By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, March 20 An alliance of Canadian and
U.S. aboriginal groups vowed on Wednesday to block three
multibillion-dollar oil pipelines that are planned to transport
oil from the Alberta tar sands, saying they are prepared to take
physical action to stop them.
The Canadian government, faced with falling revenues due to
pipeline bottlenecks and a glut that has cut the price for
Alberta oil, say the projects are a national priority and will
help diversify exports away from the U.S. market.
But the alliance of 10 native bands - all of whose
territories are either near the crude-rich tar sands or on the
proposed pipeline routes - complain Ottawa and Washington are
ignoring their rights.
They also say building the pipelines would boost
carbon-intensive oil sands production and therefore speed up the
pace of climate change.
"Indigenous people are coming together with many, many
allies across the United States and Canada, and we will not
allow these pipelines to cross our territories," said Phil Lane
Jr, a hereditary chief from the Ihanktonwan Dakota in the state
of South Dakota.
"Along with every single legal thing that can be done, there
is direct action going on now to plan how to physically stop the
pipelines," he told a news conference in Ottawa.
The pipeline projects in question are:
* TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL to Texas, which is
awaiting approval from Washington
* Enbridge Inc's Northern Gateway to the Pacific
Coast, which if built will help export oil to China
* Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP's plans to more
than double the capacity of its existing Trans Mountain pipeline
Some Canadian aboriginal bands briefly blockaded roads and
rail lines in January as part of a national protest dubbed "Idle
No More" against the poor living conditions that many natives
They say the Canadian government is ignoring treaties signed
with native bands in the 18th and 19th centuries. These
agreements, they say, give aboriginal groups a major say in what
happens on their territories.
"They've been stealing from us for the last 200 years ...
now they're going to destroy our land? We're not going to let
that happen," said Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whut'en First
Nation in British Columbia.
"If we have to go to court, if we have to stand in front of
any of their machines that are going to take the oil through, we
are going to do that. We're up against a wall here. We have
nowhere else to go."
U.S. environmentalists are urging President Barack Obama to
block the Keystone XL pipeline. Greens and native bands also
oppose the Northern Gateway, saying if there were a spill it
could cause an environmental disaster and jeopardize traditional
Canada's Conservative government on Tuesday appointed a
lawyer to gather views of native groups across British Columbia
on energy development and report back to Ottawa.
Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, asked abut
the bands' comments on Wednesday, said the government expects
citizens to respect the law.
"If we do not go ahead with infrastructure, with pipelines
to move our resources to tidewater and on to markets that want
the resources, we will see them stranded and our legacy lost,"
he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
"The people who will be hurt by this will be Canadians and
we don't want that happen and we are determined it will not
happen," he said.
The Nadleh Whut'en have teamed with four other British
Columbia First Nations against Northern Gateway in a group
called Yinka Dene Alliance. They have long said they will not
allow the pipeline, which is now the subject of public hearings,
to go through their territories.
For its part, Enbridge said it is well aware of the group's
opposition. The company says it has agreements with 60 percent
of the aboriginal communities along Northern Gateway's proposed
route that will give those communities equity stakes in the
"The Yinka Dene Alliance's position hasn't changed for
years, even with several attempts to sit down and discuss issues
and try to address their concerns," Enbridge spokesman Todd
Nogier said. "We see the federal government's announcement
yesterday (of a representative to meet with natives) as a very
positive one. It's one that works to address bigger issues
beyond any single project."