Hundreds of First Nations plan to take the Canadian government to court over its approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline from the Alberta oil sands through British Columbia to the Pacific Ocean.
“The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC), which is composed of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit and Union of BC Indian Chiefs, is completely disgusted at this decision,” said the organizations in a joint statement on June 17 after the governmental approval—conditional upon Enbridge Inc. meeting 209 conditions set forth by Canada’s energy board.
“There is an undeniable and inherent risk attached to this project and the idea of a catastrophic ecological disaster is unacceptable for the people of this Province. Delaying this project will only serve to fortify the opposition to this project,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “For First Nations who have unceded Title and Rights over our territories we will do everything necessary and whatever it takes to stop this project. We are prepared to go to unprecedented lengths to conserve and protect our territories and waters from heavy oil.”
Back in December 2013 a three-member environmental panel recommended approval of the $7.5 billion, 730-mile long pipeline provided Enbridge met 209 conditions.
The reasoning was eerily similar to the U.S. Department of State’s analysis of the equally controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which found that it would not appreciably increase the oil sands’ carbon footprint, and therefore have but a negligible effect on climate change.
Canada is still insisting on the 209 conditions being met, but the provisional approval allows the government to issue a few permits. In addition the company also must apply for regulatory permits and authorizations from federal and provincial governments, as well as consult more deeply with indigenous communities, said Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford in a statement.
“Moving forward, the proponent must demonstrate to the independent regulator, the National Energy Board, how it will meet the 209 conditions,” Natural Resources Minister Rickford said. “The proponent clearly has more work to do in order to fulfill the public commitment it has made to engage with aboriginal groups and local communities along the route.”
But First Nations were having none of it. From symbolic blockades to court cases, the Indigenous Peoples living in British Columbia vowed to stop the pipeline at any cost.
“As we have stated time and time again, this project has been yet another prime example of how not to do business in this province,” said Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit political executive in a statement. “What we have witnessed is government and industry once again ignoring First Nations’ constitutionally-protected Title and Rights in order to push through another resource development project. The necessary consultation standard for any development project in BC, especially those with such a high potential for disastrous impacts, must be to seek the free, prior and informed consent of each and every First Nation whose Aboriginal Title and Rights will be impacted. If we must return to the courts to prove this once again, then that is what we will do.”
Gitga’at First Nation announced it will stretch a crocheted “Chain of Hope” across the Douglas Channel, where tankers would pass through to get to the oil terminal, to show support against oil tanker traffic in BC’s narrow coastal waters, the band said in a release. The chain will be multicolored, adorned with family keepsakes and mementos such as baby pictures and fishing floats with written messages on them, Gitga’at First Nation said in a release. It will stretch 11,544 feet from Hawkesbury Island to Hartley Bay.
The women of the First Nation have been crocheting the chain since April in preparation for just such a moment. They plan to lay the chain across the channel on June 20, according to the Chain of Hope website. The chain is in keeping with tradition, the Gitga’at said, since stringing chains made of tree branches across a narrow channel used to help the band detect intruders hundreds of years ago.
In more formal protests, groups representing more than 200 First Nations, plus individual bands, signed a statement vowing to take court action.
“This project, and the federal process to approve it, violated our rights and our laws. We are uniting to defend our lands and waters of our respective territories,” said hundreds of signatories on a media release.
“Enbridge’s Northern Gateway tanker and pipeline project exposes all communities from Alberta to the Pacific Coast to the undeniable risk of pipeline and supertanker oil spills,” the joint statement said. “First Nations and the majority of British Columbians believe this project poses an unacceptable risk to the environment, the health, the safety and livelihoods of all peoples throughout this province. We will defend our territories whatever the costs may be.”
The statement was signed by two dozen First Nations, as well as Coastal First Nations, the Yinka Dene Alliance, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
Statements also emphasized that aboriginals are not dead set against development and in fact support it when conditions are right.
“People need to understand that the Heiltsuk approach to resource development is a practical one where we consider and balance all the risks and opportunities that each development brings with it,” said Heiltsuk Nation Chief Marilyn Slett in a statement from the band. “The development of natural resources doesn’t have to be harmful or unjust. The future of natural resource development is a part of all our common future, and First Nations have a right not only to benefit from this, but also to help determine its path.”
Others simply declared the project dead on arrival because of the impossibility of meeting the 209 criteria. Coastal First Nations declared the pipeline “effectively dead” because of the impossibility of Enbridge’s fulfilling all the conditions.
“It’s an approval in name only. This project is dead,” said Coastal First Nations Executive Director Art Sterritt. “The project can’t proceed with these conditions. We’ve been clear there is no technology to clean up an oil spill, and the dispersant that is used causes more damage than the oil itself.”