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Canada's Indigenous: 'We Are the Wall' That the Pipeline Cannot Pass

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First Nations groups have vowed to fight the Canadian government's approval of a planned pipeline with lawsuits and direct action. They say Tuesday's decision violates their constitutional rights because the government failed to consult tribal bands, the basic units of government for First Nations in Canada.

"The government has moved their legal responsibility to consult with First Nations to Enbridge, and that's a wrong move on their part," said Grand Chief Edward John of the Tl'azt'en Nation. Enbridge is the Canadian energy company behind the planned Northern Gateway pipeline.

The Canadian government has a legal duty, according to the constitution, to consult with the First Nations and to accommodate aboriginal treaties in decisions that may impact First Nations lands and resources.

Enbridge's Northern Gateway - a 730-mile, $7 billion pipeline - would carry tar sands oil from the province of Alberta to the coastal town of Kitimat, British Columbia, where the oil will be loaded onto tankers and transported along the coastlines.

Agreements were made with 60 percent of the aboriginal population along the proposed route of the pipeline, Enbridge spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht said in an emailed statement. Part of the line runs through the neighboring province of Alberta.

"That said, we have acknowledge we have more work to do with some First Nations," Giesbrecht added.     

But many indigenous groups in British Columbia said they oppose the pipeline because it would pose risks to the environment that provides their livelihoods.

They are particularly worried about spills, as the pipeline would carry tar sands oil - a product they say is especially toxic. Tar sands oil also sinks, rather than floating like crude oil, making a spill more difficult and costly to clean up.

"Currently, we have no pipelines, no oil, no bitumen in B.C. (British Columbia)," John said, adding that the dangers to their environment come with little benefit to residents. Bitumen is a term for a heavy, viscous type of oil.

John Bennet, national program director for Sierra Club Canada, said, "I've been doing this for 30 years now, and I've never see such strength and opposition to a project."

Umbrella organizations for British Columbia's indigenous groups - Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, First Nations Summit and B.C. Assembly of First Nations - said in a news release Tuesday that they "unequivocally reject" Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to approve the pipeline.

"Enbridge's Northern Gateway tanker and pipeline project exposes all communities from Alberta to the Pacific Coast to the undeniable risk of pipeline and supertanker oil spills," the organizations said in the release. "This project poses an unacceptable risk to the environment, the health, the safety, and livelihoods of all peoples throughout this province."    

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