Environmental and human rights activist Ta’Kaiya Blaney speaks at Douglas College
By Julia Siedlanowska, Staff Writer
Ta’Kaiya Blaney made her debut as an environmental activist when she was just 10 years old. After learning about the Enbridge Pipeline project, the young Sliammon First Nation girl from North Vancouver wrote a song entitled “Shallow Waters”; this song was the catalyst to her activism. Blaney is now 13 years old, and she spoke at Douglas College in New Westminster on February 25 about her views on the environment and our way of life.
“When I was eight years old I stopped going to the regular school and I began to homeschool. What happened was I saw this news article about the Northern Gateway pipeline,” said Blaney during her talk at last week’s Idle No More event, organized by Douglas College’s aboriginal liaison, Sonia Keshane. Blaney went on to vividly describe the project as she sees it.
“It’s basically an oil pipeline going from the tar sands, the crude oil sands in Alberta, across the Rocky Mountains, and through 45 different first nations territories that have unique cultures, that have languages, and that have traditions,” she said.
She further described the route of the pipeline and how super tankers “that are longer than the Empire State Building” go to China and California to transport the oil. “And at that moment I just imagined this massive British Columbia in my head where I could see all the rocky islands and I just imagined catastrophe, I just imagined an oil spill. I imagined the days when you wouldn’t even be able to see a seagull or a bird fly by because there were no more. I imagined catastrophe, which meant no more culture, which is rooted so much to the land.”
Blaney then revealed that it was at that moment that she decided to write her song. “Shallow Waters” is about the Northern Gateway Pipeline project. “I didn’t really think much of writing that song at the time. I thought of this as just something that I obviously care about but I’m not really going to do anything with the song. I’m not going to become an activist.”
It was footage of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that prompted her to action. She submitted her song to the David Suzuki environmental song writing contest and it reached the semi-finals. “With the courage I got from seeing how my song could go so far I decided to connect myself with Greenpeace,” said Blaney. After this move, she decided to go to the Enbridge headquarters in the Bentall Building in Vancouver to “talk to Endbridge about what my concerns were.”
“I planned to do this in a way where my words would bring attention to the Northern Gateway Pipeline, so I called way in advance,” says Blaney. When she got to the building, she recalls that it was surrounded with security guards. “I got about a few feet into the lobby and I was stopped by security guards and told that if I didn’t leave at that point I would be charged with trespassing. As a 10-year-old this was a very disappointing experience, being my first step in activism,” she says. “Later I realized this was also inspirational to see how unafraid indigenous people involved with Idle No More are—how unafraid these environmentalists and activist and people with passion in their hearts for Mother Earth and for other human beings, how unafraid we are in the face of these adversities and these corporations that are destroying our Mother Earth and destroying the future and my future, how unafraid we are and how afraid these corporations are of us.”
Blaney also spoke of her experiences attending youth conferences about environmental issues and human rights, also expressing her belief that youth should demand a better future for themselves from their leaders.
She spoke of the Rio+20 Conference and her disappointment at how “green-washed” she found it to be. “They were speaking about sustainability which is something that doesn’t really happen nowadays with our ‘leaders’… the busses that were transporting these environmentalists into the conference were these big black busses that were sporting the name ‘Petrobras’ on the side which is the number one oil company in Brazil… really the outcome of this conference was to say that in 500 years we’re going to start our first environmental action, and then in 1,000 years, we’re going to start phase two of our plan,’” said Blaney. “The entire conference just had a ‘woulda-shoulda-coulda’ vibe to it.”
Near the end of her speech Blaney expressed that she felt it was the responsibility of her generation to take steps to ensure the health of the environment. She also sang one of her two songs about the environment entitled “Earth Revolution.” The small audience stayed behind to ask questions of the young activist. Many expressed their joy in how much they learned from her, and expressed that they found her to be “inspiring.”