Most of the Aboriginal communities in B.C. and Alberta along the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline route have signed on to an equity package with the company, Enbridge declared last week.
The company issued a statement on June 5 saying that by the May 31 deadline almost 60 per cent of eligible Aboriginal communities have agreed to be part owners in the proposed project, a deal that is expected to provide about $280 million to communities over the first 30 years of the project’s life.
“Through equity ownership, Aboriginal people will be able to generate a significant new and stable revenue stream that could help achieve the priorities of their communities – such as improved health care, education and housing,” said Enbridge spokesperson Paul Stanway in the company’s release.
Stanway later told the Sentinel that the news should put an end to a long-standing criticism of the project.
“It ought to put to bed the argument that we often hear from opponents of Northern Gateway that there’s no Aboriginal support for the project. Clearly that’s not the case,” he said. “Clearly it’s not correct to say [there’s] this wall of opposition and no support for the pipeline.”
He added that everyone, the equity partners and the company, still have safety concerns and those are a priority for everyone.
“We’re obviously going to need a lot of environmental monitoring and environmental stewardship,” said Stanway, adding that First Nations communities are in the best position to help provide that service.
He also added that Aboriginal communities have an opportunity to be involved in some marine aspects of the project.
“We’re hopeful we can put together an attractive package that will make that happen.”
Enbridge is not free to reveal who it has signed deals with, as it’s up to the individual communities to decide whether they want to go public.
The local Haisla continue to have no direct contact with Enbridge except on certain unresolved conflicts, but are participating in the governmental review of the project.
“All we’re doing is participating in the Joint Review Panel,” said Haisla Nation Chief Councillor Ellis Ross.
Ross said he hasn’t seen any names of who has signed on in the equity offer but would be very interested to see that list.
“How many of those First Nations actually have the pipeline running across some of their salmon streams? That’s what I’d be really interested in hearing about,” he said.
He would also like to know how many signed up with the company to get out of a cycle of poverty, suicide and dependence.
“Holding an apple up to a First Nation like that, that’s only looking for a way out is very unfair, and very unfortunate.”
Beyond that, he thinks talk of benefits with this project is premature anyway.
“I think it’s way too early to be talking about equity agreements or any type of benefits coming out of the project when no real formal process for consultation and accommodation have been put in front of First Nations to review,” he said.
Meanwhile, Coastal First Nations executive director Art Sterritt called the Enbridge announcement last week a “sham”. In a media release he said they have checked with all the First Nations along the proposed pipeline route west of Prince George and found that only two have signed equity agreements.
He also said that Enbridge expanded the pipeline corridor by 80km to increase their numbers.
The Coastal First Nations is an alliance of First Nations that includes the Wuikinuxv, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xaixais, Nuxalk, Gitga’at, Haisla, Metlakatla, Old Massett, Skidegate, and Council of the Haida Nation