Fort St. James and area residents ride the Freedom Train

Local First Nations representatives are riding the Freedom Train - to Toronto.

Local First Nations representatives are riding the Freedom Train – to Toronto.

The Freedom Train is an initiative by the Yinka Dene Alliance, a group of Carrier and Sekani First Nations in northern B.C., and is a trip organized by the group to give attention to their opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project.

“It seems like they never get the message, no matter how many times we’ve told them no,” said Geraldine Thomas-Flurer, one of the coordinators of the effort for the Yinka Dene Alliance.

Chief Dolly Abraham of Takla Lake First Nation, Chief Jackie Thomas of Saik’uz First Nation, Chief Martin Louie of Fraser Lake, Hereditary Chief Tsoh Dih (Peter Erickson), Euphrasia Sam, Annie Sam, Cassandra Thomas and Elicia Prince, all of Nak’azdli First Nation, are all on the train bound for Toronto.

The idea came from a similar concept, the Constitutional Train, done back in 1980, when First Nations were trying to gain support for the recognition of aboriginal rights and title.

Dr. Sophie Thomas, grandmother of Thomas-Flurer, as well as Chief Jackie Thomas (before she was chief) were both on the train in 1980 from Sai’kuz First Nation.

The train will be going from northern B.C. across the country to Canada’s largest city, where the group of about 40 opponents of the project will then rally at Enbridge’s Annual General Meeting on May 9, 2012.

There were events scheduled in Jasper, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg along the way to raise awareness for their cause and there will be a concert in Toronto on May 8 in solidarity with the group.

The group is carrying water from all their different territories and combining it with the water of the places they are visiting in water ceremonies to give thanks and draw attention to water usage and contamination in the tar sands, calling water a non-renewable resource.

“I don’t think that anything that Enbridge has to offer is worth the risk,” she said.

Thomas-Flurer said the preservation of B.C. as a fairly pristine place is important to keep the tourism and fishing industries alive and to protect the water.

“What we are trying to do is for everyone, it’s not a First Nations issue, it’s a human issue,” she said. “We want to keep B.C. beautiful.”

Upon the group’s arrival in Edmonton at midnight, they were met at the train station by local First Nations including drumming.

When she spoke to The Courier, the group had just finished rallying at the Alberta Legislature to send a message to the Ablerta premier she won’t be able to force the pipeline on B.C., said Thomas-Flurer.

She cited the recently announced B.C. NDP opposition to the pipeline and said she hopes the communities of Vanderhoof, Fort St. James, Fraser Lake and Burns Lake will come out in opposition to the project as well.

The entire contingent on the train is surviving on a shoestring budget, according to Thomas-Flurer, but has gotten help with people billeting the group and helping feed them along the way.

“We wouldn’t be able to do it without that support,” she said, adding the energy of the group is really high.

“If anything, Enbridge has brought our communities together like never before.”

She said they have been inspiring First Nations as they go to stand up for their beliefs.

“We’re only going to get stronger as we go across Canada,” she said.

The group will be presenting the Save the Fraser Declaration to the executives of Enbridge at the AGM in Toronto, which is a document signed by over 170 First Nations in Canada declaring their opposition to the Northern Gateway Project which would cross the headwaters of the Fraser River.

“Water is life, for our peoples and for all living things that depend on it. The Fraser River and its tributaries are our lifeline,” states the declaration. “We call on all who would place our land and waters at risk – we have suffered enough, we will protect our watersheds, and we will not tolerate this great threat to us and to all future generations.”

The Yinka Dene Alliance is made up of a coalition of First Nations whose territory covers over 25 per cent of the route of the proposed Northern Gateway project.

The project, which would cross over 750 rivers and streams carrying 525,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day 1,177 km from northern Alberta to Kitimat, B.C.. The crossings would include the Fraser, Skeena and Mackenzie watersheds.

The Freedom Train has left the area and will be rallying in Toronto May 9. For more information on their trip, check out: freedomtrain2012.com.

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