Harper government “sidestepping” FNs opposed to pipeline in PR war: chief

The Harper government is “sidestepping” the country’s most potent opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline by instead targeting a “boogeyman” in hopes of scaring up public support, says a First Nation chief who is part of a coalition that has pledged to stop the project at all cost.

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The Harper government is “sidestepping” the country’s most potent opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline by instead targeting a “boogeyman” in hopes of scaring up public support, says a First Nation chief who is part of a coalition that has pledged to stop the project at all cost.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver have both publicly claimed that American interests opposing the $5.5 billion pipeline project are trying to “hijack” the project in Canada by funding environmental groups in the country.

Oliver released an open letter this week claiming these foreign funded environmental and “radical groups” threatened to undermine Canada’s national interest in their quest to stop Enbridge’s proposed 1,172 kilometre pipeline.

Oliver said in the letter that Canada faced a “historic choice” of either opening up a new outlet for Alberta bitumen in Asia, or continue to only supply the U.S.

The pipeline, which has the  backing of Chinese state-owned energy firm Sinopec Corp., would take bitumen from Alberta to a port in Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded onto tankers bound for China and other Asian markets.

In his open letter, Oliver referred to the need for the regulatory approval process to “consider different viewpoints including … Aboriginal communities.”

Oliver, however, made no mention of the stated position of an alliance of First Nations communities that have vowed to stop the pipeline in the courts or in the forests even if the project gets regulatory approval.

The letter was released Monday, a day before a three-person panel, appointed by the environment minister and the National Energy Board, began hearings on the project. The hearings are expected to run over 18 months and the panel will then make a recommendation on whether the project should proceed. The National Energy Board will then make the final decision.

First Nations currently form the bedrock of opposition to the pipeline. The majority of the pipeline in B.C. would travel through the traditional territories of these First Nations. Most First Nations in the province have never signed treaties, meaning they’ve never ceded their traditional territories.

“They are sidestepping First Nations,” said Nadleh Whut’en First Nation Chief Larry Nooski.

Nooski said Oliver is instead focusing on a softer target, namely environmental groups that get funding from the U.S., to drum up public support for the project.

“That is why he hasn’t directly gone against the First Nations,” said

Nooski, whose community is part of the Yinka Dene Alliance. “He is trying to scare up some boogeyman up there so the general public won’t look to see what is actually going on here.”

About 130 First Nations oppose the pipeline and the tanker traffic along B.C.’s coast it would bring. Sixty-six First Nations have signed a declaration opposing the project.

The First Nations believe the project poses too high of a risk to the environment, whether as a result of pipeline leaks or oil tanker accidents, to support.

“The Haisla people find ourselves facing the ultimate threat to our place in this world; namely the potential destruction of our precious ecological environment,” writes Haisla man Thomas Gregory Robinson, a seasonal fisheries technician, in an affidavit filed Jan. 4 as part of the panel review process for the pipeline. “Long after big oil and its money is gone from our homeland territory…what will be left for our children? The answer is destruction, destitution and death.”

First Nations have a much stronger position to battle the pipeline than environmental groups acting alone, said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

“It’s the Indigenous peoples who have internationally recognized and constitutionally recognized rights to protect the environmental integrity of our territories,” said Phillip. “Wherever there has been a major conflict, it has always been as a consequence of those obligations we have to the land. The indigenous peoples have said very clearly that this project is not going to happen, and it’s not.”

Douglas Bland, chair of defence management studies at Queen’s University, said the federal government is avoiding engaging directly against First Nations opposition because they know the project could become a major flashpoint if the pipeline gets approved and the bulldozers start rolling on First Nations territories.

“I think they want to keep the environmentalists and the Aboriginal problems in two different sports,” said Bland. “I think the federal government is well aware of the possibility of some sort of blockades and so on, but they don’t want to be put in a position saying out loud that Aboriginal people are a threat to Canada. It would not go over very well.”

Oliver’s office would not respond direclty to a question from APTN National News about what the minister’s position was in regards to First Nations which have pledged to block the project, even if it gets the regulatory green light.

“Our government will continue to consult with Aboriginal Canadians on the proposed Northern Gateway project, which have been ongoing since 2008,” said a statement from Oliver’s office. “We look forward to continuing our work with Aboriginal communities to strengthen the economic benefits from this important project and listen to the their concerns.”

The pipeline issue is expected to come up during the Jan. 24 meeting between First Nations chiefs and the prime minister along with his cabinet, said Nooski.

“I will probably be one of many that will raise that issue,” said Nooski, who is planning to attend the Ottawa gathering. “Our issues as First Nations are common throughout B.C. They will always refer to the same things: water and our food supply.”

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3 thoughts on “Harper government “sidestepping” FNs opposed to pipeline in PR war: chief

  1. Joe Oliver does not advocate for the environment, he advocates for big oil…go First Nations groups, I support you all the way!u00a0 By the way Hardy Bunn, average Canadians with kids who care about sustainabilty for future generations are against this Enbridge pipeline not just just as you put it “greens and hot shots”.u00a0 Hardy-give your head a shake, critical questions need and should be asked of Enbridge if onlyto prevent further environmental disastors like BP (which was caused by company negligence and Exxon Mobil….

  2. Go Joe! Go Harper Government! It’s time to stop wimping out at every turn opposed by the greens and the hot-shots from Hollywood. There are risks in everything we do on this earth. Everything. You cannot stop doing everything because some people like to live in some past century.

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