Nuxalk First Nation withdraws as Joint Review intervenor, Heiltsuk hearings end with more controversy

The Nuxalk First Nation at Bella Coola has withdrawn from the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review process. Both the hereditary chiefs and elders and the elected council say the federal government “has already predetermined its approval of the project.”

A release from the Nuxalk says their withdrawal “withdrawal is another sign that the federal government is mishandling its relationship with First Nations, including its statements last week that it will change the rules for the Enbridge pipeline hearings retroactively, which is unfair and will likely further compromise the regulatory review.”

“There is no honour in the federal Crown’s approach to consulting with First Nations on the Enbridge project,” says Andrew Andy, the elected Chief of the Nuxalk Nation. “Recent statements make it clear that the Prime Minister has already decided to approve the super-tanker project that would violate First Nations’ Title and Rights and put our coastal waters at risk of a major oil spill.”

The Nuxalk support the decision of other Nations to oppose the process through the Joint Review Panel, but say the review is not being done in good faith and has been undermined by repeated and controversial public statements by the Prime Minister and Natural Resources Minister that suggest a predetermined approval.

“Despite our serious concern about this process, including the lack of any decision-making role for First Nations, we entered the process in good faith,” says Andy. “The government’s disrespectful behaviour these past months makes clear that our good faith is not being returned.”

“How can we participate in a process driven by a government that has labelled us ‘socially dysfunctional’?” says Charlie Nelson, a Hereditary Chief of the Nuxalk Nation, referring to recent controversial statements by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. “Where is the honour in the Crown stating that it’s prepared to violate our constitutionally-protected Title and Rights before the work of gathering information on the scope of infringement is even done?”

The Nuxalk say the Joint Review Panel has no mandate to consult with First Nations, and there has been no clarity provided by the federal government about how it will consult on issues that fall outside of the Joint Review Panel process.

Meanwhile, hearings in Bella Bella ended on Thursday afternoon, with more controversy as they did at when they opened late on Tuesday. Hearings were delayed after a peaceful community demonstration Sunday against the proposed Enbridge project with drumming and singing at the airport. That delay cut one and half days from the hearings and as they ended today, numerous tweets from Bella Bella described how the Joint Review Panel told the Heiltsuk Chief Counsellor Marilyn Slett to “move on” after which some audience members walked out in protest. Later tweets said that a number of speakers were not able to testify and those tweets called that “shameful.” The tweets say that demonstrators followed Joint Review Panel and staff as they left for the Bella Bella airport.