POLITICS

Reversal of pipeline pact won't end blockade of B.C. treaty office

01/19/2012 09:22 EST | Updated 03/20/2012 05:12 EDT
HAZELTON, B.C. - A group of Gitxsan hereditary chiefs has withdrawn support for the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project but the reversal is not enough to end a protest in northwestern B.C.

Members of the Gitxsan First Nation have blockaded the Gitxsan Treaty Office in Hazelton, about 1,000 kilometres north of Vancouver, since Dec. 5, to voice their objections to several decisions by the Gitxsan Treaty Society.

Gilbert Johnson, who helped nail shut the doors of the treaty office, said the decision taken Tuesday night by about 47 hereditary chiefs can't undo the anger against society negotiators.

One spokesman had speculated the blockade might be lifted soon but Johnson said that won't happen because there are three other contentious issues that need to be dealt with besides the Enbridge Inc. (TSB:ENB) pipeline.

"That office is not going to open today, tomorrow or next week," Gilbert said. "It's going to open when everything we want to see is on the table and all the documents are audited by proper auditing and not by somebody who's called in from outside and expect us to believe it."

He said people are stationed at the treaty office door 24 hours a day and the crowd grows to about 30 people drumming and singing in the evenings around a fire pit in the -36-degree weather.

Gitxsan Treaty Society negotiator Elmer Derrik, who signed the Enbridge agreement last month, is among the people who must deal with all four outstanding issues before the treaty office will be opened, Johnson said.

He said the other issues include a forestry deal about five years ago that failed to provide $500 annually for five years to every Gitxsan, a business venture with a company that no longer exists and an attempt at a self-governance model that didn't include consultation with residents.

"That Enbridge deal that Elmer signed was "the final kick at the can," he said. "That was enough for us to say enough is enough and the chiefs got all together and we decided it's time to fire these guys, do a legal firing under the hereditary system."

"It's sad that it happens to be Enbridge that this thing landed on," he said.

The other matters have also sparked court action, Johnson said.

The Enbridge agreement would have given the Gitxsan a $7-million equity stake in the project to pipe oil from Alberta to port in Kitimat, B.C., before it was to be shipped to overseas markets.

Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway has said the Calgary-based company is disappointed in the shift but hasn't given up on reaching a deal with the Gitxsan.

British Columbia is blanketed by a complicated quilt of overlapping native land claims and securing the support of aboriginal groups along the line would allow Enbridge to avoid costly and lengthy legal battles to make the pipeline a reality.