10/25/2013 07:10 EDT | Updated 12/25/2013 05:12 EST

West Coast Communities Unite To Stop Tar Sands Tankers

Originally published by ForestEthics Advocacy

It was hard work getting that big, heavy and colourful totem pole up on the morning of the ceremony. A whole bunch of guys spent a couple hours in the mud pulling on ropes at the Tsleil Waututh Nation (TWN) community centre in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Or at least that is what I heard. That morning I was busily working away on the launch of our new website. So I felt a little shy showing up at the unveiling ceremony that evening to see my friends that had been outside in the cold rain without me that morning, but everyone was all hugs and smiles.

I've been working with folks in the TWN community for a few years now on protecting the Burrard Inlet from energy giant Kinder Morgan's proposed tar sands pipeline and tankers. It's truly been a privilege to witness this community's courage and resilience. Its name means "people of the inlet" and they clearly intend to defend these coastal waters.

Nearby Washington State First Nations played a key role in the ceremony. Lummi Nation carvers, lead by elder Jewel James, created this incredible totem pole and then conducted ceremonies with it in different communities up the coast.

The totem they carved is such a beautiful recognition of the TWN community's hard work on what they call their "Sacred Trust" to protect the inlet they've called home for countless generations. Seeing the wolf (the TWN are also people of the wolf) carved out on the totem pole, staring out toward the passing tar sands tankers in the inlet, you could feel the power of the communities' resolve and solidarity. The salmon carved at the bottom seemed to bring all the people of the region together.

The unveiling of the totem pole, followed by dinner, dancing, songs and speakers, brought together First Nations communities from both sides of the border fighting to protect the coast. Some of the First Nations leaders that spoke at the ceremony called it an "imaginary border." That's pretty spot on, given the interconnected, fragile ecosystem that is the Salish Sea. But of course, the relationship of the coastal communities of this region go back many generations before we showed up and put lines on a map.

Cross border organizing is becoming a bigger part of tar sands campaigns for non-native people too. Mariner culture dictates that if there's is a distress call anyone in the vicinity has a responsibility to act. That is the spirit of shared responsibility and stewardship that is behind our site. ForestEthics, with offices in Bellingham and San Francisco, partnered with Vancouver-based ForestEthics Advocacy to create the site.

The site is home to a unique tar sands oil tanker tracking system, which displays those tanker's locations in real time. The site also generates real time tweets when tankers carrying tar sands enter sensitive habitats on the West Coast, like whale habitat in Washington State's San Juan Islands.

It was actually in the Tsleil Waututh community when the idea of tracking these tankers first came up. Now, a couple of years and many lines of code later, we have made our own real time mapping system to track tar sands tankers. We're exposing those tankers because communities up and down the coast must be aware of this threat, and have opportunities to take action.

Protecting the West Coast is everyone's business. We all have a role to play. That being said, some of us may have to chop a little more wood next weekend to make up for not being there in the rain to help out. That's what working together is all about, doing your part.

Please consider getting involved in this campaign to stand up for a healthy West Coast. Stopping these projects really is an emergency for our coast and our climate. It's an all hands on deck kinda moment. We're banning together, from Ventura Beach, California to the Discovery islands of British Columbia.

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