Opponents of the controversial $5.5-billion Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project are blockading the Gitxsan First Nation treaty office in downtown Hazelton in northwestern B.C. to protest the deal negotiators signed with the oil giant last week.

On Friday, chief negotiator Elmer Derrick and Enbridge jointly announced the deal, saying the Gitxsan hereditary chiefs backed the project.

But several chiefs have now come forward, saying the deal was not sanctioned by the Gitxsan people and traditional protocols were not followed by the negotiators.

The Gitxsan have dozens of hereditary chiefs, some of whom support the Enbridge project and some who are opposed, and the issue of who has the authority to negotiate with Enbridge has become a stumbling block.

Dan Younks is part of the small contingent of Gitxsan members blocking employees from entering the treaty office.

"It's been peaceful. [We have] a lot of support from the people," Younks said.

He said the blockade was ordered by Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, and protesters plan to stay as long as necessary.

'Unsettled and angry'

The blockade leaves Gitxsan negotiator Beverly Clifton-Percival afraid to leave her home.


Members of the Gitxsan First Nation express their displeasure with the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway on a boarded-up door of the Gitxsan First Nation treaty office. (George Baker/CBC)

"There was a public mob outside our office. [I'm] very unsettled and angry."

The protest comes after Lawrence Patsey, a hereditary chief with the Fireweed clan, told CBC News on Monday the two chief negotiators and executive director behind the Enbridge deal had been fired.

The hereditary chiefs say it's not clear how they can get out of the Enbridge deal, but say they will fight to rescind it.

Community hearings scheduled

Meanwhile, dates have been released for the Joint Review Panel hearings into the Northern Gateway pipeline that will assess the environmental impacts of the proposed project, and review its application under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the National Energy Board Act.

The meetings start in Kitimat, B.C., on Jan. 10 and wrap up in Prince George on Jan. 18. Other meetings are already scheduled from Alberta to Prince Rupert, B.C.

The schedule for the remaining locations will be released once the venues have been confirmed.

During the community hearings, the Joint Review Panel will hear oral evidence from registered interveners first.

The panel expects to release the environmental assessment in the fall of 2013. A final decision on the pipeline is expected at the end of 2013.