The Gitxsan First Nation has rejected a deal to take an equity stake in the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, a spokeswoman for the Gitxsan Treaty Society insisted this week.
“The chiefs rejected the Enbridge agreement on Jan. 17, after several meetings and discussion,” Beverley Clifton Percival, a negotiator with the Gitxsan Treaty Society, said in an interview.
“They stepped away from the agreement. Enbridge knows that. We have not had any contact from Enbridge since that time and the chiefs’ direction has not changed.”
According to Enbridge, however, the Gitxsan deal remains in place, part of growing aboriginal support for the $5.5-billion, twin-pipeline project.
“The agreement we have with the Gitxsan has not been rescinded,” Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway said this week, as Enbridge announced that 60 per cent of aboriginal groups eligible for a stake in the project had signed equity deals.
The contradiction highlights a rift in the northern B.C. first nation, where protesters blockaded the Gitxsan Treaty Office since shortly after the Enbridge deal was announced last December. That blockade remains in place despite a court order – obtained within days of it going into place – that it be removed.
Protesters, including hereditary chiefs, are objecting to the contentious Enbridge deal along with other issues relating to the treaty society, including its legal structure and its use of funds.
To date, the RCMP has not enforced the injunction, to the chagrin of B.C. Supreme Court Judge Mark McEwan who last month questioned in court why the injunction has not been enforced.
In response, the RCMP said in May it was working with the community to reach a peaceful solution and “have offered assistance to identify independent mediators while also being mindful of the court injunction and the enforcement order.”
An RCMP spokeswoman on Thursday said negotiations are under way but that she could not provide details and that the blockade remains in place.
Protestors have set up a fire barrel and boarded up the doors and windows of the treaty office.
On Thursday, hereditary chief Norm Stephens – one of the organizers of the blockade – said protesters have been talking to the RCMP about ways to end the blockade and that an agreement could come as early as next week.
Ms. Percival, meanwhile, says the RCMP’s refusal to enforce the blockade amounts to disrespect for the community.
The controversy flared up in December, when Elmer Derrick, claiming to speak on behalf of the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs, announced that the Gitxsan had agreed to become an equity partner in the pipeline project.
Citing the region’s high unemployment and lack of economic opportunities, Mr. Derrick said the Gitxsan had developed a “relationship of trust” with Enbridge and that the deal would generate an estimated $7-million worth of benefits for the Gitxsan.
Within hours, however, other Gitxsan leaders were denouncing the deal. On Thursday, Mr. Derrick did not respond to requests for an interview.
The twin-pipeline Northern Gateway project would ship crude oil from near Edmonton to Kitimat on the B.C. coast, and condensate in the other direction.
The project is currently undergoing an environmental review Enbridge has said the equity deals account for about one-third of a projected $1-billion worth of opportunities, including construction and operation contracts, open to aboriginal interests from the project.