Case law is clear that with a project like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, the Haisla must be consulted.
However, says chief councillor Ellis Ross, there is nothing clear about their situation with regards to the ongoing Joint Review Panel examining the project.
“Nobody has formally told us we are at the consultation stage,” he points out.
In fact, the Haisla are getting contradictory messages on the subject.
While the federal minister has said the JRP does not constitute consultation, personnel in his department are saying the opposite.
“We are stuck in the middle. What is it?” Ross asks. “It can’t be both.”
He noted the federal government can delegate the responsibility to consult (to Enbridge), “but that’s a relationship we have to formalise between us and the Crown.”
In other words, if the federal government wants to do that, they have to let the Haisla know because that move would need Haisla consent.
Ross said the Haisla have actually been asking for consultation but are being told the JRP has to be completed first because it is not a form of consultation.
Ross said he had met with representatives of both Enbridge and the Crown in the last couple of weeks trying to get clarification but without success.
“The higher (federal) levels are giving one story, the lower levels are giving another story and Enbridge is playing off all of us,” he said.
The Haisla have therefore sent a letter to the minister asking for a definitive answer on the issue.
In the meantime the Haisla and Enbridge are talking, but with the consultation issue still foggy Ross said they keep making the point that any discussions are “without prejudice”.
One issue the two parties are talking about has been festering for five years, the cutting down of culturally modified trees by the company.
Ross said that occurred on their proposed terminal site on the west side of the Douglas Channel.
He explained the company had been given a permit to go in there and explore the location.
However, the Haisla were not informed of the permit. Ross said that if they had been, the permit would have specifically have prohibited the cutting of CMTs.
Regardless of that, the act was still illegal.
Ross said an Enbridge representative had made “an informal offer” of $100,000 compensation but when the Haisla asked that be put in a formal proposal that could then go to the Haisla Nation council table, “it never did come.”
In any case the Haisla’s Enbridge working group had last year dismissed the offer as “an insult”.
Ross explained, “You can’t just look at it as a tree. It is evidence that links us to the past and has significance to us more than just the commercial value of the cedar tree.”
Another bone of contention is that Enbridge, in addition to the compensation offer, suggested a cleansing ceremony.
Ross said he had told the company on more than one occasion, “(you) are not getting into our culture like that.”
He added that it appeared Enbridge was trying to set up some kind of public relations exercise or community relationship building exercise based on the cutting down of the CMTs.
Explaining that cleansing ceremonies were rare and dealt with personal issues, not legal or political, Ross wondered where Enbridge ever got the idea that it could wipe the slate clean “by coming into our protocols and basically that will be it.”
He added the Haisla people would take offence if the ceremony was used in this context.
“The concept is totally wrong and inappropriate.”