The debate over the Northern Gateway Pipeline took an unexpected turn Friday when the Gitxsan hereditary chiefs announced they had signed an agreement with parent company Enbridge.
In making the announcement, hereditary chief Elmer Derrick, whose traditional village is Gitsegukla, said that over time they had “established a relationship of trust with Enbridge.”
He said the chiefs had taken a detailed look at the proposal and believed the project can be built and operated safely – and the deal would also be beneficial for his people’s economic development.
“We are very mindful of the economic situation we have in our area,” said Chief Derrick. “We make a point of trying to bring investors into the … area so this is one way telling people in the investment community that we are friendly to business.”
This agreement is a product of Enbridge’s offer in February of this year of an Aboriginal Economics Opportunities Package.
That agreement would see participating first nations receive a share of 10 per cent equity in the pipeline.
Derrick said he doesn’t know what the final details will end up being in the agreement, but money will flow to Gitxsan communities and they believe the good will from the agreement will mean they are in line to benefit from employment opportunities.
The agreement is expected to deliver at least $7 million in net profit to the Gitxsan people, indicated a press release.
“It’s important for us to find other ways that we can get more benefits out of the natural resources that we’re gifted with. It’s important for the country, for our national government, to talk about national energy security and to start talking about building east-west transmission lines for electricity as well as the east-west pipelines so that more of the benefits would be realized by Canada and the investment community that operates within our borders,” Derrick said.
The deal is only with the hereditary chiefs. Asked about Gitxsan band councils’ involvement with this agreement, he said the band councils had no say in this decision, adding their role is mainly in providing municipal-like services to the villages.
There were 65 hereditary chiefs involved in this process, and he said that it was a majority rather than a unanimous decision.
Derrick said he was hopeful the announcement doesn’t sour the relationship the Gitxsan has with neighbouring first nations.
‘We have always been frank with our opinions on different projects. We respect the positions taken by the other first nations, our neighbours,” he said.
Derrick confirmed the proposed pipeline route does not run through Gitxsan traditional territory, but pointed out it does cross five or six streams that flow into Babine Lake, which provides a lot of food for his people.
“First and foremost in everything we do is we protect our food supply. We have 90 per cent unemployment in our area and if our people didn’t have access to salmon and our waters were not protected then we’d have people starving,” he said.
Derrick said the agreement does include clauses which would allow the Gitxsan chiefs to back out of the arrangement if they feel that the land was not being protected to “Gitxsan standards”.
Derrick expects there will be division among the Gitxsan community following this announcement, “but we have to keep moving ahead.”