.

Only two actions need to be undertaken to potentially reverse the opposition and boost your ratings with the majority of the public in Canada and likely even internationally. Change the manner in which all tankers carry all refined and unrefined petroleum products and initiate a program to restore Northwest BC First Nations traditional governance. These two actions are intrinsically connected.

The National Energy Board (NEB) Enbridge Joint Review Panel (JRP) has faced an almost unbroken wall of opposition from every NW First Nation. The Haida, Tsimshian, Haisla, Gitxsan, Wet’sewe’ten and the Nisga’a. Every one of these people has spoken about their way of life and the harvesting of their food that the tankers and pipeline will put at risk.

The worry, of course, is the potential risk of a spill which many have stated is the “certainty” of a spill. The only variable is when and where. The reduction of this “risk” has an easy solution. Shipping the product by container, sealed at the production facilities, by rail to the port and onto container vessels much like the Cosco container vessels today.

Many people use the argument that those who want to stop the pipeline and tankers are all against development and progress. This is not the case.

Just a few decades ago we put our fuel tanks (heating oil and gasoline) underground into bare dirt, which rotted the tanks leaving a spill. Today we ensure the tanks won’t rot and in many cases put them above ground, double skinned sealed with a vacuum and a gauge to ensure the inner vacuum remains secure.

The same method should now be applied to tankers plying the ocean and to rail cars traversing and paralleling rivers. All these rail cars should be double skinned just like our above ground fuel tanks are today and stackable like containers today. All the shipping of bitumen should be via the same method, sealed in cars from the Tars/Oil Sands to China, no exposure to the elements, from the production facility to the destination. A vessel breaking up at sea would see floating containers not spilled oil.

The cost of this modification from our current methods of transporting this product is easily recoverable and justifiable.

First, the oil consuming world was easily able to absorb the increase from $40/barrel to over $100/barrel. So were service stations that converted and repaired their underground fuel storage facilities to meet the new environmental requirements in the 1990’s.

Second, with sealed tank cars we would not have to import more condensate to thin out the product so it will flow in a pipe, nor would we need to heat the product so it will flow in the pipes, or in the case of the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal, even build a pipeline.

The rail tank containers could be shipped in return full of condensate for the current pipelines in use or any other product still required in North America.

The cost of the "upgrade" to double skinned sealed rail tankers would easily be recovered by the savings to the spillage threat and insurance premiums, the now unnecessary ‘new’ pipelines, the savings in not purchasing more condensate, the potential cost of clean ups and the cost presently to the environment.

Another, maybe more significant environmental concern, is the manner in which ‘Bunker Fuel” in the ocean going freighters and tankers is managed today. The Rena, a container vessel which broke up on a reef near New Zealand is a good example as is the currently leaking BC Ferry, Queen of the North, now at the bottom near Gill Island. Canada could, with your combined leadership, initiate a change. The following could be made a requirement for all vessels entering our territorial waters.

Tankers/freighters/ships could be re-fabricated to employ slots to hold rail car sized fuel tanks that could be easily extracted during a grounding or break up. Electrically engaged solenoid valves could immediately seal off these tanks during an emergency or impending disaster such that the recovery and security of the fuel would be maintained.

I wouldn’t expect you to be aware of the following though you might be.

It is the “Keel Hold” of all ocean freighters that contains the raw, unprocessed bunker fuel. This is the tar like substance which spoils the beaches and seashores such as what happened in New Zealand with the MV Rena disaster. These fuel holds are exposed on all these tankers at various locations, generally at the bottom (hence “Keel Hold”), and are seldom double hulled as they are not considered crude oil ‘Tankers’. The quantity of the fuel though can be quite large. These vessels burn this thick heavy crude as soon as they are far enough away from shore the excessive pollution won’t be considered. The engines are designed to run on it. In harbour the vessel switches to lighter, cleaner burning fuels, however they hold massive quantities of the raw bunker crude as their main fuel supply.

The implementation of these measures does not guarantee acceptance though you might discover significantly less resistance.

This is all I have to say on this first issue, the selling and transportation of the Alberta oil product, other than to state my personal preference is to have it all fully refined near to Fort Mac.

On the issues of First Nations Governance.

Mr. Prime Minister, you issued an apology on behalf of Canada for the historical treatment of the Indian peoples. What wasn’t provided with the apology was an action to assist in repairing the culture we admitted we harmed. When the children were forcibly taken and the “potlatch” was forbidden, we in effect destroyed the native elders’ ability to share their culture. To be sincere in our apology we must assist them in rebuilding/restoring their system of governance, their culture.

How this ties into and belongs within this discussion on the export of the Alberta product through BC is very important. Currently both levels of Government are struggling to address the First Nations concerns yet seem to be unable to find one single unified representative body to address these concerns with. This dilemma is due to the actions we apologized for.

The region of BC where the proposed Enbridge pipeline is to traverse, from Burns Lake to Douglas Channel, and the waters in which the vessels will sail, from Kitamaat past Haida Gwaii, all originally belong to a unique identifiable group. One could rightly call them all descendents of Damelahamid. Again these are the Haida, Tsimshian, Haisla, Gitxsan, Wet’sewe’ten, Nisga’a and include the Tahltan and the Tlingit.

Next week a group calling themselves the dancers of Damelahamid are performing at UBC (University of British Columbia) Museum of Anthropology. These descendants of Damelahamid all share similar house groups. This is what you may know of as Eagles, Ravens, Killer Whales, Wolves, Beavers among others, and the high Damelahamid House group, Fireweed.

Each of these house groups in each of the Nations has high ranking leaders called Sm’ooyget. It was with their “feasting” in their longhouses, which we called the “potlatch”, the government structure and culture flourished. It could be argued the banning of the potlatch caused more harm than the residential schools. The Hereditary, matrilineal system of governance survives today though just by a thread.

A proper, sincere and just response along with the apology would be to assist these nations to restore their system of governance.

Currently your governments are funding INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) Band Councils and Treaty Societies but ignore the Traditional Hereditary Government, which we admitted with the apology, our Canadian system systematically destroyed. At the close of the Supreme Court of Canada Appeal Court ruling on the BC Supreme Court trial; Delgamuukw v. British Columbia [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1010, it was clearly demonstrated the Hereditary system of governance still exists and is superior to the INAC Band Councils. To apologize and then fund Treaty Societies and Band Councils in opposition to the Sm’oogyet, and to ignore the culture and traditional governance we admitted we harmed is patently wrong. This is at the core of why all levels of government and industry find constant difficulty in negotiating and resolving conflicts.

INAC and our Courts, with funding by both levels of government, have allowed the Band Councils, Treaty Societies and the Hereditary System of Governance to engage in legal conflicts.

This week the Gitxsan Nation is in the Smithers, BC Supreme Court engaged in a battle for power with all three sides struggling against each other. This should be seen as an embarrassment by both the BC Government and our Prime Minister after the heartfelt apology. It is both levels of our governments who are funding this tragedy. This is the birth place of Damelahamid! Will we need to make another apology?

Prior to any funding of any Treaty Society our governments had a duty to ensure the Hereditary Sm’oogyet structure was properly in place. To allow persons such as Elmer Derrick, Bev Percival and Gordon Sebastian to claim superior Sm’oogyet status and fund them to the tune of $20 million is a direct breech of the governments’ fiduciary duty. As was made clear in the Courts, the Society had been operating illegally for many years yet the funding by your governments was maintained.

The Haisla Nation is also facing this Court turmoil when the INAC Band Council of Steve Wilson sued their highest Hereditary Chiefs. This case is currently still under appeal. It is a disgrace to allow such activities to continue when we are aware of, and have already apologised for the past wrongs, which precipitated this dilemma.

Once again there is an easy solution. And again it will take the combined leadership of you and your governments. There must be an order issued to restrict or forbid any and all court actions and judgements against any of these nations and/or their peoples, the descendents of Damelahamid, until the High Hereditary Sm’oogyet of each of the eight nations gather in a Grand Council and recognize the legitimacy and proper name holding, through the proper matrilineal linage and feasting, of each others Nations High Sm’oogyet. As all of these Nations peoples are brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles of each other, they all have a part in understanding and correcting the improper holding of Sm’oogyet names, the foundation of their culture. Only when each of these nations declares the high Sm’oogyet of each of their seven neighbouring nations are properly in place can one be certain the culture and traditional government is true again.

Much like Canada has a higher authority than the elected Parliament; the Governor General and the Senate with traditional instruments such as the Mace, so does each of the Nations of Damelahamid over their elected Band Councils. It is our duty to reinstate this system of governance.

Only after this is completed can your governments, and the associated economic ventures in these combined territories, claim to be conducting affairs legitimately. Elected Chiefs and Societies are not a legitimate level of governance to make decisions on territorial matters. And that is all I have to say on the matter of the First Nations Governance.

On the Health of the Forests

The last issue I wish to bring your attention to is the duty to protect 25% of the oxygen supply of the planet we all reside on. It is a well known fact BC hosts one quarter of the rainforest of the world. This forest growth is responsible for producing a significant portion of the air all Earth inhabitants require. From Vancouver to north of Prince Rupert all of these forests are nourished by the rotting carcasses of spawning salmon pulled out of the rivers and streams by bears and dragged off into to forest floors by wolves and other creatures.

This is one of the most significant issues you, as our government leaders must address. It is the health of the waters, in the ocean and on the land, which is of paramount importance. The salmon must survive to ensure the trees are properly nourished. The evidence is recorded in numerous studies.

The territorial regions held by the descendents of Damelahamid contain three of the largest and most important salmon bearing rivers; the Stikine, the Nass and the Skeena. All three of these have the Klappan ‘Ground Hog’ coal reserves as their origin.

The Stikine River (the Grand Canyon of the North) starts east of Mount Klappan and wraps around the Spatzizi Wilderness Plateau in a huge east/north/west arc. As it winds around on its course to the Pacific past Telegraph Creek the Spatzizi and the Klappan Rivers feed into the Stikine.

The Skeena River begins at the base of Mount Klappan and as it flows south many other large rivers feed into it including the Sustat, Bulkley and Babine Rivers.

The Nass River also starts at the Ground Hog Coal reserve and it is fed by numerous large tributaries as it finds its way to the Pacific through the Nisga’a territories.

All of these rivers begin at the same location, a huge undisturbed coal field. All of them nurture the spawning salmon which nurture the forests, which arguably produce a quarter of the worlds oxygen supply. It would seem foolhardy to disturb this coalbed water filter. Similar to an aquarium or a countertop Brita water filter, it is the coal which filters the water. Literally millions of streams and creeks are tributaries to these great rivers and almost all feature spawning salmon to feed all life, animate and not.

In Conclusion

Engaging in any activity that might threaten the health of the spawning salmon is at the heart of all the protests and opposition your governments are facing. The people who have ensured the salmon have survived to this day are the descendents of Damelahamid. Your combined efforts to protect these people, the salmon and the forests will raise your profile not just in your localities but on the international stage.

This region must be protected and I believe I have shown how a small measure of effort could be employed to effect the protection required without restricting to much economic activity. The current crude oil shipping plan on open bulk tanker vessels via pipelines to tank farms is simply and completely unacceptable.

A feature all of you might use to draw even more attention to yourselves and the region, a feature to market your efforts internationally, is the profile image in the rivers of Damelahamid. The three great rivers, the Stikine, Nass and Skeena, form this profile. It could be seen as the Great Fireweed Sm’ooyget looking east to Alberta and Ottawa. I attach two images that demonstrate this remarkable feature.

I offer you this information for your awareness. You must become fully cognisant of the impact your actions and decisions will have on the future, not just of the peoples of the Northwest but to the health of what is properly called “The Lungs of the Earth”. Imagine threatening the health of the forests that provide a quarter of the worlds oxygen supply.

With kind regards and my appreciation for the difficult position you are in,

Merv Ritchie

Prime Minister Steven Harper - pm,,,
Premier Christy Clark - premier,,,
Premier Alison Redford - calgary.elbow,,,

Sent in a follow up email

Further reading on these subjects in greater detail and depth.

Understanding Northwest First Nations Chiefs

Where The Waters Begin.

The Future of Shipping Oil – The Rena Spill

Verbal Presentation to the Enbridge JRP by Merv Ritchie.
Why not TEUs?
Comment by gemlog on 6th October 2012
Make double walled TEU's (Trailer Equivalent Unit) and ship them through Rupert. The infrastructure to handle that shape and size is already there. The rails are there and the port is there, ready and very willing. It doesn't hurt that it's far safer and more accessible than Kitimat either.

Comment by Reinier Kanis on 9th March 2012
You have written a lot of very good articles in the past, but after reading this one I have to say it is almost unbelievable why they never thought of using this option before? If they are serious about shipping it safely, it can be done, you’re absolutely right.

If it has occurred to them to do it this way, the obvious reason for not doing it has to be they want profit and they don’t give a $hit about our environment, just pump it and run when the pump runs out of sellable goods.

Awesome article! Nice to see at least that in British Columbia there are people left that did not sniff enough oil to have lost their collective intelligence.
Your comments
Comment by Ralfryan on 9th March 2012
I certainly agree with the bulk of your comments. I do feel the attitude of the public is a bit "off" regarding the pipelines and tankers. Double hulls are not that much extra cost and there are many more safety features which can be built in to a ship. I think environmental conditions could be considered before a ship sails and the ship forced to wait out storms in safe harbours. To increase the safety of the pipelines is simply a no brainer as the consumer ends up paying for all of it. The crux of the matter is to get the oil companies to upfront the money! I think instead of stopping the pipelines and shipps it would be far more productive for the public to get orgainized, limit themselves to one powerful voice and insist on the voice of veto on any safety features not built into the systems. This will no doubt make a huge impact on the price of energy but it may also be cause for the energy companies to seek area where energy is more easily available from both a cost of transportation as well as protection of the environment.
I applaud your logic
Comment by blocky bear on 8th March 2012
and your comments. I truly hope the people you have addressed will take the time to read and consider. d.b.