Tar sands export pipelines. Excerpted from "Getting to Market" from Oil Change International.

Inside the fight to save the Salish Sea: photo essay

The name Salish Sea recognizes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Haro Strait, the Strait of Georgia, and Puget Sound as a single marine ecosystem. Coast Salish tribes have sustained rich cultures from the bounty of the Salish Sea since time immemorial.

If Kinder Morgan’s proposed tar sands oil pipeline is built, a catastrophic oil spill could decimate the salmon and shellfish that feed and support Coast Salish tribes.

Coast Salish peoples are a group of ethnically and linguistically related indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. Coast Salish tribes on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border, including the Tulalip, Lummi, Swinomish, and Suquamish nations, have been fishing in these waters for countless generations.


An armada of paddlers from Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations journey between their territories in opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, on September 2, 2012. Photo by Zack Embree.

Today, their treaty-protected fishing areas are threatened by a Kinder Morgan tar sands oil pipeline. When it comes to oil pipelines and oil tanker ships, the question is not if, but when, they will spill. An oil spill in the Salish Sea would have a devastating effect on fish and shellfish, which form the basis of the Coast Salish way of life, and it would destroy the economies of Native tribes on both sides of the border.

“I’m a commercial fisherman. I’ve been a commercial fisherman all my life. It’s all I’ve ever done,” said Dana Wilson, member of the Lummi Nation. “My father was a fisherman; his father was a fisherman; and his father was fisherman. My son is in the industry; he’s fishing now on his own. My grandkids fish with me. I have 11 grandkids—the way of life that we teach our children is the water and the way to fish. In our language, it’s called a Schelangen—the way of life, the way of the water.

“So much we’re losing, losing, losing every generation. And what are we going to have left for our future generations if we don’t start managing and watching where we’re at and the direction we’re going in? Today, it’s like trying to fish on a freeway. It gets pretty overwhelming having a 200-tonne ship bearing down on you. You don’t know which end of your net to run to.”

tar sands

The Syncrude Canada Ltd. base plant in the Athabasca Oil Sands near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Photo: Ben Nelms / Bloomberg via Getty Images.

One of humankind’s largest and dirtiest energy extraction projects, the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, is at the heart of this pipeline fight. The tar sands cover nearly 55,000 square miles—an area larger than the state of New York.

Tar sands generate three to four times more climate change pollution than conventional oil. The massive project exposes communities downstream and along its shipping path to carcinogens, including benzene, toluene, mercury, and lead.



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On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

Let’s Save Each Other

Let’s Save Each Other

Illustration by Stephanie McMillan. Used with permission