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First Nation Ready For Legal ‘Battle’ If Northern Gateway Pipeline Is Approved

The Gitga'at First Nation would be "shocked" and "disappointed" at an approval.
The Trans-Canada Pipeline. Image: Flickr/Shannon Ramos

Update, Tuesday November 29, 5:10 pm ET: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that the Northern Gateway project would not proceed, but that the Enbridge Line 3 and Kinder Morgan pipelines would. Trudeau said in part that the government had concluded Northern Gateway was "not in the best interests of the local affected communities, including indigenous peoples."

The federal government is expected to announce its decision on whether two high-profile oil pipelines in Canada will go ahead on Tuesday, which experts have described as a test of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's commitment to balancing economic interests with environmental concerns and the desires of Canada's First Nations peoples.


Trudeau is expected to hand down a decision at 4:30 PM EST on Tuesday on the project to replace a section of Line 3, which stretches across Canada and into the US, and the Northern Gateway project in British Columbia. Both projects are backed by Canadian energy company Enbridge. Northern Gateway is the more controversial of the two pipelines and has experienced legal setbacks after successful challenges by a BC First Nations community.

"The major concern that we have is that a spill in the ocean—the tankers will be going right by our village—would destroy everything that we stand for," said Art Sterritt, a spokesperson for the Gitga'at First Nation, in an interview.

The Gitga'at First Nation live on the coast, near the the proposed route that oil tankers would traverse to collect diluted bitumen carried from Alberta's oilsands for eventual export. They worry that a spill would spell disaster for their community, much like the diesel spill near Bella Bella BC did earlier this year for the Heiltsuk First Nation there.

Read More: The Tribe Protesting the Dakota Pipeline Is Ready to Defend Its Wireless Network

Thanks to a court ruling in June that overturned the federal government's approval of the project, the provincial and federal governments must consult with the local Gitga'at First Nation if the Northern Gateway project is to continue.

According to Sterritt, the government hasn't consulted with the community.


If Trudeau were to give the pipeline his blessing before that happens, the Gitga'at would be "shocked" and "disappointed," Sterritt said. Indeed, the move would likely be seen as a major betrayal of Trudeau's promises to repair the deeply broken relationship between Canada's First Nations and the federal government.

"[An approval] would really set the stage for quite a battle," Sterritt said. "For starters, there would definitely be legal action because the court told British Columbia and Canada that they both need to consult with the Gitga'at before trying to move ahead with Northern Gateway."

The office of Minister of Natural Resources James Carr has not responded to Motherboard's request for comment.

Meanwhile, Canadian indigenous groups are considering protesting in solidarity with indigenous pipeline activists at Standing Rock in the US.

Grand Chief Terrance Nelson of the Southern Chiefs Organization stated at a gathering in Manitoba over the weekend that Canadian First Nations would consider protests in response to police clearing out the protesters at Standing Rock, although he did not specifically mention Line 3 or Northern Gateway, according to media reports.

There is the option for Trudeau to announce that the government plans to consult with the Gitga'at First Nation before approving Northern Gateway, Sterritt said.

And, of course, Trudeau could surprise everybody and sideline the $7.9 billion Northern Gateway project permanently.

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