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Trees planted to protest Shell oil refinery project

The London Free Press

Trees planted to protest Shell oil refinery project

Thu, May 22, 2008
Native leaders say they will never again allow projects to go ahead without their involvement 

COURTRIGHT — Jennifer Altiman kneels over a ceremonial fire and begins to weep.

Overcome by emotion, the Walpole Island resident wipes her face and embraces her sisters, as a light drum beats in the background.

Her tears, she says, are for the water that surrounds her homeland — threatened by a proposed Shell oil refinery many of her people believe will harm future generations.

If it proceeds, the multi-billion refinery, expected to process heavy oil from the Alberta tar sands, would be one of the largest construction projects in Ontario’s history.

“For me, the water is a love,” said Altiman, looking to the St. Clair River. “If we didn’t have that water, we wouldn’t be here. If it’s threatened, then we’re threatened.” 


Altiman and other members of Akii Kwe, or “Earth Women” held a ceremony at Seager Park in Courtright yesterday, near the proposed Shell site.

The group, which promotes environmental awareness, planted trees to commemorate the endangered species that they say will be removed if Shell’s current plans proceed.

“It’s our promise to the seventh generation,” said group member Elaine Jacobs. “We want to know that they will find this land as it is now, or better.”

Many of the trees planted were butternut trees, a species which has a significant connection to aboriginal communities, said Don Richardson, a member of Gartner Lee Limited, a Guelph-based environmental consultation firm partnered with the Walpole Island community.

“The community is concerned about some of the losses of natural heritage,” he said, noting the site affects Walpole Island traditional territory and land claims.

“We have provincial wetlands and endangered species here — but the Shell site plan indicates that they would be removing part of that area.”

Two men held up a sign that read, “Gaa Wiikaa Miinwaa,” or, “Never Again.”

“Never again must we allow things to impact us without our involvement,” said Walpole Island Chief Joseph Gilbert, who is calling for a federal environmental assessment to study the refinery proposal — one that includes an independent panel with First Nations representation.

“The real factor in this is that these are corporate people who live nowhere near us, and are looking at this strictly from a business standpoint,” he said, calling the current environmental process a “conflict of interest” for Ontario.

He said the potential economic and employment gains from the project do not outweigh the environmental impact.

“This is not a political issue,” added Aamjiwnaang First Nation Chief Chris Plain. “It’s a human issue. We must think of our future generations.”

The panel proposal is also supported by members of the Macomb County Water Quality Board, who want a say in the matter.

“It’s not that we’re against the refinery,” said chairperson Doug Martz, who attended the ceremony. “It’s just that we want to be included.”

Spokesperson Heather Cooper said the company is well aware of the concerns.

“We will continue to receive valuable input from First Nations communities to ensure their interests and concerns are addressed through the EA process,” she said. “It’s important that we are listening to them.”

“We’ve voluntarily committed ourselves to a full EA,” she continued.

Company officials say the Shell refinery is far from a done deal because of escalating costs, competition from other communities and opposition from environmental groups.

Both Environmental Defence and Forest Ethics are opposed to the proposal, saying that a barrel of oil from the tar sands results in three times as much greenhouse gas as regular crude.

An environmental consultant hired by Shell has said the proposed refinery would use technology that would reduce emissions compared to the existing St. Clair Township plant. and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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