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NEWS: Indigenous opposition key to defeating Northern Gateway pipeline

As columnists and news articles have been pointing out, Nancy Macdonald of Maclean’s reports today that Indigenous opposition will be key to stopping the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

Dozens of First Nations oppose the pipeline
“Ottawa’s smoke-and-mirrors strategy of bashing the project’s foreign critics, which was timed to the hearing’s launch on B.C.’s soggy, northwest coast, allows Canadian politicians to avoid pointing fingers at what really stands in their way: British Columbia First Nations, empowered by a decade and a half of legal victories that have granted them a significant say over land in their traditional territories. The powerful Wet’suwet’en, who vigorously fought a land claim over 13 years, culminating in 1997’s landmark Delgamuukw ruling establishing the existence of Aboriginal title in B.C., are among dozens of bands that oppose the project, and call its proposed, 1,176-km route home.”

Unceded territories
“Legally, experts say, B.C. bands have more clout than those outside the province, thanks partly to an accident of history. Few entered treaties with the Crown, unlike First Nations elsewhere in the country; and since they never signed away title, courts now require their input when resources are extracted from their traditional lands.”

Could lead to a Supreme Court challenge
“Given the pipeline’s entire proposed route is across untreatied land, and how disruptive and potentially harmful the Northern Gateway project portends to be, this battle, even if it receives the environmental okay, will inevitably be fought all the way to the Supreme Court, taking years to resolve, says Carleton University’s Rodney Nelson. Indeed, chiefs representing more than 20 First Nations contacted by Maclean’s acknowledge they’re planning to file suit if the project is allowed to proceed. Litigating a multi-year court fight would be extraordinarily costly, but several front-line environmental opponents said their organizations and private donors are being lined up to help fund potential suits on behalf of First Nations.”

Direct action likely too
“Direct action is also in the works. Supporters, along with ‘little, old grannies’ from Aboriginal communities across the province have volunteered to be arrested, according to the Wilderness Committee’s Ben West; plans to erect traditional longhouses along the length of the proposed route are being readied. Clearly, B.C., which saw a grassroots uprising overturn the harmonized sales tax a year ago, is gearing up for its biggest environmental battle, an international cause célèbre that would make 1993’s epic fight for Clayoquot Sound look like child’s play.”

BC electoral politics will be a factor
“But a larger stakeholder than even the several thousand natives living in its path has yet to weigh in: Victoria. Perhaps the only question more complex than the legality of the megaproject is the tangled domestic political equation facing B.C.’s pro-development, pro-business, Liberal government. What seems an uncontroversial decision to Alberta, which stands to gain almost all the pipeline’s rich rewards, is tricky for B.C., which is being asked to swallow most of the risk—a tanker spill or burst pipe.”

“Premier Christy Clark, who is legally bound to go to the polls by next year, has yet to take a public stance. …With three-quarters of British Columbians opposing oil tankers on the coast, it would seem a pretty safe place to ride out what promises to be a bruising debate. …Happily benefiting from Clark’s absence, for now, is Conservative party leader John Cummins. The former Tory MP is heading up the pipeline’s local support squad, helping him pick off Liberal votes in hard-fought rural ridings where even a few hundred Tory ballots could tip the balance in favour of the Opposition NDP. …The right-wing bickering plays nicely into the hands of the NDP and its popular new leader, Adrian Dix, says University of British Columbia political scientist Michael Byers. The party, which opposes the pipeline, sits at 40 per cent in the polls, ahead of the Liberals at 31 per cent.”

The Council of Canadians
After US President Obama’s decision this week not to approve a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote, “Proponents of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline that would ‘punch a hole in the Rockies’ to carry this oil to western ports for Asian export should be put on notice: the powerful coalition of community, environmental, labour and justice groups that came together across the Canada-US border to stop Keystone in its tracks is on the move. Under the leadership of the First Nations people along the pipeline’s proposed path, this growing peoples’ movement will take great heart from this victory. The Gateway will never be built.”

Macdonald seems to agree. The Maclean’s article concludes that it’s far from certain that the Northern Gateway pipeline will ever be built.

For Council of Canadians blogs relating to the Northern Gateway pipeline, please see http://canadians.org/blog/?s=%22northern+gateway%22.