A group of British Columbia oil and gas workers switched sides to defend an aboriginal blockade of a Petro-Canada gas well and pipeline site, after earlier planning to demonstrate against the natives.
A spokesman said a meeting with Chief Bernie Metecheah, of the Halfway River First Nation, convinced them Petro-Canada "is someplace they shouldn't be," although the workers remain unhappy with the blockade.
"I'll tell you, I sure got my eyes opened," he said.
As a result, the workers now intend to stop traffic on the Alaska Highway in an effort to educate travelers about the native claims.
Halfway River says several hunting camps face destruction if Petro-Canada proceeds next month with plans to build a C$7 million pipeline to carry up to 21.5 million cubic feet per day from new wells.
Senior Petro-Canada executives met with Halfway River leaders, but both sides have agreed to keep a lid on the specifics of their negotiations.
An attorney for Halfway River said the blockade will remain, despite "good discussions," while a spokesman for Petro-Canada said the meeting was held in a "spirit of co-operation and (involved) a lot of frank discussion."
For now, Petro-Canada has agreed not to send vehicles on to the disputed land and native leaders will allow workers to leave once drilling is completed and the site is secured.
Further meetings are expected, although no schedule has been set.
Pierre Alvarez, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the industry's chief lobby group is "closely" monitoring developments.
A year ago CAPP sent a letter to federal Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Robert Nault warning him of a simmering controversy over aboriginal land claims in the gas-prolific region of northeastern British Columbia.
It urged the government to take prompt action to deal with the claims saying the "issues are at the heart of the industry's inability to obtain certainty and clarity" regarding access to the land.
CAPP said a potential C$20 billion of investment is at risk.