The Mackenzie Valley pipeline being proposed in the Northwest Territories should not go ahead until all outstanding related land claims are settled, representatives of the Dehcho First Nations argued this week.
Leaders with the aboriginal organization, which represents several Dehcho communities along the pipeline’s proposed route, presented their position Thursday to the National Energy Board (NEB).
Among the First Nations that would be affected by the 1,200-kilometre natural gas pipeline, the Dehcho are the only ones to not have signed a land claim settlement with the federal government yet.
The NEB is holding hearings this week on the $16.2-billion pipeline project being proposed by a corporate consortium led by Imperial Oil.
Dehcho Grand Chief Sam Gargan said the pipeline should not go ahead until the First Nations resolve two outstanding issues with Ottawa: the unsettled land claim and a land-use and resource management plan for Dehcho territory.
Gargan accused the federal government of punishing the Dehcho by holding up progress on those issues.
“Over the last decade, the Dehcho people have repeatedly been subject to direct and veiled threats of false deadlines, as well as attempts to undermine and intimidate our leadership — all in an effort to get the Dehcho to take an ownership stake in the Aboriginal Pipeline Group,” he told the board on Thursday.
The Dehcho First Nations claim traditional territory in the southwest corner of the Northwest Territories that would be part of the right of way for the pipeline.
The claim covers about 40 per cent of the pipeline’s projected route. The Dehcho are the only remaining First Nations along the route that haven’t expressed support for it.
Could threaten native rights: chief
The Dehcho are not members of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group (APG), which is part of the Imperial Oil-led pipeline consortium.
The APG currently represents three N.W.T. aboriginal groups along the pipeline route: the Inuvialuit, the Gwich’in and the Sahtu nations. The group has negotiated a one-third stake in the pipeline.
Other companies in the consortium are ExxonMobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips.
If approved, the pipeline would transport natural gas from the Beaufort Sea, through the Northwest Territories’ Mackenzie Valley to a hub in northern Alberta.
Proceeding with the pipeline before Dehcho land-claim and land-use agreements are in place would threaten the Dehcho people’s aboriginal and human rights, Gargan said .
Former Dehcho grand chief Herb Norwegian asked the energy board to put pressure on Ottawa to move forward with Dehcho negotiations.
Gargan said he hopes the Dehcho claims can be settled by 2013, which would coincide with the proponents’ latest economic feasibility report and schedule for the pipeline.
“The updated schedule released by Imperial Oil shows that a decision to construct the project would be made, in the earliest, in 2013,” Gargan said.
“In our view, that three-and-half-years between now and then is more than what is needed to complete the Dehcho process.”
Seeking more control of land, resources
The Dehcho nations have been pushing for more control over their land and the creation of their own resource management authority.
Dehcho negotiators say the federal government thinks resource management should be handled by other authorities, such as the Mackenzie Land and Water Board.
“Getting the new things that are different from the other agreements takes time, because they will like to keep as much as what they have already and we would like to create the new things, and the new instruments, and the new regimes,” Dehcho chief negotiator George Erasmsus told CBC News.
“Those are the parts that are taking some real time.”
Erasmus said an agreement in principle could be in place by next summer, although he added that that is an optimistic estimate.
The main obstacle in negotiations, Erasmus said, is agreeing on the language of the agreement. Negotiators have spent entire days debating a single word or clause, he said.