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Eight B.C. First Nations are taking the Harper government to federal court Thursday in a high-stakes legal battle to overturn the conditional approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline.

The six members of the Yinka Dene Alliance opposed to Northern Gateway include B.C.’s Nadleh Whut'en, Nak'azdli, Takla Lake, Saik'uz, Wet'suwet'en, and Tl’azt’en First Nations, all of whom have banned pipeline construction in their territories.

The court challenge comes just 18 days before Canada’s federal election and fifteen months after Ottawa officially approved construction of Northern Gateway pipeline with 209 conditions attached.

Harper would hold First Nations as “economic hostages” to continue oil sands development, while trying to convince Canadians that developing the oil sands is in their best interests, despite climate change and damaging impacts to the environment, said Geraldine Thomas-Flurer, coordinator of the Yinka Dene Alliance of six B.C. bands opposed to Northern Gateway.

“That’s Harper's whole basis of his re-election. He’s focusing everything on ‘the economy equals the expansion of the tar sands’. Northern Gateway is dependent on the expansion of the tar sands. That is the whole reason why Enbridge is pushing for it, because they can’t have one or the other. It has to be both,” she said.

The Harper government approved the project in June 2014. Opponents of the pipeline have condemned the National Energy Board’s review process for the as flawed, as it did not examine the long term impacts of pipelines, tanker traffic, spills, or oil sands development on climate change.

“We are living in climate change. There is a water shortage. Water is very pure for us and very sacred to us. Our salmon, our moose, our berries, everything that has to do with hunting and gathering is very sacred to us. Our people depend on it,” said Thomas-Flurer. “We do depend on the Earth and if they continue to try and expand the tar sands it would destroy our people.”

With files from Mychaylo Prystupa