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Native leader to Harper: 'We will be the wall that Enbridge cannot break through'

A prominent native leader vowed physical confrontations with Enbridge, should the Calgary company attempt to build an oil sands pipeline through the B.C. interior.

"I'm going to stand in front of bulldozers to stop this project and I expect my neighbours to back me up," Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik'uz First Nation told a packed Vancouver press conference Thursday morning.

Thomas stressed to the room that she was speaking on behalf of the Yinka Dene Alliance, whose member nations control more than 25 percent of the territory along Enbridge's proposed pipeline route.

And she meant her declaration as a direct challenge to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's stated goal of shipping Alberta oil sands crude to Asia.

"I have news for you Mr. Harper, you're never going to achieve your dream of pushing pipelines through our rivers and lands," Thomas said. "We will be the wall that Enbridge cannot break through."

Thursday's press conference was called by native leaders to announce that several new B.C. First Nations will now fight the Northern Gateway project, bringing to 130 the number of nations opposed.

The intense emotion on display Thursday morning suggested Enbridge's pipeline proposal is fast becoming a symbolic rallying cry for B.C.'s entire native population.

Indeed, Chief Stewart Phillip, who represents both the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the Okanagan Nation, "absolutely guaranteed" his anti-pipeline solidarity.

"If push comes to shove," he said, "we will be at the wall, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Yinka Dene Alliance."

Prime Minister Harper has repeatedly championed west coast pipelines as a way to diversify markets for Alberta's oil sands.

But those ambitions, argues University of British Columbia resource policy professor George Hoberg, may not stand a chance in the face of hardened native resolve.

"If First Nations can't be brought onside," he recently told Postmedia, "it's going to be very difficult for this pipeline to go forward."

(Click here to read an exclusive Tyee dispatch from Hartley Bay, ground zero for B.C.'s pipeline war.)

Geoff Dembicki reports on climate and energy issues for The Tyee.

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