The cases come during a hotly contested federal election campaign that has seen party leaders clashing over pipeline and environmental policies, and will set the stage for future collaboration or confrontation between First Nations and the next federal government.
“The federal government has mismanaged the Enbridge file from the beginning,” said kil tlaats ‘gaa Peter Lantin, President of the Haida Nation. “We are in court to hold the federal government accountable to the highest law in Canada – the Constitution. We believe they are shirking their duties and responsibilities to First Nations in pursuit of corporate deals and board appointments.”
In recent regulatory filings Enbridge indicated that it has not been able to secure commercial contracts from shippers willing to use the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, and does not anticipate being able to do so while legal challenges make their way through the courts.
“The proposed Enbridge pipelines and oil tankers project presents an unacceptable risk to the lands and waters that sustain our people and is inconsistent with our ancestral laws,” said Chief Karen Ogen, on behalf of the Yinka Dene Alliance. “We stand behind all of the nations as they take this message to the courtroom this week to hold the federal government to account.”
Travelling hundreds of kilometres to appear in court this week are the Haisla, Haida, Kitasoo Xai’xais, Heiltsuk, Nadleh Whut’en, Nak’azdli, Gitga’at and Gitxaala. The nations are growing increasingly frustrated with a federal government, which appears to prefer confrontation to consultation.
“We are confident that our legal arguments will result in a positive decision by the court,” said Chief Marilyn Slett of the Heiltsuk First Nation. “We are committed to taking all lawful steps necessary to defend our lands and waters from tar sands oil. The Heiltsuk believe there are thousands of British Columbians and Canadians who feel the same way, and who stand with us. Together we will stop the Northern Gateway project.”
“Today we’re fighting an unlawful environmental assessment and review process that failed to meet its constitutional obligations to First Nations,” said Chief Councillor, Arnold Clifton of the Gitga’at First Nation. “Of the 209 conditions placed on Enbridge by the federal government, not one of them reflected our community’s concerns about the project. We owe it to our children to defend our rights and our way of life from the dangers of oil tanker traffic.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs expressed his full solidarity with the nations in court, adding, “I cannot emphasize enough the unrelenting and unified strength of First Nations opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project: We are prepared to go to the wall on this one, and it’s long past time the federal government listened to our concerns.”
Further legal challenges seeking to overturn the Northern Gateway approval, involving four environmental groups and Canada’s largest private sector union, will be heard next week.