A massive gas play in Canada's northwest corner is sparking increased conflict with aboriginal groups in British Columbia and Yukon.
The Unist'ot'en, one of five tribal clans of the Wet'suwet'en, was planning to hold a series of protest rallies Tuesday to draw attention to a blockade the group has established on a road near Houston, B.C., about 400 kilometres east of Prince Rupert.
Meanwhile, in Yukon, leaders of the Kaska Dena announced Monday that they will hold off on any action until they've had a face-to-face meeting with Premier Darrell Pasloski, Dec. 7, in an attempt to head off growing conflict over oil and gas development.
"This will be a very important meeting. It will either set us on an agreed upon path forward, which will benefit industry and all Yukoners, or force us to seek alternative ways of ensuring our rights and our lands are protected," said Chief Liard McMillan, a representative of the Kaska Dena.
In B.C., where tensions have been heightened by the proposed Enbridge Gateway oil pipeline, and the extensive gas development taking place in the northeast sector of the province, Freda Huson of the Unist'ot'en said her group has built a protest camp directly on the right-of-way for Apache Canada Ltd.'s Pacific Trails Pipeline.
Ms. Huson said the group has also set up a blockade on the only road into the area, about 60 kilometres south of Houston, and members are stopping all resource industry traffic.
"There's only one way across our territory and that's a bridge that we have blocked off," she said Monday. "We ask [anyone trying to drive through] who they are, what are they doing there, how long do they plan to stay and what it is they are doing and if it is going to benefit our clan. And we ask too if they are with government or industry that is destroying our land. That's the final question. If they can't qualify by answering all those questions, they won't be permitted through."
Ms. Huson said traffic is light at this time of year because the road is mostly snowed in, but the Unist'ot'en turned away an Apache Canada survey crew last week.
Company spokesman Paul Wyke said the Unist'ot'en "have expressed some concerns" about the Pacific Trails Pipeline (PTP) project.
But he said most native organizations along the route are supportive of the project and the company is hoping any outstanding issues can be resolved.
"PTP continues to consult with first nations along the pipeline right-of-way," he said in an e-mail. "We understand the Unist'ot'en have now said they want to open up lines of communication and, as we have always maintained, we are willing to meet with them to discuss their concerns."
Apache Canada is proposing to build a 463-kilometre pipeline, at a cost of $1-billion, to link its gas fields in northeastern B.C., with a new liquefied natural gas export facility planned for Kitimat.
But Ms. Huson said her group is steadfastly opposed to the pipeline because it would pass through the only two areas in Unist'ot'en territory that have not yet been disturbed by resource development.
"We've made the decision we are standing up to stop the destruction of [that land] because otherwise there will be nothing left for our future generations," she said.
Chief McMillan said the Kaska Dena are very much aware of the speed with which oil and gas development has been taking place in northern B.C., and are concerned the same thing could happen in Yukon, where industry has identified massive gas reserves, particularly in the southeast.
"We didn't realize the significance of it until we started to see what was happening just immediately across the border with companies like Apache, making major shale gas discoveries in the northeastern part of British Columbia," he said.
Chief McMillan said Yukon tribes are alarmed about a proposed legislative amendment that would mean oil and gas development could take place in traditional territories without the consent of first nations.
Yukon government officials were not available to comment Monday, but a spokesperson for the Premier confirmed a meeting will take place with the Kaska Dena next week.