A First Nations delegation – assisted by Dogwood Initiative and Forest Ethics – journeyed from British Columbia to Toronto in early May to tell Enbridge Inc’s shareholders at their annual meeting that their proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline and tanker project is unacceptable.

Prior to the meeting itself, a First Nations “mixing of the waters” ceremony was performed that will be remembered by opponents of the project as a symbol of unity and strength; and by Enbridge, perhaps, as simply another cog in a mounting littany of opposition to their project.

Depending on how you count it, Enbridge’s tar sands-to-Kitimat project has been delayed six times. In this recent go-around, the most significant change is a new $100 million slush fund given to Enbridge by Alberta producers to secure a regulatory approval. Signs are they are going to need it.

Waters Mixed

As cameras looked on, water from the Kitimat, Maurice, and Sutherland rivers were poured into a glass bowl outside of the King Edward Hotel, where Enbridge was about to begin their annual general meeting.  The second and larger ceremony of the day, it included Gerald Amos of the Haisla First Nation,  Chief Kloum Khun of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, and Eleanor Nooski and Tara Marsden representing the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation. All spoke of the importance of the waters to their territories and to their people.

A single spill from the proposed pipelines or tankers could reap devastation on salmon, steelhead, shellfish, and any number of important species in BC’s abundant rivers or coastal waters.

A representative of a local Ontario First Nation welcomed the BC delegation to the meeting (image at left).

“We will do whatever it takes to defend our lands and waters against this threat from Enbridge,” stated Chief Kloum Khun.

Said Amos, “The Exxon Valdez taught us [this is] a risk we should not be taking at all.”

In language that should serve instructive for Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt, who is seeking to streamline the pipeline approval process, Tara Marsden stated that “consultation as it stands now only means more court cases and conflict.”

Court Cases and Conflict

During the April briefing Dogwood presented on how environmental concerns could stymie Gateway

As West Coast Environmental Law made clear during an April 2009 briefing to Enbridge investors, a failure on the part of government to work with First Nations during the design of the Northern Gateway project review and decision-making processes has resulted in legal challenges and delays in the past (e.g., Dene Tha’, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council cases).

Projects like Northern Gateway are also vulnerable to suspension by the courts if approvals are granted without honourable consultation and accommodation.

Pens Out, Cameras On

As Dogwood welcomed attendees of Enbridge’s meeting with copies of a news release explaining the day’s action, media were busy conducting interviews with the ceremony participants. The Canadian Press covered the ceremony, their story was widely syndicated online and appeared in various Canadian dailies. Also there were the Business News Network (a CTV affiliate) and The Northern Miner, a journal claiming to be the world’s leading mining publication for professionals and investors.

The Mounting Littany

The mixing of the waters ceremony followed on the heels of a protest the day before that saw over 150 people rally in front of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project office in Terrace, BC. Rally organizer Warner Naziel, of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, said the message to Enbridge is:  “… we don’t want tankers, we don’t want oil sands, we don’t want pipelines…”

Clearly said, and a sentiment that – when the ceremony participants entered the King Edward Hotel – echoed inside of Enbridge’s AGM as well.

Opposition by First Nations and non-First Nations alike, combined with legal and political recourse to assert more influence in and over the assessment process creates a rough road ahead for Enbridge’s ambition to bring the tar sands to BC’s coast.