Wet'suwet'en clans drummed their chiefs into a Smithers convention room Monday and together gave the Northern Gateway pipelines a "resounding no."
Many told a federal panel reviewing the project how they grew up fishing, hunting and gathering food in their traditional territories—a life they say the Enbridge oil pipeline puts at too high a risk.
"It's not a matter of if the pipeline breaks, it's when," said Samantha Vincent of the Laksilyu clan. "We will have no more fish in our waters. The vegetation in our waterbeds will be dead. It could take 100 years or more to heal, but it will never fully recover, and while we wait our children will lose their culture and traditions."
Listening to the Wet'suwet'en and other speakers were biologist Sheila Leggett, geologist Hans Matthews and energy lawyer Kenneth Bateman—the three people leading a federal review of Northern Gateway. By the end of 2013, the panel is expected to approve or reject the twin pipelines project, which would carry imported condensate and crude oil between the Alberta oil sands and the B.C. coast. The panel's decision will be based on whether the Enbridge project meets Canada's economic interests and environmental standards.
Debbie Pierre, executive director of the Office of the Wet'suwet'en, spoke directly to the panel and its role.
"There are many Wet'suwet'en people who feel that this process is futile—that what we say to you means nothing," she said. "I ask the panel today to prove that wrong."
That request was repeated by Richard Sam, who led a successful 10-year court battle against a Canfor logging operation on Laksilyu territory in the Red Top area.
"By going back and supporting our traditional chiefs, you show our young people that what our chiefs say matters," he said.
Sam also drew loud applause when he referred to recent media interviews in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave strong support to the Enbridge project.
"How is it that he can pre-decide what his decision will be when he hasn't even spoken with us?" he asked. "How is that consulting in good faith with aboriginal people?"
Enbridge has offered a 10 per cent equity deal to the Wet'suwet'en and all other aboriginal groups living within 80 km of its proposed pipeline—a deal it says would bring in a total of $280 million over 30 years.
Enbridge officials have said they have support from 40 per cent of aboriginal groups along the route, but that support is mostly from Alberta.
Colin Kinsley chairs the Northern Gateway Alliance, a group that supports the project.
"We've got to deal with the facts," he said. "And one of the facts is there is no pipeline culture west of Prince George."
Kinsley said it's hard to convince people who aren't familiar with pipelines that the Enbridge project can run safely, but the engineering behind it speaks for itself.
"You've heard all the rhetoric—you're going to kill an entire fishery, or you're going to kill an entire river," he said. "The science will prevail."
Kinsley added that he is looking forward to the next stage of the federal review, when expert witnesses will present and be cross-examined on technical reports.
Although none of 24 people who addressed the panel on Monday spoke in favour of the Enbridge proposal, Kinsley said that was to be expected.
"When you have a public hearing on something, mostly the opposition comes out and a silent majority stays at home," he said.
On Monday, the Northern Gateway Alliance reported that it now has 1100 supporters, many of whom signed on in the last six months.
Kinsley said a the Alliance saw several dozen sign-ups after a northern B.C. tour by Patrick Moore, a former Greenpeace environmentalist who supports the project.
"What Dr. Moore did was speak to the science of it, and speak truthfully about risk," Kinsley said. "What he talked about was the real things—not the rambling and the sky is falling sort of stuff."
A full transcript of the Smithers hearing is available at www.gatewaypanel.review-examen.gc.ca.