The Oil Man and the Sea: Navigating the Northern Gateway by Arno Kopecky

At a point, I got myself out of sync on the reading selections for the Aboriginal Pride with 12CSI reading list.  It all began at the reading of Clearing the Plains.  I haven’t reviewed this book yet because, honestly, I still have a chapter to go. (Intense)  This one should be required reading for every post secondary student…but, more on that another time!

Regardless, I attended the book clubs for those few months, as I am always so grateful for the fact that such excellent conversations occur and I learn so much.

The Oil Man and the Sea: Navigating the Northern Gateway by Arno Kopecky did not seem, by its title, to be anything I would ever consider picking up to read and yet, upon the recommendation by a book club member, I did.  While Arno Kopecky is not an Indigenous author, the book was suggested for its connection to numerous Indigenous activists, elders, fishermen and various people impacted by development and encroachment around the Northern Gateway.  This author introduced me to many of the issues surrounding the history and planning for transportation of product in a highly pristine and essential part of Canada.  One might argue that the narrative might be skewed, given that the writer is speaking from a non-indigenous voice, however, I feel that my personal journey addressing the Calls to Action involves a lot of discernment and many voices.  I have been living in a sort of fog all of these years, where it comes to this discourse.

45. We call upon the Government of Canada, on behalf of
all Canadians, to jointly develop with Aboriginal peoples
a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by
the Crown. The proclamation would build on the Royal
Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara of 1764,
and reaffirm the nation-to-nation relationship between
Aboriginal peoples and the Crown. The proclamation
would include, but not be limited to, the following

i. Repudiate concepts used to justify European
sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such
as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.
ii. Adopt and implement the United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as
the framework for reconciliation.
iii. Renew or establish Treaty relationships based on
principles of mutual recognition, mutual respect,
and shared responsibility for maintaining those
relationships into the future.
iv. Reconcile Aboriginal and Crown constitutional
and legal orders to ensure that Aboriginal peoples
are full partners in Confederation, including the
recognition and integration of Indigenous laws and
legal traditions in negotiation and implementation
processes involving Treaties, land claims, and other
constructive agreements.

47. We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and
municipal governments to repudiate concepts used to
justify European sovereignty over Indigenous peoples
and lands, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra
nullius, and to reform those laws, government policies,
and litigation strategies that continue to rely on such

This book is built for the adventurer and for the person who has a big appreciation for wild parts of Canada that, despite the challenges in favour of development, industry and encroachment, remains one of the few places that exemplify that particular MAGIC that comes with WILD.

My preamble…then, I’ll carry on about the book.  This next paragraph is from my gut…a simple formulation of my own feelings.  Yes.  I drive a car.  Yes. I purchase packaged items.  Don’t throw tomatoes.

The Canadian government has demonstrated tremendous determination to create/grow an economy built on the back of energy.  There is no way that Canadians see ‘everything that goes on’, given the vast and oft-isolated topographical regions of this country, our home.  What we don’t see, can’t bother us.  And yet, living in these far off places, our indigenous brothers and sisters are well-aware of the tapping out of resources, the destruction and the economic hardship resulting from the abandonment of industry as it becomes obsolete or sucked dry.  There are witnesses.

Documentation to some of this…check out Alan MacLean’s photos at this site.  Let’s just take a bit of a look at Alberta.

I’m just going to let you sit with those images.  I’ve been sitting with them, and all I have to say is that things are way out of control and so much about it has to do with economics and employment.  ‘Corporate’ Canada wants YOU!

Enough of a side-lined rant!

The book is a good one…it moves very quickly.  It isn’t a struggle and it is certainly not dark or apocalyptic.  Arno Kopecky and photographer Ilja Herb, take the reader on a magical journey (I felt like I was there) aboard a small sailing boat…well, is forty-one feet, small?  It seems small to me.  Neither of them had prior experience sailing.  So, one aspect of the book is the story of negotiating this boat through British Columbia’s central coast.  So, firstly, this would be considered an adventure book as in this part of our country, the inland passages are linked together by a dramatic network of fjords, islands and lush forested land masses interspersed with inlets.  I was enamoured by the descriptions of place throughout and feel as though I was introduced to the Great Bear Rainforest in a very honest way.

Second to this, I enjoyed the many personal narratives by the people and accounts about the people who, in several cases, gave these men safe harbour, assisted in repairs and often contributed to the content of the book through interviews.  Several participants have committed their lives to the protection of this land and water, knowing full well that this is likely the last great wilderness on earth.  The writer seemed naive at times, meeting such wise and dedicated individuals.

Third, I grew in my knowledge about the history and planning of Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway.  My knowledge now exceeds what I’ve picked up over news stories these last many years.  The book was generous in terms of presenting several different perspectives, as well.  I learned that the weather through this region is unpredictable and that the waters to be negotiated are prone to storms and crazy conditions.  It doesn’t take much for Canadians to realize the risk that such conditions pose to wildlife and environment.

The book was beautiful in its rich description of the land, the wildlife, the people and the waters.  I highly recommend this read.  As a result of this reading, I send out unlimited positive wishes regarding our human reliance on non-renewable energy sources and the almost obsessive willingness we have to challenge the delicate eco-systems of our nation, in order to continue down the same path, rather than pour that same energy into alternative solutions.

As of 2016, this… A look at the status of Northern Gateway and other major Canadian pipeline projects

January 2018…of course….lost revenue. 

What comes of all of it is that we need to challenge our thinking.  My readers are either extremely right on this issue OR extremely left…I think that the important thing is that we discern the various implications and decide what is most important to us.  This book revealed to me the physical nature of the rugged coastline, the past issues surrounding the use of oil tankers in even more benign waters…and the high potential for an ecological disaster.

My peeps, as captured by Michelle Robinson.  I love this lady…and I love her archive of photographs!  We were visited that night by APTN National News.