Native chief seeks help of Venezuela's Chavez
He'll ask President to help stop profitable U.S.-bound oil pipelines
>From Thursday's Globe and Mail
April 17, 2008 at 5:25 AM EDT
WINNIPEG - An outspoken Canadian native leader is urging Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to throw his weight behind an attempt to block two multibillion-dollar pipelines that will transport oil from Alberta to the United States.
Terrance Nelson, chief of the Roseau First Nation in Manitoba, met last week with officials at the Venezuelan embassy in Ottawa and yesterday released a letter to Mr. Chavez in which he calls the President "a beacon of hope for poor and oppressed people everywhere."
The letter asks Mr. Chavez to turn the international spotlight to human-rights violations against indigenous people in Canada and to champion their cause. It says Mr. Nelson and other native leaders plan to expose the damage done to Canada's indigenous people in the runup to the 2010 Olympics in B.C., in a campaign similar to the protests marring China's preparations for the Beijing Games.
"What Chavez will do is give us an international forum," Mr. Nelson said. "We're fighting big oil. We have two pipelines going through that [are] going to bring $47-billion a year in crude oil sales to the U.S., and we're saying the [federal] government is not sitting down with us. They're not following the law. The Supreme Court has made dozens of decisions on this - on the duty to consult and accommodate - and they haven't done that."
Mr. Nelson is asking Mr. Chavez for a $1-million donation or loan to help Roseau River take the federal government to court. Mr. Nelson said native bands should be compensated for allowing two pipelines, being built by Enbridge and TransCanada, to cross their territory. He said the companies are prepared to pay, as they have done with landowners, farmers and municipalities, but the federal government won't acknowledge that natives have a right to a share of resource wealth.
"We don't want the white man's money. What we want is a share of our own resources," Mr. Nelson said. "The trick now is to make the Americans aware, and no one wants to have $120-million a day of revenue lost. What we said to the government is, 'We'll drag you through court. You've got to abide by the law, and if you don't then we have every right to say no to the pipeline.' "
He turned to Mr. Chavez because the Venezuelan leader, although treated warily by the U.S. government, has become a hero to natives throughout the Americas. He scored a publicity coup by providing subsidized home-heating oil to low-income Americans, many of them natives, through the state-run petroleum company Citgo.
Jose Rodriguez, chargé d'affaires at the Venezuelan embassy, said the letter will be sent directly to Mr. Chavez's office by diplomatic pouch later this month.
He said that it's an unusual request, and that Venezuela would be reluctant to interfere in Canada's internal affairs.
"That's not the usual way that help is given from Venezuela," Mr. Rodriguez said.
He added that the issues facing indigenous peoples throughout the Americas are very important to the Venezuelan government, and to Mr. Chavez, who is part native.
"It's a subject that wasn't addressed by previous governments in Venezuela, and it's something that's not just in Venezuela but all over the Americas," Mr. Rodriguez said.
"The reality is they're not usually in the best position and they're a group of people that has always been marginalized in our countries, and the current government has decided this should change."