On August 31, 2010, the federal Joint Review Panel learned some basic cues about respecting local First Nations title holders. Holding a meeting in Kitimat, British Columbia, to review procedural questions about the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review Panel process, the Panel neglected to honour the host First Nation as the first speaker. Instead the panel first called representatives of the Heiltsuk nation from Bella Bella. The Heiltsuk, however, refused to dishonour the local Haisla nation and insisted the Haisla be allowed to go first.
This disrespect to the Haisla is emblematic of how this process is grounded upon disrespect to First Nations traditions and concerns. Throughout the three days of hearings at Kitimat, representatives of the Haisla First Nation, Heiltsuk Tribal Council, Gitga’at First Nation, Office of the Wet’suwet’en, Coastal First Nations, Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation, Gitxaala First Nation, and Wilp Gwininitwx from the Gitxsan Nation spoke to their opposition to the proposed pipeline. First Nations representatives spoke repeatedly to their concerns about potential impacts on their territories and inherent rights, and the limited consideration of their traditions in Enbridge’s assessment of the impact of pipeline development.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has recognized the need to attain First Nations free, prior and informed consent for developments that would alter their territories, traditional land use, and culture. The Supreme Court of Canada has also recognized a Crown duty to consult and accommodate Aboriginal peoples regarding any project that would impact their relationships to their territories. First Nations own systems of law mandate their responsibilities to protect and maintain the integrity of their territories.
First Nations continue to oppose the pipeline, defending their rights and responsibilities in International, Canadian, and First Nations law. Many communities are also asserting the federal Joint Review Panel is disrespectful to their traditions and authority over their traditional territories. They have indicated that their communities and their knowledge should be substantively involved in the management of their territories. The Joint Review Panel lacks representation of local First Nations and lacks knowledge in local First Nations traditions. Regardless, Enbridge continues to push the proposal through the review process.
In fact, Enbridge’s lawyers took the further step in July of lobbying the Joint Review Panel to exclude from the procedural pre-hearing meetings Aboriginal concerns, specifically those of the Gitxaala and Haisla nations. While the Gitxaala and Haisla First Nations expressed concerns regarding the limited recognition of Aboriginal traditional knowledge in the Enbridge application, Enbridge’s lawyers argued that their application “contains sufficient detail to initiate the review.” They suggested that listening to Aboriginal complaints about the insufficiency of the information included within Enbridge’s application would unfairly prejudice the process against the company.
The Joint Review Panel eventually ruled that First Nations could present issues regarding the sufficiency of the application. They also clearly stated that the Panel would consider how the development may possibly infringe on Aboriginal rights in its hearings. However, the ignorance of the Panel to the most basic of local First Nations protocols highlights continued fundamental problems with the process.