An oil company lambasted by an environmentalist panel at the University of Winnipeg last week is also the main benefactor of a university science program for inner-city youth.
Eco-Kids on Campus, a 10-week enrichment program aimed at getting inner-city youth interested in science and post-secondary education, receives $25,000 per year from Enbridge, according to the university website.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada made a three-year donation of $42,000 to Eco-Kids in 2010.
Eco-Kids participants are instructed by university professors and students, and have the opportunity to dissect a squid, study DNA and angular momentum, and measure their own ecological footprint, according to the website.
Leaders like Gerald Amos, former councillor of Haisla First Nation and conservation advocate, say that Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline puts the environment and B.C. First Nations communities at risk.
Despite these claims, Enbridge continues to invest thousands of dollars in educational programs aimed at aboriginal youth, according to the company website.
Jennifer Rattray, associate vice-president of Indigenous, Government, and Community Affairs, said without Enbridge’s donation, Eco-Kids would not be possible.
“Bottom line, it helps those kids. Anything I can do to help those kids, I will do,” said Rattray.
Enbridge’s investment goes towards supplies, transportation and snacks, as well as the kickoff and graduation celebrations that bookend each 10-week program, Rattray said.
The university has to reapply for funding from Enbridge every year, she added, and there is always a possibility that they will be turned down.
“We have a good track record of being able to serve kids in the inner-city of Winnipeg, but as with many funders, you hope it continues, but there are no guarantees,” said Rattray.
In the event that Enbridge denied university funding, Rattray said, it is unlikely there would be a possibility of finding alternate funds.
According to Rattray, Enbridge has not made any attempts to control what goes into the Eco-Kids curriculum, which covers sustainability and environmental issues.
Amos believes Enbridge’s investments in programs like Eco-Kids are most likely disingenuous.
“My opinion: they’ve been doing this kind of stuff to make people think differently about them, to quit thinking about the environmental impact of their activity,” said Amos.
It’s difficult to gauge the appropriateness of accepting donations from organizations like Enbridge, he added.
“Unfortunately money makes the world go round. It takes resources to help. I’m torn right down the middle on it.”
Amos conceded that programs like Eco-Kids are important to the community.
“Good on the people who are running the program. I would hope that if Enbridge wasn’t funding this, there would be others that would step up to the plate,” he said.
According to an Enbridge report, the company donated over $2 million to educational initiatives in 2010.
Enbridge invests in education in order to help create strong, sustainable communities. The company recognizes that “today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders,” according to the report.
Whitney Plaizier, aboriginal affairs policy advisor at Enbridge, said in an email that she could not discuss whether Enbridge has input on the Eco-Kids curriculum.
“I can only speak for the Eco-Kids program and the Enbridge School Plus Program in that in order to be eligible for sponsorship, we require detailed sponsorship request applications and post-program reports that are reviewed by Enbridge,” said Plaizier.
At the Tar sands, pipelines, and tankers forum hosted by the U of W on Feb. 16, panelists expressed concern Enbridge is hijacking the environmental assessment process, that the pipeline offers significant adverse economic impact to Canadians and that an oil spill off the B.C. coast as a result of the pipeline is inevitable and would have disastrous effects on local ecosystems.
At the panel, Amos explained that Haisla First Nation, located at the terminus of the proposed pipeline, have strong cultural ties to the land on which they live and an oil spill would be devastating to their community and a traditional way of life.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, Amos warned that the pipeline was not in the best interest of Canada or the planet, referring to it as “the largest and most insidious threat to our culture that has ever existed, with the possible exception of the Canadian governments violent imposition of the residential school system.”