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Gitga’at and Spirit Bear Grace National Geographic’s August Cover

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It’s a “white-knuckled fight” against the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline from the Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta, and the Gitga'at First Nation is determined to safeguard the mooksgm'ol, or Spirit Bear, and its rainforest habitat from the havoc wreaked by pipeline leaks and oil spills.

The August cover story of National Geographic profiles this white black bear, the Gitga’at and the struggle against Calgary-based Enbridge’s attempts to build a pipeline from the oil sands in Alberta to the Pacific coast, cutting right through the territory of dozens of First Nations. Such a pipeline would be Canada’s key to the international market beyond the U.S.—China is thirsting for fuel, for instance—but numerous First Nations coalitions have turned down financial incentives designed to get them to permit the transport of the extracted crude and gas across their lands.

Also at issue is the method of getting the oil ocean-bound: Under the plan, huge oil tankers, some as tall as an NYC skyscraper, would wend their way up winding, narrow waterways to Kitimat, which is coastal but not on the open sea, and load up on the viscous liquid.

A spill anywhere along the route, the Gitga’at and others point out, could have far-reaching repercussions on the environment and thus the people who depend on it.

Enbridge, steeped in p.r. problems stemming from a variety of noxious pipeline spills in both Canada and the U.S., on July 28 responded to National Geographic’s coverage with a statement of its own.

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“Enbridge worked extensively with National Geographic staff prior to publication in an attempt to render balance to this article,” the company said. “Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, very little of that information was actually included in the article.”

Taking issue with the headline “Pipeline Through Paradise,” Enbridge said, “it suggests the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline would run through the Great Bear area. In fact, the proposed pipeline route would end at Kitimat, which is 32 km from the nearest protected area associated with the ‘Great Bear Rainforest.’ ”

In addition the company has “proposed a world-class marine safety plan, including double hulled ships, compulsory use of experienced, licensed B.C. pilots, and tethering to powerful escort tugs,” Enbridge said. Moreover it plans to help develop an “advanced system of shipping aids” to exceed Canada’s standards “and greatly improve safety for all shipping on B.C.’s north coast.”

At Guarding the Gifts, a charitable organization established by the Gitga’at First Nation in conjunction with the King Pacific Lodge resort, you can adopt a foot of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Here’s more about the Spirit Bear, known as the Kermode bear, at the Manataka American Indian Council.