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61 First Nations ally to oppose Enbridge pipeline

Sixty-one First Nations groups across the B.C. interior have officially declared their opposition to Enbridge’s west coast pipeline plans.

“This is yet another legal and political nail in the coffin of this project,” Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation told a Vancouver press conference Thursday. “Our nations stand united as never before.”

The declaration was signed at a gathering of B.C. indigenous leaders in Williams Lake last week. Its signatories are First Nations groups culturally dependant on salmon runs in the Fraser River watershed.

They worry that a 1,170 km pipeline proposed by Calgary-based Enbridge from Alberta’s oil sands to the west coast could someday leak into fragile salmon ecosystems.

"There are a great many people, including First Nations and community members along the proposed route, who understand that this project can be built and operated safely," Enbridge responded on its Northern Gateway blog.

First Nations speakers were not clear whether opposition would involve standoffs or legal challenges. "All i have to say is watch us," said Chief Art Adolph of the Xaxli'p First Nation, a St'át'imc Nation community. "We will do what it takes to protect our lands, our salmon, our rivers

Thursday’s announcement may represent an escalation of First Nations opposition to the Northern Gateway project, which also includes plans to ship crude oil on supertankers to Asian markets.

In March, the Coastal First Nations – an alliance of nine west coast indigenous groups – declared a ban on tanker traffic in its waters.

A group of international wildlife photographers travelled to the Great Bear Rainforest region in early September, to raise awareness about Northern Gateway’s potential environmental impact. (Click here to read the Tyee’s dispatch from Hartley Bay, a tiny west coast fishing village).

Earlier this week, 15 federal Liberal and New Democratic Party MPs urged Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to enact an official ban on west coast tanker traffic.

“Ignoring Canada’s west coast energy bottleneck is the equivalent of announcing that we’re not interested in playing on the world stage. I don’t think that’s in Canada’s best interests at all,” Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel said in a speech Tuesday.

Others within Alberta’s oil sands industry have expressed recent doubts the project will ever be built. The vice-chairman of major producer Canadian Natural Resource Ltd reportedly said last week environmental and First Nations opposition mean oil sands crude is more likely to flow to the U.S. in coming years.

“For barrels to go off the West Coast to China, I think that is a very, very difficult file,” Murray Edwards said.

Geoff Dembicki reports for the Tyee.

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