First Nations form united front against pipelines

First Nations form united front against pipelines
ACFN Chief Allan Adam addresses media during a news conference in Ottawa on Mar. 20.Photo: Clayton Thomas-Muller.

Federal attempts to create a bridge between government and First Nations along two proposed pipeline routes in western Canada backfired last week as a group of chiefs announced its unwavering opposition to the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipeline projects, both predicated on oilsands expansion.

Aboriginal leaders from 10 First Nations with traditional territory in the oilsands region and along the proposed pipeline routes held a press conference on Parliament Hill Wednesday morning to deliver the message that they would not allow pipelines to pass through their territories under any circumstances.

Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline would see crude oil shipped from Alberta’s oilsands to tankers on BC’s coast near Kitimat. The Keystone XL, which awaits presidential approval in the US, would ship Canadian bitumen to refineries on the Gulf Coast in Texas.

“We’re going to stop these pipelines one way or another,” Phil Lane Jr. of the American Yankton Sioux, a group from the US standing in solidarity with First Nations in Canada, said at the press conference.

“It’s going to be a long, hot summer,” Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) in Fort Chipewyan added. “We have a lot of issues at stake.”

Northern BC Chief Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation said pipeline opponents won’t back down.

“If we have to keep going to court, we’ll keep doing that,” he said.

The announcement by Aboriginal leaders comes in the face of a recent attempt by the federal government to bridge the divide between industry and First Nations.

Just last week, the Harper government appointed Vancouver lawyer Doug Eyford – currently the lead negotiator on comprehensive land claims for the department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development – as the envoy responsible for dealing with Aboriginal opposition to resource development in Alberta and BC.

Eyford will report directly to the prime minister, producing an initial report by the end of June and a final one by the end of November. His job is to hear concerns from First Nations on proposed pipelines and adjacent energy infrastructure such as liquid natural gas plants and marine terminals in both BC and Alberta.

“The representative’s report will not replace negotiations between Aboriginal communities and industry on specific projects, and is not intended to. It is meant to encourage and stimulate those discussions,” Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said upon making the announcement Tuesday.

“This will not be dialogue for dialogue’s sake, but dialogue in search of solutions. We don’t want another process. We want a product,” he added.

Pipelines will expand oilsands, chief maintains

The supplemental environmental impact statement released by the Obama State Department on Mar. 1 relating to the Keystone XL expansion stated, “the proposed Project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands.”

ACFN Chief Adam argued that is simply not true.

“Without adequate roadways to markets, the tar sands would be locked in the ground. Industry simply cannot expand without pipelines. Expansion of the tar sands in my people’s homelands means a death sentence for our way of life, destruction of ecosystems vital to the continuation of our inherent treaty rights and massive contributions to catastrophic global climate change, a fate we all share,” he said.

Adam said ACFN will continue challenging further oilsands development on its territory, including Shell’s proposed Jackpine Mine expansion, and “any affiliated pipelines.”

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