01/18/2012 08:38 EST | Updated 03/19/2012 05:12 EDT

Enbridge Pipeline Deal With B.C. First Nation Collapses

Enbridge, the company behind the controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline project, is conceding that an agreement with a B.C. First Nation has officially collapsed, after chiefs voted to reject the deal on Tuesday.

The deal, which would have seen the Gitxsan community receive an equity stake in the $5.5-billion project and at least $7 million in profit, was first announced in December by the band's chief negotiator Elmer Derrick.

However, other Gitxsan leaders disagreed, a blockade was set up outside the treaty office and there were claims Derrick had been fired from his position.

Enbridge spokeperson Paul Stanway described the Gitxsan decision as unfortunate but said the company respects their right to take another look at the agreement.

"It means we're back at the table with the Gitxsan, we're still committed to negotiating with them, as far as I'm aware they're still interested in continuing negotiations with us," said Stanway.

But Gitxsan members who led the blockade say there will be no deal with Enbridge, and they will fight with other First Nations to oppose the pipeline project.

Public hearings begin

Meanwhile, community hearings have begun that may determine the fate of Enbridge's plan to pipe oil from the Edmonton area to the port in Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded on tankers and shipped to markets in the U.S. and Asia.

Hundreds of people attended the opening day.

More than 4,300 individuals and groups have signed up to speak at the hearings, which are being conducted by a federal review panel and are expected to last until 2013.

A recent poll paid for by the Enbridge pipeline corporation found that nearly half of British Columbians support the pipeline project, but most also say they don't really know much about it.