VANCOUVER — First Nations that have launched a court fight to block the Northern Gateway pipeline project say the challenges will determine whether their relationship with the next federal government is one of collaboration or confrontation.
Eight aboriginal bands, four environmental groups and a labour union are in the Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver, trying to overturn the government's approval of the $7-billion plan to ship diluted bitumen from Alberta's oilsands to British Columbia's coast.
The government placed 209 conditions recommended by the National Energy Board on the construction of the pipeline, including that there be the development of a marine mammal protection plan, a caribou habitat restoration plan and enhanced marine spill modelling.
Speaking just before the start of the hearing on Thursday, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said Stephen Harper's government has demonized First Nations over the issue of resource development.
The federal government declared many of the large projects of national interest and ignored First Nations concerns, he said.
"I absolutely pray that we elect a national government that has a better national vision for this country, that's more inclusive and more respectful of what the indigenous peoples are attempting to tell this country.''
Haida Nation council president Peter Lantin said the project's approval jeopardizes his community's years of work to build a relationship with the federal government.
Lantin said the environmental assessment by a federal review panel didn't look at Northern Gateway's potential effects on the region.
"Haida Gwaii is a unique ecosystem,'' he said. "It's a beautiful place on earth that deserves protecting.''
Pete Erickson, a hereditary chief with the Nak'azdli First Nation, said his community's decision to reject Northern Gateway was not taken lightly. The nation conducted extensive studies on the potential impacts to the land, he added.
"We're asking the court to side with us,'' he said. "Under no circumstances will Enbridge's Northern Gateway project be allowed in Nak'azdli territory.''
A Northern Gateway spokesman has said the review was among the most exhaustive in Canadian history, spanning 180 days of hearings.
Canada's Attorney General, Northern Gateway Pipelines Limited Partnership and the National Energy Board are named as respondents to the challenges.
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