News 2014

  • DECEMBER 2014

Nota Tribuna










Enbridge protest in Victoria in 2012

Enbridge protest in Victoria in 2012

 There’s nothing like being in the Great Bear Rainforest to be reminded of what is at stake. As Heiltsuk hereditary chief Harvey Humchitt told me, as we talked tankers in Bella Bella this past summer, the risk of an oil spill isn’t for coastal communities alone. “It’s not only for First Nations people but it’s for everyone who uses sea resources—fishermen, sports fishermen, tourists, people that travel throughout our coast.”

If the federal government had its way, supertankers would soon be plying north coast waters. But in the groundswell of opposition throughout British Columbia over the past few years there is a deep determination to chart a different path.

The federal government has approved Enbridge Northern Gateway. But First Nations have banned it. And now many First Nations have gone to court to challenge the federal approval. This pipeline is far from a done deal.

Does that mean the rest of us can sit back and assume all is taken care of? No, far from it. We have reached a critical moment in the fight against this pipeline and the tankers that threaten B.C.’s coast and communities, and we still need all hands on deck.

First Nation legal challenges have the power to delay Northern Gateway past the point of no return. However, taking on these court challenges is an expensive burden for these small communities.

Five of the nations going to court are the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, and Gitxaala nations (on B.C.’s central and north coast, along the proposed oil tanker route), and the Nadleh Whut’en and Nak’azdli nations (in the northern interior, along the proposed pipeline route). These are remote, rural communities, taking a stand against a large corporation and a federal government trying to push a pipeline and tankers on an unwilling province. They have courage and wisdom rooted in thousands of years of governance, and the strength of aboriginal title on their side.

They are determined and willing to go it alone and do what it takes to protect their lands and communities. But they are up against big forces—and it doesn’t seem right that they should be standing alone.

“The oil companies have endlessly deep pockets, and First Nations don’t, so we decided that fundraising is the best way for us to support these legal challenges,” says Anne Hill of North West Watch, a community group in Terrace. With a spaghetti dinner and awards evening, North West Watch raised $2,000, and then issued a challenge to others around the province to step up as well.

Inspired by the commitment of northern communities, Sierra Club B.C. is partnering with Raven Trust and the five nations to launch an innovative, community-based fundraising campaign called Pull Together.

Pull Together encourages people to fundraise online and/or organize solidarity events in their communities to support the First Nation legal challenges. It’s a tangible way individuals, communities, and businesses can provide financial support to First Nations and moral support to everyone on the front lines against Enbridge.

Already a range of groups and individuals have begun to organize in creative ways.

An evening of live music with over 10 local musicians, organized by Fresh Water Jukebox, raised $800 in Penticton. The Friends of Morice-Bulkley raised $925 at a film screening in Smithers.

Renate Herberger, a self-described mermaid, swam the 22 kilometres of the chilly Saanich Inlet, in a grueling 10 hours on August 5, to raise awareness about the threats to our oceans. “When we act on what we believe in, each contributing in some small way, we can achieve amazing goals. I believe in personal responsibility to each other and to the earth,” she says.

One couple set up a Pull Together fundraising page to encourage donations instead of wedding gifts and quickly surpassed their goal of $1,000.

The First Unitarian Church in Victoria is donating half of their Sunday service collections in October. Yoga studios are raising thousands. More and more events are popping up all the time and already over $51,000 has been raised. Recently a generous donor has offered to match every dollar raised, bringing the actual total to $102,000 so far!

Chief Marilyn Slett of the Heiltsuk Nation told me the generous outpouring of support means a lot, and helps them have the strength to bring these legal challenges forward. “It’s a good feeling knowing that we’re standing together united in solidarity with British Columbians at large.”

Not only are people raising money, they are having fun, building connections within their communities, and journeying along a path of reconciliation with First Nations.

So go ahead. Do something small or do something big. Anything you contribute will make a real difference.

By taking a stand for their people, these nations are in fact taking a stand for us all. “This Enbridge issue is not just a First Nations issue,” Doug Neasloss, Kitasoo/Xai’xais councillor, told me as we explored an estuary looking for grizzly bears. “It’s not just my community or the central coast or coastal B.C….it’s all of our issue as British Columbians and as Canadians.”

So let’s support the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo-Xai’xais, Gitxaala, Nadleh Whut’en, and Nak’azdli nations—because when we pull together, we are the wall of opposition that can stop the Enbridge dirty oil pipeline from ever getting built.
Caitlyn Vernon is the campaigns director for Sierra Club B.C. To find out more about the Pull Together campaign, visit
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by Caitlyn Vernon on Oct 21, 2014 at 2:14 pm

  • SEPTEMBER 2014

Breaking the silence for Silvan


  • FEBRUARY 2014

Herberger Tico Times 021414

Renate Herberger, in full regalia, during one of her epic swims. This year she will stroke 1,100 kilometers in two months.

(Courtesy Renate Herberger)


Before she begins her 1,100-kilometer swim, Renate Herberger always sings a song to the African goddess Yemaya, who watches over the sea. A self-described Pagan, Herberger asks Yemaya for permission to enter the endless Pacific. On Monday, Jan. 27, she will sing that song again.

“I hear about these Mt. Everest climbers,” she says. “For them, it is man against nature. For me, it’s the opposite. I don’t fight the ocean. It is has a sweetness to it. The longer I swim, the quieter my mind becomes.”

This mentality works wonders: Herberger has swum the length of Costa Rica’s Pacific shore six times before, once annually since 2008. This year marks her seventh – and final – attempt, as she once again raises awareness for the marine environment. Herberger is interested in a variety of aquatic concerns, from Californian sea turtles to wild salmon, but in Costa Rica, Herberger is most preoccupied by coral reefs, which have been dying at an unprecedented rate in recent decades.

“It makes your heart break, out in the ocean,” Herberger says. “This is a moment of a real emergency.”

A native of Baden-Baden, Germany, Herberger is a trained dancer and dance therapist. She spends her summers in Germany as a kayak guide, and she is also a certified water therapist. She has taught five languages in classrooms around the world. At 55, Herberger is energetic and fast-talking, and laughs heartily. Her English is so excellent that her accent is hard to discern. When she was 4 years old, she learned how to swim, and her passion grew exponentially from there. “If things went wrong in my life, I would have a swim,” she says.

During a teaching stint in Mexico, Herberger started taking longer swims in the ocean. While Herberger has always been a strong athlete, the distance and tidal shifts were dangerous for a solo swimmer. But Herberger feels most comfortable in the water, in part for health reasons: She suffers the aftereffects of thrombosis, or blot clotting in her legs, and aquatic sports are the most effective physical therapy. “I must swim every day,” Herberger says, “or else I become very sick.”

Herberger has taken her long-distance swimming to Costa Rica and Mexico, and she has even circled the island of Barbados. During her first visit in Costa Rica, she vowed to complete seven swims altogether, a number that seems to hold special significance to her. These migratory swims always carry the weight of activism, for Herberger routinely stops at schools and communities and gives presentations. During some trips, she will spend more time lecturing than swimming, and a single route can take four months. She makes time to maintain a website, Costa Rica Mermaid, that explains the purpose of her sojourns.

On the road, Herberger travels with little more than a backpack (largely weighed down with books), but she requires certain provisions: an aide, who floats alongside in a kayak or small boat, to hand her water every 30 minutes. (She does not permit the boat to have an outboard motor, to avoid the use of fuel). In an emergency, the aide will haul Herberger out of the ocean and bring her ashore. She also employs fins, goggles, and often a snorkel, but she avoids plastic water bottles, because such disposable containers have caused untold damage in the Pacific. When she arrives in a new community, Herberger has to secure accommodations. In the past, hotels have often invited her to stay for free.

But after a long string of lucky breaks, Herberger has lost many of her  sponsors, and this time she feels less bolstered by the generosity of strangers. Where boats and lodging previously came at little or no cost, Herberger has to pay for nearly everything herself. She will rely largely on a credit card with a $10,000 limit. When she speaks at schools – a free engagement – she will request to stay with a staff member instead of paying for lodging. Because of scheduling conflicts, she has cut her usual itinerary in half, from four months to two.

Such a rigorous passion has been hard for Herberger: She unexpectedly lost her youngest child in 2011 and received the news in the middle of her third Costa Rican swim. After dealing with the death, Herberger returned to Costa Rica to finish the journey. “It was the most terrible news a mother could have,” she says. “Swimming was the only thing that was keeping me alive.”

More recently, Herberger visited a pool in Mexico and decided to try a waterslide. She landed badly and injured herself – a broken rib and torn tendons in her arms. That accident won’t prevent her from swimming, but Herberger curses the irony of it.

“It’s so ridiculous. It’s so stupid,” she says, cackling bitterly. “I’ve swum 6,420 kilometers so far! I’ve swum with sharks! I’ve swum with whales! But that stupid, stupid waterslide!”

Still, Herberger will attempt a final swim, and then she will say farewell to Costa Rica. She will face physical hurdles as well as financial handicaps, as well as the sheer distance.

When asked how her friends in small-town Germany respond to her double-life as a long-distance swimmer, she bursts into laughter.

“They probably think I’m completely nuts!” she says. But to Herberger, the process is the most natural thing she can do. “I’m not a particularly fast swimmer, but I last. I simply don’t get tired. At a moderate pace, I can go much farther. I just surrender to the ocean. I hand over my life force to her.”

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