First Nations slighted by pipeline consultation

Two Yukon First Nations are speaking out against lack of consultation over the Alaska Highway gas pipeline.

Two Yukon First Nations are speaking out against lack of consultation over the Alaska Highway gas pipeline.

The $26-billion US natural gas pipeline will have the capacity to move 4.5 billion cubic feet of gas a day from Alaska to Alberta.

TransCanada Pipelines, the company that appears set to win the contract, has made false claims in its application to the Alaska state government, Liard First Nation Chief Liard McMillan said on Friday.

“They’re submitting their application on the basis or on the claim that they have a vibrant relationship with the Liard First Nation when currently that relationship is actually dormant.”

McMillan asked the corporation to begin negotiations with the First Nation to ensure its participation on the project.

“They basically told us that they want to wait until after the 60-day public review process is complete under (the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act) and wait until the licence is awarded to TransCanada,” he said.

“We’re basically telling them that it’s not good to wait, that they should engage with us now and sit down and have those discussions with us.”

“TransCanada pipelines should not say one thing in their application to the Alaska state government and then do another,” he added.

TransCanada has been negotiating thoroughly with all of the First Nations along the pipeline’s right of way, the company’s vice-president of Alaska development, Tony Palmer said on Wednesday.

“We certainly have had direct negotiations with the Kaska nation,” he said

“And until recently Liard First Nation was negotiating under that umbrella.

“But recently they have requested to be dealt with directly and we certainly respect that request.”

TransCanada currently does not have any negotiations underway with First Nations.

The last round failed in early 2007.

“We had had ongoing negotiations with a couple of parties for more than a year and those could never be successfully concluded.”

Palmer could not explain why the negotiations had failed, citing confidentiality agreements.

The company has since had discussions with First Nations, to give them an overview of its application, but is not negotiating.

TransCanada, Canada’s largest pipeline company, applied for the licence on the Alaska Highway Gas Pipeline project in November, along with six other companies.

In January it was announced that TransCanada was the only applicant to satisfy all mandatory requirements laid out in the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act.

A subsequent 60-day public comment period ended last week.

Alaskan administrators are now deciding whether to recommend the application to the legislature.

If it does, there will be a 60-day period for the legislature to decide the fate of the licence.

TransCanada doesn’t intend to resume negotiations with First Nations until they receive a licence from the State of Alaska, said Palmer.

“I think we have good relations with the First Nations,” he said.

“And it’s my belief that all the First Nations along the right of way, both in the Yukon and in North BC are in favour of the project and are supportive of the project.”

“Our position is that we’re cautiously supportive or cautiously optimistic,” said McMillan.

“We would like to see more consultation with our grassroots citizens and elders understanding that we don’t have a land claim agreement at this point and the Liard First Nation currently doesn’t support moving ahead with a land claim agreement under the Umbrella Final Agreement.”

White River is another First Nation that has not signed a self-government agreement.

White River is also not satisfied by the pipeline consultation process. If built, the line will cross 20 per cent of its traditional territory.

On March 5, White River Chief David Johnny wrote an open letter to remind the Yukon government that aboriginal rights, title and interests have not been extinguished.

“The application by TransCanada … does not accurately reflect the unfulfilled legal obligations and fiduciary relationship that your government and Canada have to WRFN,” he said.

“Continuing to ignore these legal obligations is at a risk to achieving your department’s objectives and to establishing the economic relationship that the Yukon wishes to forge with Alaska and the US.

“We ask again that both parties put the dollars on the table to assist WRFN in engaging in meaningful consultation and participation in this project.”

The letter also emphasized recent legal successes of other First Nations in the south.

“Government and industry should be involving the Liard First Nation as full partners in this process now,” said McMillan.

“We think the TransCanada pipeline company has a good reputation and we think that they could probably do a good job.”

But many issues still need to be addressed.

“The pipeline goes through our traditional territory not only in the Yukon but as well in BC,” he said.

“So, there’s a large potential impact to our community and our citizens.”