Skip to content

First Nations Oppose Northern Gateway Pipeline: “We Will Take Our Fight to the Land, Sea and Courts”

June 22, 2014
northern gateway pipeline protest yarn

Northern Gateway Pipeline Protest: Boats of Gitga’at Nation move out to blockade Douglas Channel in British Columbia with “Chain of Hope” made from yarn. Photo: Huffington Post

While the Canadian government’s controversial June 17th endorsement of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is “tepid,” according to the Economist, which noted that the flat five-paragraph statement lacked any ringing praise for the project, First Nations opposition is fierce.

The Northern Gateway pipeline would destroy habitat for the “Spirit Bear,” rare black bears with white or creamy fur. Photo: North American Bear Center.

Enbridge, already responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history (as of 2010), wants to build the $6 billion, 1,200km (730-mile) Northern Gateway pipeline to take 525,000 barrels a day of tar sands bitumen to Kitimat, on the Pacific coast of British Columbia (BC), for shipment to Asia.

At least 23 First Nations, plus 8 councils and alliances, have already gone on record vowing to stop the Northern Gateway pipeline. Crude oil tankers are illegal under First Nations law, according to the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative’s June 16th statement Unwanted Pipeline, Unwilling Province:

“Our people have lived on this coast for 10,000 years,” said Art Sterritt, Executive Director of Coastal First Nations. “Over that time we developed laws and protocols to keep human impacts on the landscape in balance. Those laws are still in effect. Crude oil tankers are banned in our territories under First Nations law.”

First Nations have also declared the Enbridge pipeline project to be “effectively dead,” because it can’t meet the 209 conditions laid out for its approval. On June 17th, when the Canadian government announced its approval for Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, First Nations leaders declared that the government’s approval is meaningless:

“It’s an approval in name only. This project is dead,” said Art Sterritt, Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations. “The project can’t proceed with these conditions. We’ve been clear there is no technology to clean up an oil spill and the dispersant that is used causes more damage than the oil itself.”

Sterritt said.  “We’ve spent millions of dollars developing a sustainable economy. We’re not going to risk it by allowing oil tankers in our waters. It is those living on BC’s coast that will bear all the risks of an oil spill.”

Haida Nation Rejects Northern Gateway Decision

Haida Nation Flag

The Haida Nation issued their own statement on June 17th:

“We will uphold our responsibilities and Haida laws to protect our territory,” said President of the Haida Nation, Kil tlaats’gaa, Peter Lantin. “We will not allow the Northern Gateway tanker and pipeline project to proceed.”

The Haida Nation is rooted in 10,000 years of co-existence with Haida Gwaii and holds unceded Title and Rights to the marine area proposed for the tanker routes. The Haida Nation has opposed the project since its announcement in 2005. Northern Gateway’s safety record, the potential of an oil spill and increased tanker traffic threaten the environment that is the basis of a healthy economy.

“We will take our fight to the land, sea and courts to uphold and protect Haida territory, and to ensure clean water, clean air, and a healthy way of life for future generations,” he said.

Chain of Hope; “We Will Not Back Down”

The Heiltsuk Nation also issued a June 17th statement declaring that they will continue to oppose the Northern Gateway Pipeline project. Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett said, “This decision represents the end of another round in a long fight to protect our lands, waters and resources. We will not back down.”

By June 20th, the first direct action blockade had already been carried out by First Nations people.
Members of the Gitga’at First Nation successfully stretched a crochet “Chain of Hope” across the Douglas Channel as a symbol of their opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and oil tankers project. A flotilla of boats from the community began the journey at 2 pm after inclement weather delayed their launch. Gitga’at women paddled a canoe across the channel in the pouring rain, carrying a giant spool of multicolored crochet wool, interspersed with mementos and fishing floats with messages written on them.
douglas channel

The 2.5 mile Chain of Hope blockade required a lot of crocheting: all ages participated in defense of clean water, clean air and intact communities. Photo: Beacon News

“The community came together and everyone crocheted, to show our full support for the Gitga’at way of life, to stand up for our coast, the whales, our traditions, our food and for the future Gitga’at that will use our territory for generations to come,” said Jodi Hill, a member of the Gitga’at First Nation and Chain of Hope participant. “We stand today to take care for generations we will never meet, just as our ancestors stood up for us. The crochet line means something to us all now. We won’t stand for Enbridge or the government that supports them.”

The paddlers laid a crochet chain more than 11,000 feet long (about 2.5 miles) from Hawkesbury Island to Hartley Bay.
“This chain is made of wool, but it’s stronger than steel,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “First Nations will do whatever it takes to protect our communities from the dangers of oil spills because we have everything to lose. The BC and Canadian governments ignore this message at their own peril.”
Gitga’at territory encompasses approximately 7,500 square kilometres of land and water, including a major portion of Douglas Channel, which is the proposed route oil tankers would have to travel to get to and from Kitimat.

Together, the 23 First Nations and 8 councils/alliances issued this statement on June 17th:

First Nations Going to Court United Against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project

Federal and Provincial Governments Disregard Indigenous Title and Rights

Today, we unequivocally reject the Harper Government’s decision to approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway tanker and pipelines project and First Nations will immediately go to court to vigorously pursue all lawful means to stop the Enbridge project.

We have governed our lands, in accordance to our Indigenous laws, since time immemorial. Our inherent Title and Rights and our legal authority over our respective territories have never been surrendered.

Our inherent rights are human rights constitutionally enshrined, judicially recognized and embodied in international legal instruments including the United Nations’Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This project, and the federal process to approve it, violated our rights and our laws. We are uniting to defend our lands and waters of our respective territories. Our rights and laws compel us to act.

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway tanker and pipeline project exposes all communities from Alberta to the Pacific Coast to the undeniable risk of pipeline and supertanker oil spills. First Nations and the majority of British Columbians believe this project poses an unacceptable risk to the environment, the health, the safety and livelihoods of all peoples throughout this province.

We will defend our territories whatever the costs may be.

Council of the Haida Nation

Gitanmaax Band Council

Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs



Gitxsan (Delgamuukw)




Lax kw’alaams




Neskonlith Indian Band

Office of the Wet’suwet’en

Saikuz First Nation

Takla Lake


Tsetsaut / Skii km Lax Ha

Tsleil-Waututh Nation

Wet’suwet’en First Nation

Williams Lake Indian Band



Carrier Sekani Tribal Council

Coastal First Nations

St’at’imc Chiefs Council

Tahltan Central Council

YinkaDene Alliance


BC Assembly of First Nations

First Nations Summit

Union of BC Indian Chiefs


Media inquiries, please contact:

kiltlaats’gaa Peter Lantin, President of the Haida Nation 250-626-7804

Chief Arnold Clifton, Gitgaat, 778-884-1215

Chief Councillor Ellis Ross, Haisla, 250-639-9361

Art Sterritt, Coastal First Nations, 604-868-9110

Douglas Neasloss, Kitasoo/Xaixais, 250-839-1255 ext 209

Chief Garry Reece, Lax kw’alaams, 250-625-3293

Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett, Heiltsuk Tribal Council, 250-957-2381

Nek’t (George Muldoe), Wilp of Delgamuukw, 250-842-6627

Chief Judy Wilson, Neskonlith Indian Band, 250-320-7738

Tribal Chair Terry Teegee, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, 250-640-3256

Grand Chief Edward John, First Nations Summit, 778-772-8218)

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, 250-490-5314

Sarah Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, 604.358.3371

Courtney Daws, BC Assembly of First Nations, 604-922-7733



Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: