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Aboriginal Affairs turns over part of its consulting role to pipeline company

Aboriginal Affairs turns over part of its consulting role to pipeline company

By Trish Audette,
Edmonton Journal
February 29, 2012

EDMONTON - Long before a public hearing began this year into a controversial pipeline proposed to carry Alberta oil to the B.C. coast, Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada knew it did not have the resources to address First Nations concerns about the project, newly public documents show.

According to a “scenario note” for a 2006 meeting between the deputy minister of aboriginal affairs, the president of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and others, First Nations groups in B.C. and Alberta expected “federal engagement on consultation and provision benefits” related to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to be in line with what was available to aboriginal groups during the 1970s Berger Inquiry into the Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline through the Northwest Territories.

However, the note indicates, “Indian and Northern Affairs Canada does not have the capacity to meet such demands as it does not have the regulatory framework, authorities, and resourcing in place south of 60 to address these concerns.”

Instead, nearly 500 pages of documents outlining the Aboriginal Affairs’ pipeline consultation strategy between 2004 and 2011 — released to The Edmonton Journal under Access to Information laws — show Ottawa expects Enbridge to fulfil some of the Crown’s duty to consult with First Nations and Métis groups. As well, most consultation will be carried out by the public hearings of a joint Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency-National Energy Board review panel weighing the environmental and economic benefits and drawbacks of the 1,172-kilometre, $5.5-billion pipeline.

But First Nations and Métis groups say the joint panel’s public consultation process does not meet aboriginal needs or the federal government’s duties.

“The Crown has actually made industry responsible for their due diligence,” said Melanie Omeniho, is president of the Métis Nation, Local 1886 (Edmonton).

Métis groups, she said, have written letters to the National Energy Board “identifying that they have not fulfilled their obligations as the Crown to do the consultation process, and that they haven’t spent any time trying to identify what the Métis issues were and how the Métis have been consulted.”

During hearings in Edmonton in January, Alexander First Nation Chief Herb Arcand similarly told the panel Ottawa had failed to fulfil its legal duties: “Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has taken few steps to contact the Alexander First Nation and (has) relied on (Enbridge) regarding this project and the implications that the project may have on the Alexander Reserve and (treaty entitlement) lands.”

Questions about aboriginal engagement in the Northern Gateway hearing process are important because so much of the proposed pipeline route is expected to cross traditional First Nations land, particularly in British Columbia where aboriginal groups boast a nearly unbroken wall of resistance to the project aimed at moving oilsands bitumen to Asia-bound tankers at Kitimat. In Alberta, the pipeline may cross two Alexander First Nation reserves.

The project also promises to boost oil company revenues by billions of dollars simply by bringing more Alberta oil to international markets.

Enbridge has had aboriginal engagement groups in place in both provinces since 2008.

On Tuesday, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada directed all questions about consultation — including whether First Nations or Métis groups have complained about this process — to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

“As with any major project, the government of Canada consults with aboriginal people when it considers actions that may adversely affect established or potential aboriginal and treaty rights,” Aboriginal Affairs spokeswoman Gen Guibert said.

In a written statement Tuesday, environmental assessment agency spokeswoman Isabelle Perrault said the joint review process “provides a fair, efficient, effective and reasonable means of ensuring that all aboriginal groups have the same information as all other parties and have an opportunity to provide the government the best available information with respect to the project and its potential impacts on the environment and on potential or established aboriginal and treaty rights.”

Perrault could not say Tuesday how many complaints have been made about the consultation process.

“The Crown monitors the panel process on an ongoing basis, to ensure it is fully informed of aboriginal concerns and potential adverse impacts of the proposed project,” Perrault said.

She noted Ottawa works closely with industry on aboriginal consultation and “may rely on (companies) to share information with or from aboriginal groups” throughout the consultation process.

According to the released government documents, Ottawa will weigh its success in consulting after the joint review process is finished.

Public hearings into the Northern Gateway project are expected to take place throughout this year in northern Alberta and British Columbia. The three-member panel’s conclusions will inform the federal government’s final decision on the pipeline next year.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal


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