A $5.5-billion pipeline project that the proponent has described as of "national strategic importance" is running into increasingly fierce opposition from first nations in the West.
At a news conference in Vancouver on Thursday, several prominent leaders spoke against the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Project and released a declaration of opposition signed by 54 British Columbia bands. Over the past year, 11 other native organizations across northern B.C., including the Haida Nation and the Gitga'at, who live along the marine part of the route, have rejected the pipeline.
"The message is clear. Enbridge go home. You are unwelcome intruders," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, ramping up tensions even as the company awaits the outcome of federal reviews.
"We will do what it takes to protect our land, our salmon, our rivers. Just watch us," said Chief Larry Nooski of the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation.
Gina Jordan, a spokesperson for Enbridge, said the company remains confident the project will go ahead and dismissed the growing opposition.
"I will say the protesters don't speak for everyone," she said, noting Enbridge has signed working protocols with 30 bands in B.C. and Alberta.
Ms. Jordan said the protocols indicate a willingness of bands to enter into discussions with the company but are not unequivocal statements of support. She said many bands do back the pipeline project, however she declined to name them for reasons of confidentiality.
She rejected the suggestion that the declaration of opposition has dealt Enbridge a blow. "We do have an impartial regulatory review under way," she said, in reference to applications before the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
The bands that signed the declaration represent communities throughout the Fraser River watershed, downstream of where the project would cross northern B.C., linking oil fields in Alberta to a marine terminal near Kitimat.
Ms. Jordan said the Enbridge project, which would deliver 525,000 barrels of oil a day to the West Coast, while carrying 193,000 barrels of condensate in the opposite direction in twin pipelines, would not cross the Fraser. But the project would cross major tributaries, including the Salmon and Stuart Rivers.
"Our nations stand united as never before to protect the Fraser River and the salmon," said Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik'uz First Nation.
Chief Art Adolph, of the Xaxli'p First Nation, said a pipeline leak similar to the Enbridge accident this summer that saw 19,500 barrels spilled into the Michigan River would "wipe out our culture," which is based largely on the Fraser salmon harvest.
National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, of the Assembly of First Nations, said projects that infringe on native land cannot go ahead anywhere in Canada unless the proponents get "free, prior, informed consent" from the native communities affected.
"I think it's incredibly important that this country understand the point we've arrived at," he said.
Mr. Phillip said although Enbridge has consulted with bands, it has not done so in a meaningful way. "The message is wake up and understand that this is a new time, a different time. There is a legal obligation to engage with indigenous people from the outset," he said.
He rejected as coming too late an Enbridge proposal, announced this week, to offer bands a 10-per-cent stake in the project.
"This issue didn't arise yesterday, it didn't arise last week. It has a very long history and because of the tone that was set at the outset they pretty much poisoned the well to begin with," he said. "That sets a dynamic of conflict and obviously we are in the middle of that dynamic … it's pretty much in the fire at the moment."
In a speech Tuesday to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Enbridge president and CEO Patrick Daniel said the proposed project is "of national strategic importance" because it would open an energy corridor to new markets in Asia. He also said Enbridge would build a project "that sets the global standard for safety, environmental protection and incident response."
In Ottawa on Tuesday, a group of environmentalists, first nations and Opposition MPs called for a West Coast ban on oil tanker traffic. Such a ban would kill the Enbridge project.