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Cash not king when it comes to aboriginals, pipelines

By Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun, June 7, 2012

Native groups dispute Enbridge's claim that 60 per cent of first nations along route support project

Money can't buy you love - that's a message several B.C. aboriginal groups sent on Wednesday to proponents of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

It came a day after Enbridge proudly announced it had secured support from a majority - almost 60 per cent - of aboriginal communities along the 1,177-kilometre pipeline route linking Bruderheim, Alta. with Kitimat.

These communities have accepted Enbridge's offer of a 10-per-cent ownership stake in the controversial pipeline, now under federal regulatory review. Such a stake, over three decades, grants the aboriginal groups "ownership units" that would net them individual shares of $280 mil-lion in revenue.

Balderdash. That, on Wednesday, was the reaction from the Coastal First Nations, an alliance of 10 aboriginal groups in B.C. - among them, importantly, groups that stand to be most affected by a proposed petroleum tanker port in Kitimat.

Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations, maintains the Enbridge support was secured from "groups that either aren't located on the pipeline corridor or don't have land in B.C."

Indeed, some are in Alberta. Enbridge, Sterritt charges, expanded its designated pipeline corridor by 80 kilometres in order to increase its sup-port; thus a number of signatories rep-resent communities outside areas that would be most affected by any spill.

Keith Henry, president of Vancouver's B.C. Metis Federation, backed Sterritt's view.

He asserts that the Abbotsford-based Metis Nation B.C. - lacking an appropriate mandate from the Metis people - signed the Enbridge deal.

Reports Henry: "There is over 90-per-cent opposition from Metis people [to the pipeline] throughout B.C."

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is also disputing Enbridge's numbers.

Enbridge, of course, is trying to turn the channel away from all the opposition. Clearly its deal with aboriginal groups is not as comprehensive as the company might have wished.

Lord knows, it has bent over back-wards to woo first nations, even designating a vice-president of aboriginal and stakeholder relations within its corporate ranks.

On its website, Enbridge documents the tale of the Birdtail Sioux, an aboriginal group living near a separate pipeline development in Manitoba. The Birdtail "found a path to a brighter future through partner-ship and collaboration," says the company.

Lo, the group now has "a school, a health clinic, a general store, renovated homes, a water treatment plant and a host of economic development initiatives ..."

Enbridge is promising the aboriginals living along the Northern Gate-way corridor some $400 million worth of employment, procurement and joint venture opportunities.

As many as 15 per cent of all construction jobs are to be reserved for aboriginals.

But for opponents, throwing even the sun and moon into the bargain won't make any difference, no matter how needy some of the aboriginals may be.

And what is occurring at the moment is simply so much posturing that, in the final analysis, may not make much difference to either side.

Because this megaproject is inexorably headed for a showdown, one that's bound to take place at a B.C. court-house and then work its way to the docket of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa.

At this point, no one appears to know how soon after the federal regulatory review concludes next year the first nations will pursue their legal action.

And few have any idea what the Harper government's ultimate game plan will be to legislatively safeguard a project it has designated as a strategic imperative to enable Canadian trade with Asia.

Only this is certain - it should be quite a show.

byaffe@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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