Chief Martin Louie's voice was full of emotion as he spoke to a reporter about the Joint Review Panel's recommendation to approve Enbridge's proposal to build a pipeline through Northern BC. "We tried, and we thought that we could be part of the economy," he said. "But instead of being part of the process, they actually left us out of the whole thing. Both Canada and BC -- they're not going to do that to us again."
Louie represents the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation and speaks on behalf of the Yinka Dene Alliance, a coalition of six BC First Nations who have banned Enbridge from their territories. Now that the National Energy Board has green-lighted the pipeline project, First Nations' legal action may be the next obstacle Enbridge will have to overcome. Chief Louie said he and others have been preparing to go to court for "a long time" over the Northern Gateway pipeline.
"There are some 400 projects in Canada that have been stopped because of First Nations intervention," said ForestEthics spokesperson Ben West. "There are First Nations whose rights have served as a veto in the past."
Speaking to the press this afternoon, BC Environment Minister Mary Polak said that First Nations can't veto Northern Gateway, but that Enbridge would need to consult with Aboriginal communities in order to get the BC government's support. But Federal NDP House Leader and Skeena Bulkley-Valley MP Nathan Cullen said that consultations will be useless unless they properly take First Nations' views into account. "The key word is 'meaningful' consultations," Cullen said. "That means actually listening to their concerns and accommodating them. What they've done up to now is just token consultation."
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the BC Union of Indian Chiefs, agreed, and said even Enbridge could join the ranks of projects defeated by Aboriginal communities exercising their land rights.
"The graveyard is full of dead projects that have run afoul of Indigenous title," he said, noting that Enbridge Northern Gateway could was not too large to be taken down. He also added that it was strange that the National Energy Board would approve this project without political pressure from outside.
"This is political manipulation," he said. "Had they (the JRP) rejected it, it would have put the Harper cabinet in a very difficult position. So I can't help but think there were back room talks to bring about this outcome."