BELLA BELLA—Tribal Journeys 2014 has seen coastal First Nations brave the choppy waters, paddling up the strait to Bella Bella for the annual canoe gathering.
But as the canoe families enjoyed the celebrations, a storm was brewing.
Participants learned Monday that the host Heiltsuk were joining seven other First Nations in a legal challenge of the contentious Enbridge Northern Gateway project.
The Haisla Nation, Gitxaala Nation, Council of the Haida Nation, Gitga’at Nation, Heiltsuk Tribal Council, Kitasoo-Xaixais Nation, Nadleh Whut’en First Nation and Nak’azdli First Nation filed legal documents this week challenging the constitutionality of the recent federal government approval for the project.
“Our people have been clear since this pipeline was proposed,” said Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett. “We will not allow this to threaten our waters. We stand with our relatives up and down the coast in rejecting this frightful project.”
Participants at the Tribal Journeys gathering were informed of the legal proceedings at a rally Monday morning.
“We are honoured to reaffirm our commitment to protecting this coast with all of our Pacific relatives bearing witness,” said Chief Slett. “Our water is our lifeblood, and all the canoe families who traveled to our shores understand that sentiment.”
The First Nations argue that the government’s review process was fundamentally flawed, especially in light of the recent Tsilhqot’in decision wherein the Supreme Court affirmed the existence of Aboriginal Title in B.C.
“The Joint Review Panel’s recommendation and the federal government’s ultimate decision did not come as a surprise,” said Kitasoo-Xaixais Tribal Councillor Douglas Neasloss, “but our coastal peoples are disappointed by the blatant disregard shown to us throughout this process.”
The joint legal challenge cites a series of failures by the Crown to involve First Nations in the decision-making process. According to documents from the group, “The federal government’s First Nations consultation phase of the review consisted of one or two meetings (between each Nation and) federal officials who had no authority to bind the federal government, had no mandate to negotiate accommodations, and who simply summarized First Nations’ extensive outstanding concerns and forwarded these to the decision-makers who made no further efforts to address them before making their decision: the eventual federal Cabinet decision and conditions imposed did not change at all from the original Joint Review Panel recommendation as a result of First Nations consultation.”
“We assert that the federal government has failed in its duty to consult honourably with First Nations,” said Chief Slett. “They have made their decision based on flawed and uninformed recommendations from the Joint Review Panel. This will not stand.”
Legal filings July 11 and 14 to the Federal Court of Appeal have sought leave for the pipeline’s opponents to apply for a judicial review of the project’s approvals. If granted, the First Nations will argue that the federal government’s approval of the Enbridge Project should be quashed. In related cases brought by First Nations and environmental groups, the Joint Review Panel’s report and the certifications granted by the National Energy Board also face challenges.
More that 100 First Nations have signed the Coastal First Nations Declaration and Save the Fraser Declaration banning Enbridge pipelines and tankers, and similar tar sands projects from their territories and watersheds.
“We will use all lawful means to defend our lands and waters from this risky project,” the Nations wrote in a joint statement. “Today’s legal filings are a crucial step towards ensuring that our territories can continue to sustain this and future generations, for our nations and for all people.”