The Yinka Dene Alliance, has vowed to fight the B.C. government’s move which could allow Enbridge to temporarily enter First Nations territory and cut down trees for a land survey.
If approved, the permits would allow Enbridge to occupy three sites within Nak’azdli territory for a few days according to a letter written by a First Nations relations officer.
“The reason we were very strong in our response is because Enbridge is trying to do permits and trying to create a momentum which we are bound to stop,” said Yinka Dene spokesperson Geraldine Thomas-Flurer.
According to an email from Brennan Clarke in the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the consideration of the permits is separate from the assessment of the entire project.
Enbridge spokesperson, Ivan Giesbrecht, said that the permits are for information requested at the Joint Review Panel hearings and that, even though those hearings are closed, the data to be collected is still needed.
He said that the permits are not pushing the Northern Gateway pipeline forward, that they are just assessments that must be completed.
But the Yinka Dene, and therefore the Saik’uz and the Nak’azdli are committed to not allowing any Enbridge workers at all in their territories. Thomas-Flurer said that they will start fining any Enbridge people they find on their lands and that there is signage up in the territories saying as much.
“They [Enbridge workers] will have to appear to our traditional governments and they will determine what restitution or fines will have to be paid,” she said.
The permits would allow 361 cubic metres of brush and timber to be cut and nearly 400 metres of trail to be cleared.
According to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources the permits are for investigative works only such as geotechnical surveys. They are not for construction of the pipeline.
Thomas-Flurer knows that her organization is not equipped to fight a billion dollar company in court. She said that they are receiving hundreds of pages of referrals at a time, too many for a small, local government sized, organization of people.
“They’re bombarding our offices,” said Thomas-Flurer. “Knowing that we’re facing a mult-million dollar company that probably has a person for every page and a lawyer for every page. We’re out-resourced in money and people.”
They also have to keep up with the short deadlines to respond to the referrals.
In an email from Clarke in the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations:
“The Province is legally required to consider the permit applications, and upon acceptance of the applications is required to consult First Nations. Regardless of whether First Nations respond or not, the decision maker must consider all available, relevant information in making a decision to issue the permit or not…Consultation does not imply veto power.”
So if the Yinka Dene fail to respond by a certain date there is a possibility that Enbridge could be allowed to proceed anyway.
“Christy Clark has said that she has five conditions and we respect that she is not going to be bullied,” said Thomas-Flurer. “But one condition we feel hasn’t been addressed is Aboriginal rights and titles.”
Nechako Lakes MLA and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Rustad was asked to comment on the situation but he was unable to. He said that he wasn’t the right person to ask and after explaining the process the permits must go through, he said that was all he knew about it.
Thomas-Flurer said that the First Nations people here have wanted to meet with Christy Clark, “we were first in line” she said. But Clark has yet to visit their traditional territories and no meeting is scheduled.
“Throughout our history we are given low level authorities in government that meet with us and it goes nowhere and nothing ever gets done,” she said. “I think that time and time again a lesson has been learned… We are tired of sitting down with people that are unable to make decisions.”
Nathan Cullen, NDP Member of Parliament for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, said if a First Nation has said under no circumstances will they allow Enbridge on their traditional lands “it’s offensive” that the province is looking at these temporary use permits to allow Enbridge to continue to work on Crown land. He expressed doubts on whether the premier will be able to stick to her five conditions.
“I have a very low confidence in the Premier right now,” he said. “We judge people by their actions and not by their words alone.”
“They cannot guarantee that there is not going to be a spill and looking at their track record its quite obvious,” said Thomas-Flurer, citing the Kalamazoo spill which will cost millions to clean up. Thomas-Flurer stressed that with any spillage it could seep into the ground and ruin drinking water that will be needed for generations to come.
Thomas-Flurer brought up the tar sands in Alberta as an example. She has seen the tar sands she said. And she described the devastation there in the landscape and the animals and the sad, defeated look found in the eyes of those First Nations people.
“Our people love our neighbours,” she said. “We are not here forever and the land doesn’t belong to us. We have a responsibility to protect the land for others and for future generations and we take that responsibility very seriously.”