Northern Gateway Pipeline Exposes Split in Aboriginal Solidarity

By B. McPherson

With the suspension of work on the Keystone Pipeline through the continental United States, eyes have turned to the Enbridge project that would transport bitumen from Alberta to the British Columbia coast. The pipeline, dubbed the Northern Gateway Project would route through the Great Bear Rainforest and terminate at the town of Kitimat. Tankers would have to navigate a challenging fiord to pick up their cargos.

At a press conference yesterday Jackie Thomas, an aboriginal leader, joined others in opposing the $5.5 billion project that would see twin pipelines moving oil sand product to Asian markets. Paul Stanway, speaking on behalf of Enbridge, challenged the unanimity of the opposition, claiming that some groups were already in negotiations with the company.

Today the Hereditary Chief Elmer Derrick, speaking for the Gitxan announced their agreement with Enbridge, becoming partners in the enterprise. It is expected that the Gitxan will net at least $7 million for their part. Ref: News Release Enbridge:

The ramping up of industrial efforts to move the petroleum products to the west coast of Canada was echoed by Kinder Morgan which is floating plans to up its Trans Mountain Pipeline capacity which terminates at Vancouver, BC. This is being opposed by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

During this time of economic recession, the carrot of many good paying construction jobs weighs heavily in the decision making of the politicians in charges. Balanced against the economic driver is the possibility of forever damaging the environment along the pipeline route. The Great Bear RainForest is home to the rare Kermode or Spirit Bear besides being a rare ecosystem in itself.

The terminus of the proposed pipeline would end far up a narrow channel which offers plenty of opportunity for catastrophe. A BC government ferry that sunk in the area a few years ago is still leaking oil onto the beaches.

"This is one of the biggest environmental threats we've ever seen," said Ian McAllister, co-founder of Pacific Wild, a wilderness protection organization that focuses on Canada's Pacific coast. "And it will become one of the biggest environmental battles Canada has ever witnessed. It's going to be a bare-knuckle fight." National Geographic

Adding to the complexity of the situation is the land settlement question. When BC was settled by European immigrants, some treaties were signed with the people of the First Nations, however they were mostly ignored over the years. Most of the land of the province is claimed by various groups and very few have settled their claims.

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