[R-G] First nations blur the pipeline picture

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at resist.ca
Fri Nov 17 14:41:38 MST 2006

As always, the business writers are honest...

Subject: Globe and Mail - "First nations blur the pipeline picture"

First nations blur the pipeline picture

CALGARY -- Just when you thought the Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline
might dislodge itself from the political and bureaucratic quagmire, along
comes another ruling that could stop everything. Again.

This time, it's assuaging the concerns of the 2,500 members of the Dene Tha
First Nation about the $7.5-billion project.

This group, which controls 70 kilometres of the area from which the 
will enter northern Alberta, received a ruling last week from the Federal
Court saying they were unfairly excluded from the consultation process. In
other words, the federal government made a mistake. As a result, another
hearing has to be held to determine the remedies due to the Dene Tha before
the joint review panel can file its final report. The hearings were set to
wrap up in April, with a report expected by late 2007 or early 2008.

Let's be honest: Remedies are a nice euphemism for "how much money will it
take to satisfy the aggrieved party." However you choose to look at it, 
if the Dene Tha were unfairly excluded, how much would their participation
change the outcome of the joint review panel? They are a small group and
represent a small slice of land.

This movie has been seen before, only last time the starring role was 
by the Deh Cho First Nations. They settled with the federal government for

Now it's the Dene Tha's turn.

Setting aside the obvious frustration being felt by Imperial Oil, the lead
proponent of the Mackenzie Valley project, there are bigger questions that
need to be addressed and answered.

Is it right that projects go forward solely on the basis of what companies
or governments are prepared to pay, beyond what is covered under the 
treaties? Isn't the bigger elephant in the room the one that deals with
constitutional rights of aboriginal groups and how far these extend? Why
can't there be a clear set of rules that sets out the standards for
consultations on both sides of the table?

The Dene Tha argued they had been trying to get a seat at the table for the
past six years. What's interesting is that they, like many other first
nation groups, engage consultants to work on their behalf. What exactly did
the consultant(s) get paid for, if not to ensure the Dene Tha's voice was
heard? And did it need to take six years or is this a tactic employed at 
last minute for the greatest impact?

At issue is the same old story of traditional lands. While the Dene Tha are
covered by the terms of Treaty 8, which effectively covers northern Alberta
and northeastern B.C. and sets out regulatory requirements, the aspect of
traditional lands in the southern Northwest Territories adds another
dimension. This has to do with whether the areas in question, though not
included in the treaty provisions, have been traditionally used by the band
in question for its livelihood.

Common practice in the oil patch in these cases is to simply pay the group
in question if there is an issue regarding access. And this is effectively
what will happen here, though on a bigger scale, over a longer time and in
the public domain.

Think about how this all plays out beyond Canada's borders.

Pipeline giant Enbridge was in China this week, with one of its goals being
to reignite its Gateway project that will send oils sands crude to China 
Kitimat, B.C. Enbridge signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding 
Petro-China back in April, 2005, in which Petro-China would commit to 
half of the pipeline's capacity of 400,000 barrels a day. The intent was to
have the deal firmly in place by the end of that year. It's almost a full
year later and there's still no deal.One of the obstacles has to do with 
more than 200 first nation bands in British Columbia that are not 
covered by
the same treaty provisions and have many outstanding land claims. The
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, representing 5,000 people in seven first
nations covering about one-third of the Gateway route, argued that it has
not been properly consulted and in October it sued the government in 

In light of this, the ruling in favour of the Dene Tha doesn't help 
at all. The thinking very likely goes like this: If the Dene Tha, who are
covered by Treaty 8, are doing this, what is possible in B.C., where no 
agreements exist?

And that's one of the reasons Enbridge is having trouble getting someone to
sign on the dotted line.

Adding a bit more uncertainty to the entire pipeline picture in Canada is
Alaska's incoming governor Sarah Palin, who is determined to get the Alaska
pipeline under way and has called a meeting for Dec. 5, the day after 
she is
sworn in as governor. And as testament to her determination, the same folks
who were advising her predecessor, Frank Murkowski, will be at that 
In other words, this woman means business: She doesn't want to waste time
getting a new team up to speed.

While many say there is more than enough room for both the Mackenzie Valley
and Alaska pipelines, in the current labour-squeezed environment being 
to market in terms of getting things going is critical. Stalling only adds
to the time and cost -- in the billions of dollars -- not to mention the
probability of compromising an entire project.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to sell Canada as an energy superpower
but there are billions of dollars in pipeline projects in a holding pattern
today, which could be interpreted as running contrary to what he wants the
world to believe. In order for Canada to live up to that lofty moniker, a
regulatory framework capable of supporting all the resource-based activity
must be put in place. And this includes finally addressing the role and
impact of the country's first nations.

dyedlin at globeandmail.com

Macdonald Stainsby
In the contradiction lies the hope
    --Bertholt Brecht.

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