First Nations chide Denali for refusing to meet

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The companies behind the Denali gas pipeline project got a public dressing-down at an Anchorage oil and gas symposium last week for failing to consult with Yukon First Nations.

Denali, a consortium of BP and ConocoPhillips, is lagging behind in its duty to consult and accommodate the Liard and White River First Nations, the respective chiefs told the Alaska Oil and Gas Congress last

Thursday.

“Denali has not come anywhere close – from a First Nations perspective – to meeting those requirements,” said Liard McMillan, chief of Liard First Nation.

McMillan and David Johnny, the White River First Nation’s chief, addressed the oil and gas meeting on “Canada Day,” which featured speakers from the Denali pipeline and a competing project from

TransCanada.

“It’s intended as a wake-up call to industry and government folks who just haven’t been doing an adequate job of consulting and accommodating,” said McMillan.

Specifically, McMillan and Johnny are frustrated at Denali’s refusal to meet with them before the pipeline’s open season. Denali begins its open season next year, during which it will try to attract future gas

shippers.

But Denali is already doing hydrology reports along the pipeline’s intended route on both Liard and White River land, said McMillan.

“We take the position that the infringement on our aboriginal rights and title is happening immediately and during the open season,” he said.

The in-depth discussions Denali is putting off would include addressing benefit agreements and figuring out how First Nation concerns will be addressed by the pipeline builders.

Denali is also holding extensive talks with governments and businesses about its project, but not First Nations.

“They seem to be talking to everyone in-depth except for us,” said McMillan.

The Yukon government is involved in monthly meetings with pipeline builders and the multiple regulatory agencies involved in bringing Alaskan North Slope natural gas to American markets through the Yukon,

BC and Alberta.

Pushing First Nations to the back of the agenda will weaken the First Nations’ position when the project begins its construction.

“We feel that if they don’t start talking to us now, by the time they’re ready to implement their findings on the pipeline there is going to be a long to-do list and we won’t even be off square one,” said McMillan.

The First Nations are grading the performance of different pipeline players to demonstrate progress or failure in addressing First Nation concerns.

During their joint speech last week, the chiefs told the 50-person crowd that Denali got a failing grade, TransCanada got a B, and Canada got a D.

“Canada needs to step up to the plate and provide some capacity funding,” said McMillan. “It’s hard to respond in a timely fashion and in good faith (to pipeline builders) when you’re inadequately funded.”

The public humiliation tactic may have helped. Two executives from Denali rushed over to speak to McMillan and Johnny after the speech.

“They did express interest in trying to improve on the failing grade they received,” said McMillan.

But in an e-mail Tuesday, Denali spokesperson David McDowell wrote that the company isn’t planning on holding First Nation consultations before the open season.

“We respect the concerns raised by the Liard and White River First Nations,” wrote McDowell.

“Our approach remains the same,” he wrote. “We plan to hold detailed access and benefits discussions following a successful open season.”

The White River First Nation lies at the project’s entry point along the Alaskan border, while Liard has traditional territory along the BC border where the pipeline will exit. Neither First Nation has settled land

claims agreements.

Contact James Munson at jamesm@yukon-news.com

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