BC aboriginal group says review process for pipeline doesn’t recognize rights

CALGARY - As it prepares to submit a regulatory application to build a crude pipeline between Alberta and the West Coast, Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB) must navigate a complex web of concerns among dozens of aboriginal communities.

“We have over 50 First Nations and Metis groups that we will be consulting with and we take it very seriously,” said Steven Greenaway, vice-president of public and government affairs for the project, called Northern Gateway Pipelines.

“Are we at the same stage with every one of them? No, we’re not. And have we got those that have raised some very strong concerns and even opposition? At this point, yes.”

The 1,170-kilometre pipeline will connect an oilsands processing hub near Edmonton to the port city of Kitimat, B.C., on the northern British Columbia coast.
It’s an opportunity for oilsands producers to sell their product in lucrative Asian markets and reduce their reliance on the United States, where climate change regulations will likely become more stringent.

A parallel pipeline will transport refined products imported into Kitimat eastward toward Alberta.

The Wet’suwet’en First Nation in northwestern British Columbia has been among the fiercest opponents of the project.

David deWit, natural resource manager for the group, said the project would threaten his people’s traditional way of life and economic well-being, which is largely centred around fishing for salmon.

“It’s not if the pipeline is going to leak, it’s when it’s going to leak,” he said.

“If there’s an accident along our rivers or along the coast, this will impact our way of life and no amount of money can replace that.”

DeWit was in Calgary last week to bring his peoples’ concern over the project to oilsands producers that would potentially ship their product along Northern Gateway.

He delivered letters to Shell Canada Ltd., Husky Energy Inc. (TSX:HSE), Chevron Canada, Imperial Oil Ltd. (TSX:IMO) and Suncor Energy Inc. (TSX:SU), as well as the Canadian offices of Asian companies that would potentially buy the oilsands crude.

Suncor and the Chinese consulate were the only ones to take meetings with deWit.

DeWit also expressed concerns over the regulatory process, which he said does not acknowledge his community’s right to make decisions in its own territory.
Most native groups in B.C. have never signed treaties with the Crown - making the politics in that province very different from elsewhere in the country.

Following a prolonged legal fight, the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997 overturned a B.C. judge’s ruling that the Wet’suwet’en and neighbouring Gitksan peoples do not have a right to the land.

“This is where the regulatory process fails, is that they’re not recognizing that title,” said deWit.

“They’re not recognizing decision making powers and the right for that self-government to make decisions on their territory.”

The framework Enbridge has agreed to follow in its application defines an aboriginal group as “a collectivity of Indian, Inuit or Metis people that holds or may hold Aboriginal or treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.”

The document requires the panel - made up of representatives of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the National Energy Board - to hear from aboriginal groups about their concerns, including how potential or established treaty rights may be affected.

Enbridge has had some discussions with 30 of the 50 First Nations groups along Northern Gateway’s corridor about potential opportunities, which may include an equity stake in the project.

Enbridge and those groups have also talked about potential procurement and employment opportunities, Greenaway said.

“I think it’s unfair to suggest that we haven’t looked at some of these issues. We’ve got a long way to go though, I’ll be the first to admit. These discussions are still in a relatively early stage.”

Taking an equity stake in Northern Gateway is a non-starter for the Wet’suwet’en, said deWit.

“I don’t think you can put a price on our culture and our way of life,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem like a real opportunity. We live where we live because it makes us who we are and we don’t want that to change.”

Enbridge plans to file its application to the National Energy Board - which will be tens of thousands of pages long - some time later this year.

“Ultimately it will be up to the National Energy Board and to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to determine whether we have met a test of being in the public interest - and I think we can,” Greenaway said.

“But it’s going to take a lot of work and it’s going to take a lot of time before that.”

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