I’ll be honest: In the days following the federal election, the mood at the Dogwood office was pretty somber. Although we were proud of our accomplishments in B.C., we knew our game plan needed to shift in light of the Conservative majority.

After several years of working to get the opposition parties to support a ban on oil tankers on B.C.’s north coast, we were going to have to focus more on other parts of our campaign for now. Thankfully, we’ve always pursued several avenues to stopping the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline – and we didn’t have to wait long for something to boost our spirits. Just one week after the election, there was an outstanding showing of First Nations solidarity at Enbridge’s annual general meeting.

Led by the Yinka Dene Alliance, the First Nations not only attended the general meeting, but also had a private sit-down with Enbridge’s board and CEO.

“We told Enbridge’s board and CEO – right to their faces – that we’re not here to negotiate a better deal,” said Chief Jackie Thomas of B.C.’s Saik’uz Nation.

And the people in the boardroom weren’t the only ones listening. The media coverage that followed the First Nations visit to Calgary drew attention to the tremendous power they hold.

In the National Post, financial columnist Claudia Cattaneo wrote that the First Nations’ message requires full consideration: “The cost of moving against a united and powerful aboriginal front that is getting angrier by the day is considerable: lengthy litigation regardless of whether the project receives regulatory approval (there are no treaties in much of B.C., opening a decision to a legal challenge), damage to the corporate reputation from disrespecting the wishes of B.C.’s matriarchal communities, vulnerability to sabotage during and after construction, and continuing demonstrations.”

Cattaneo also pointed out that with more oil spills being reported all the time, fear of “oil contamination of water, wildlife and way of life, is hardly unfounded.” She goes on to praise Enbridge for going above and beyond corporate norms to try to get First Nations support (by offering several financial incentives), but makes the astute observation that what Enbridge “has failed to recognize is that this group, led by many female chiefs, has different values.”

In other words, they can’t be bought. When the business pundits at the National Post are taking notice, you know you’re onto something. 

Just a few days later, the Globe and Mail reported that Jim Prentice, former federal minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, was giving a speech at the hotel across the street from the First Nations protest. Afterward, he warned that First Nations opponents wield substantial clout over projects such as Enbridge’ proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

“And so the reality on the ground is that the constitutional and legal position of the first nations is very strong,” Prentice said.

Globe reporters Carrie Tait and Nathan VanderKlippe summed it up well, writing:  “Mr. Prentice and various experts back what first nations in British Columbia have long argued: That the future of Northern Gateway and other industrial projects hinges on much more than regulatory approvals. They must secure first nations support for projects, which Enbridge’s promise of some $1-billion in native benefits has failed to do. Instead, it has strengthened already fierce opposition.”

Likewise, a Conservative majority government and comments from Prime Minister Stephen Harper that are offside with the majority of British Columbians only strengthen the resolve and growing opposition to the Enbridge pipeline and tanker proposal in B.C. 

Conservative politicians certainly can’t take the inevitability of this project for granted when financial analysts are saying First Nations opposition could kill the project. Robert Johnson, a Washington-based energy expert for Eurasia Group, said last week that his level of confidence about the project has “gone down quite a bit” because “Native land claims scare the hell out of investors.”

Those are strong words coming from someone who works for a firm that claims to be the “world’s leading global political risk research and consulting firm.”

While all of these comments are encouraging, Enbridge is still gunning to trample First Nations’ constitutional rights and to ignore the 75 per cent of British Columbians who don’t want this project. This battle is far from over and we will continue to stand in solidarity with First Nations and British Columbians who do not want to be a thoroughfare for Alberta’s oil. 

Image credit: Josh Paterson, West Coast Environmental Law

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