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Kitimat mayor flash mobbed by 'No Enbridge' protesters at Haisla basketball game (VIDEOS)

"You don't mix church and state, and don't mix recreation and politics," said Mayor Joanne Monaghan.

Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan No Enbridge Haisla Basketball Game - Dan Mesec
Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan standing next to Haisla Nation girls basketball stars - Photo by Dan Mesec

In an increasingly explosive political climate in the Kitimat area over a controversial vote on the Northern Gateway pipeline, the Mayor of Kitimat was flash mobbed by a group of mostly First Nations people, donning "No Enbridge" shirts at a Haisla girls basketball championship on Sunday.

"No Enbridge!  No Enbridge!  No Enbridge!" yelled the packed gymnasium crowd, nearly all wearing black protest shirts.

"When you're in politics for 36 years, I guess I kind of expected it," Mayor Joanne Monaghan told the Vancouver Observer Wednesday.

"You don't mix church and state, and don't mix recreation and politics," she added. 

Video by Dan Mesec

The Mayor was invited to the Haisla Village of Kitimaat, which neighbours her municipal district, to hand out a $2,000 prize for the victorious girls team - something she's done annually for years. 

In the dying minutes of what was described as a "nail biter of a game" -- hundreds of black "No Enbridge" t-shirts were thrown into the crowd.  Before the mayor had a chance to complete her remarks, she was heckled down.

"I was not shook up... I've always respected the Village and its people," said Mayor Monaghan.

The plebiscite, to gauge district citizen's support for the project, is on Saturday.  Haisla band members will not vote on the plebisicite, unless they are Kitimat citizens.

"The excitement in the room was inspiring," said former Haisla chief Gerald Amos. 

"Even though they don't get to vote in the plebiscite, they were excited to have their say, one way or another."

The surreal basketball game confrontation, caught on videos being circulated by opponents to the pipeline, could only be called symbolic of the growing unrest over the controversial $6.5 billion Northern Gateway project. 

Enbridge staff are campaigning for Kitimat citizens to vote yes to its project, using door-to-door visits, telemarketing, advertisements, and Open Houses.  Unlike regular elections, there is no restriction on how much money the company can spend in this non-binding vote.

Volunteers with Douglas Channel Watch -- a citizen group opposed to the pipeline -- are also canvassing homes, hosting meetings, and putting up signs around the coastal B.C. community.

Mayor Monaghan said she does not have a position, for or against the pipeline, and her municipal government has worked "really hard to stay neutral" on the upcoming vote.

The 1,177 km pipeline would terminate on Haisla Nation's coastal traditional territory, gushing half a million barrels of bitumen per day into 19 storage tanks, and onto 220 supertankers per year.

The proposed petroleum facilities are not on Haisla reserve lands. 

Video by Kitimat film-maker Gilda Diaz.

Members of Douglas Channel Watch attended the game, but its spokesperson, Murray Linchin said his "vote no to the pipeline" group had nothing to do with t-shirt spectacle.

"Somebody, anonymously, donated 200 t-shirts with a great big huge 'No Enbridge' written on the front, and they just started handing them out to the basketball players and people in the crowd."

"I don't know [who did it]," added Minchi, on Tuesday.

A video, shot by northern videojournalist Dan Mesec, showed a grey-haired Aboriginal man among others distributing the shirts from a box.

Haisla Nation has taken a firm stand against the Enbridge project.  Chief Councillor Ellis Ross wrote in an open letter recently:

"Deciding to hold a referendum at this late date is a slap in the face to all the work done by the Haisla Nation on this project.  The Haisla Nation dedicated time and money toward testing Northern Gateway’s evidence and claims about safety and environmental protection, while the District stood by and did nothing," wrote Chief Ross, last week.

Enbridge spokesman, Ivan Giesbrecht said Tuesday, "As with every first nation, we are always looking for open dialogue.  Whether it be any of the first nations along our proposed right of way."

"Obviously our conversations with First Nations communities are private discussions," he added.

"They are all important stakeholders to us, and we want to continue the dialogue and conversation that we started with them."

Giesbrecht could not confirm if Jim Prentice has visited the community. 

The former Harper cabinet minister has been hired by Enbridge to bridge relations with First Nations still opposed to the pipeline. 

The Coastal First Nations organization - an alliance of aboriginal communities on British Columbia’s North and Central Coast and Haida Gwaii -- is promising legal action, as well as protests to "stop the bull dozers" if the pipeline is approved.

The Harper cabinet will rule on the project before mid-June.

The Northern Gateway pipeline is one of five major pipelines that are considered critical for the expansion of Alberta's oil sands industry. 

The tenth annual open basketball tournament was billed as a "Cultural Warming" to bridge the aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities. 

The Haisla girls defeated the Prince Rupert team.

Kitimat Aerial - District of Kitimat photo

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