By Dene Moore, The Canadian Press

FORT ST. JAMES, B.C. – A group of First Nations with territory covering a quarter of the route for the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline met with federal representatives Friday to officially reject the project.

Officials with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans met with the four clans of the Yinka Dene in Fort St. James, and listened as dozens of elders, hereditary and elected chiefs said “No.”

“We do not, we will not, allow this pipeline,” Peter Erickson, a hereditary chief of the Nak’azdli First Nation, told the six federal bureaucrats.

“We’re going to send the message today to the federal government and to the company itself: their pipeline is dead. Under no circumstances will that proposal be allowed.

“Their pipeline is now a pipe dream.”

Karen Ogan, chief of the Wet’suwet’en, thanked the Crown representatives for listening. During the often emotional meeting, Ogan touched on the country’s checkered past with First Nations and its role in the dispute.

“Some people may come from an anger perspective because we’ve been bulldozed, we’ve been run over all through history, through colonization and today we want our voice to be heard,” Ogan told the six bureaucrats during the day-long meeting.

The bands said the project is now banned from Yinka Dene territories, under their traditional laws.

Members young and old of the Nadleh Whut’en, Nak’azdli, Saik’uz, Takla Lake, Tl’azt’en and Wet’suwet’en communities were unanimous. They said the decision by the four clans marks the end of negotiations.

The pipeline project faces a major hurdle in getting First Nations on board but behind the scenes negotiations have continued talking with many groups. The company has also signed several benefits agreements with First Nations, though few of them admit publicly to the deals.

The Yinka Dene has spearheaded a petition against the pipeline that has been signed by 160 First Nations groups in B.C. — most not located near the proposed pipeline route.

Last month, the company announced that it asked former conservative minister of Indian affairs Jim Prentice to try and mediate deals with First Nations opposed to the project.

The $6-billion, nearly 1,200-kilometre pipeline would deliver 525,000 barrels of petroleum a day from Edmonton to a tanker terminal in Kitimat, on the north coast.

The federal government claims Canada is losing billions of dollars a year because western Canadian oil is not reaching markets overseas. Enbridge (TSX:ENB) has said Northern Gateway is expected to grow the Canadian GDP by more than $300 billion over 30 years.

But the pipeline became a lightning rod in the debate over global climate change and raised alarm over the possibility of an oil spill on land or off the coast of B.C.

A federal review panel recommended approval of the pipeline with 209 conditions. A final decision is expected from the federal government in June but several B.C. First Nations have filed appeals with the Federal Court seeking to overturn the panel recommendation.

The challenge for the company does not lie solely in First Nations communities. Several municipalities in northern B.C. have voted to oppose the project, Terrace, Prince Rupert and Smithers.

Council in Kitimat, the would-be terminus of the pipeline, is about to end its neutral stance on the project. Residents vote in a plebiscite Saturday that will decide the district’s position.

NEW: The list of Aboriginal communities and municipalities opposed to Northern Gateway grew, with the addition of Yika Dene Alliance for First Nations, from north central B.C.

By Mychaylo Prystupavancouverobserver

Two hundred people from four Yinka Dene communities packed a gymnasium in north central B.C. on Friday to give an emotional presentation to the federal government and Enbridge that their alliance formally opposes the Northern Gateway oil pipeline.

“It was amazing to finally tell the feds – this is our decision,” Nak’azdli Hereditary Chief Pete Erickson, told the Vancouver Observer Saturday.

“It was amazing – just the amount of interest — it was a very formal gesture among all the clans.”

The Yinka Alliiance’s decision to end negotiations is clearly a big blow for the project.  Critically, the communities’ ancestral territories represent one quarter of the pipeline’s 1,177km length.

Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX: T.ENB) has long said it will continue to engage with First Nations that oppose its project.  Enbridge did not respond to requests for comment.  The Harper government will make the final say on the project before June.

The company is battling also battling a critical plebiscite vote in Kitimat on Saturday.

Yinka Dene elders and dancers - Wallace Studios

Yinka Dene elders and dancers – Wallace Studios

One by one, Elders, children and band members gave presentations at the gathering near Fort Saint James, B.C.  Their reasons for opposing the oilsands pipeline range from earthquake concerns to aquatic impacts.

“I had the opportunity to talk to my son,” said an emotional Saik’uz Chief Stan Thomas to the Friday crowd. “I want to make a difference for him.”

Chief Erickson added, “We examined that with that fact that our fish are running about two to three percent of historic average, and it makes up a huge part of our diet.”

“There was some economic interests expressed by the company – we looked at all of that, and just believed it can not be done in a manner that would be sustainable long-term for our community,” said Erickson.

Yinka Dene youth - Wallace Studio

Yinka Dene youth presenting reasons for rejecting Northern Gateway – Wallace Studio

Fault line risks to pipeline

One of the main concerns was how an offshoot of the San Andreas fault line could rupture Alberta oil into the communities rivers and lakes.

“[An oil spill] would be disastrous — you can not bring salmon back.  It would end our ability to sustain ourselves.  And we don’t move — we don’t have a place to go.”

“When the last earthquake hit Haida Gwaii – we felt it very, very strong here in Fort Saint James.”

“We have a fault line that runs right beside our community, alongside Stuart Lake.  And we asked several questions, and never got really good answers from Enbridge or the government about the safety of the pipeline in our country.”

Many of these same Yinka Dene nations signed the Save the Fraser Declaration Solidarity Accord of 2010.

Attending the gathering were federal government managers from the fisheries and oceans department, as well as the National Energy Board.

Elected officials with the Harper government were invited, but did not attend.

Yinka Dene oppose Northern Gateway - Wallace Studio

The ballot count from Saturday’s vote was 1,793 opposed versus 1,278 who supported the multi-billion dollar project — a margin of 58.4 per cent to 41.6 per cent.

The $6.5-billion project would see two pipelines, one carrying oilsands’ bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat’s port, and a second carrying condensate — a form of natural gas used to dilute the bitumen — from Kitimat back to Alberta.

Kitimat would also be the site of a proposed two-berth marine terminal and tank farm to store the thick Alberta crude before it’s loaded onto tankers for shipment to Asia.

Until this vote, Kitimat had remained neutral in its opinion on the controversial project. It didn’t take part in the joint-review process, which heard from hundreds of people before a federal panel approved the project with 209 conditions.

The federal cabinet is expected to release its decision on Northern Gateway by June.

This is a breaking news update. Our earlier story follows…

KITIMAT, B.C. — It was unclear if frantic campaigning had any effect on voters in this northwest BC community who cast ballots Saturday in a plebiscite over the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project.

“All the hoopla didn’t change our minds, we already knew how we were going to vote,” Donna Crist, a local resident said.

Opponents and supporters of the project tried to persuade voters on their respective points of view.

Northern Gateway’s campaign concentrated on the promise of 180 permanent, direct, local jobs worth $17 million and more spinoff jobs for contractors and suppliers.

The company emphasized its commitment to safety and the environment, saying that the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel, which held two years of hearings on the project, has made many of the company’s voluntary commitments a mandatory part of the conditions for approval.

The main opponent, the local environmental group Douglas Channel Watch, maintains the risk from either a tanker accident or pipeline breach is too high for the small number of jobs the pipeline would bring to the community.

Murray Minchin of Douglas Channel Watch released his groups’ advertising budget this week showing it spent $14,362.92 on ads, supplies and other campaign expenses. He challenged Enbridge to release its ad budget.

Ivan Giesbrecht, a spokesman for Northern Gateway, said in an email that the company “will discuss our advertising spending after (the plebiscite) is over this weekend.”

As locals continued to cast their ballots Saturday, the expressed mixed feelings about the vote.

” 1/8The plebiscite 3/8 is a waste of money because it’s non-binding — who cares?” said a man who would not give his name.

On the other hand, others were simply hoping for the town’s participation.

“I hope there’s a good turnout and everyone votes in good conscience,” Earl North said.

Warren Waycheshen, Kitimat’s Deputy Administrative Officer, says about 1,700 people have cast their vote today as of 5:15 p.m.

More than 900 people voted in advanced polls, much higher than the 470 early ballots cast before the 2011 municipal election, which had 4,200 registered voters.

Over 2,400 people cast ballots in the town’s last vote.

Other than to gauge the public temperature around the heated issue of the proposed oil pipeline, it’s unclear — even to Kitimat council — what approval or rejection of the non-binding vote will mean.

Kitimat is the end of the line for the pipeline, and it’s the site of a proposed two-berth marine terminal and tank farm to store the thick crude before it’s loaded onto tankers for shipment to Asia.

The $6.5-billion project would see two pipelines, one carrying oilsands’ bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat’s port, and a second carrying condensate — a form of natural gas used to dilute the bitumen — from Kitimat back to Alberta.

Until this vote, Kitimat has remained neutral in its opinion on the pipeline project. It didn’t take part in the joint-review process, which heard from hundreds of people before a federal panel approved the project with 209 conditions.

The federal cabinet is expected to release its decision on the project by June.

A key reason for holding the vote was to fulfil a 2011 promise made by all municipal election candidates in Kitimat to poll citizens on the pipeline project.

Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan has said the council will wait for the outcome before taking a stand.

But it was clear during a debate earlier last month that even Kitimat councillors were uncertain what the decision will mean.

Coun. Corinne Scott said during the March council meeting that it seems clear the community remains split, no matter what the outcome.

Coun. Phil Germuth said the vote is not on the project itself, but on the joint-review decision.

“We’re asking about 209 conditions that nobody understands fully. Even Enbridge doesn’t fully understand them.”

But Coun. Edwin Empinado said the results would give the district “more bargaining power” in the future to deal with the company and the federal government.

There has been much tension leading up to the vote.

Even the question, as chosen by the District of Kitimat council, was controversial, because it focused on the 209 conditions placed on the project by the Joint Review Panel: “Do you support the final report recommendations of the Joint Review Panel (JRP) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and National Energy Board, that the Enbridge Northern Gateway project be approved, subject to 209 conditions set out in Volume 2 of the JRP’s final report?”

The plebiscite has also raised tensions between the District of Kitimat and the nearby Haisla First Nation, which is adamantly opposed to Northern Gateway.

In a letter to local media, Haisla Chief Coun. Ellis Ross said that the decision to hold a vote at this late date was a “slap in the face” for all the work done by the Haisla on the project.

The Haisla Nation dedicated time and money toward testing Northern Gateway’s evidence and claims about safety and environmental protection, while the district stood by and did nothing, the letter stated.

“The review process for this project has already left town, with the district taking no position on the project. Still undecided on what its views are on the project, the district now proposes to conduct a poll, instead of examining the facts in the JRP process.”

UPDATED: VIDEO -You’re done Enbridge: Kitimat votes NO

KITIMAT, B.C. — The residents of Kitimat, B.C. have voted against the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project in a non-binding plebiscite.