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KITAMAAT VILLAGE, B.C.— Not far from the dark waters that could one day carry supertankers of oil-sands crude to the Pacific Ocean, the pitched battle over the Northern Gateway pipeline took a very public stage as opponents called on God and salmon to fight a project they see as dangerous.
Over the next two years, the federal review panel assessing the $6.6-billion proposed Enbridge Inc. pipeline will travel to dozens of communities, on the route and off it, and hear from the thousands who have asked to speak.
On Tuesday, the first day of public hearings, the three-person panel arrived in Kitamaat Village, a Haisla community on the shores of Douglas Channel. Although Ottawa has invoked the spectre of foreign-funded radicals plotting to derail the project, the real fight was here, in coastal communities where the Exxon Valdez spill still resonates and many first nations communities fear the consequences of a pipeline on their traditional territory and local waters.
Kitamaat Village’s spectacular waterfront could one day look out on the end of the Gateway pipeline and the ships that would carry crude to new customers in Asia and California, delivering untold extra riches to Canada’s energy sector and governments. That is, if the panel gives its blessing to a project that, while Enbridge has pledged to build it to the most modern safety standards, has stirred immense concern about what oil could do to the bounty of seafood and recreation in this part of northern British Columbia.
Before the panel could speak, it faced a community calling on a higher power to defeat the project. In the highly charged atmosphere that has surrounded the Northern Gateway, even an opening invocation was a battle cry.
“We ask you to protect our traditional territory and its treasures,” Verlie Nelson, the daughter of a Haisla clan matriarch, said in a prayer before the panel.
First, Ms. Nelson said, those natural resources were injured by local industrialization. “And now, father, there is a new threat,” she prayed. “God, please help.”
Haisla hereditary chief Sam Robinson indicated in his testimony that his people are preparing to fight for a right to say no.
“We want to have a voice, and we’re going to have a voice.”
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