Pipeline just as important as Peel, chief says

Unless they are properly consulted, the Kaska and White River First Nations will block a proposed pipeline set to cut through the territory, say chiefs.

Unless they are properly consulted, the Kaska and White River First Nations will block a proposed pipeline set to cut through the territory, say chiefs.

“Foothills has had ample opportunity – some 34 years – to work with White River First Nation to address our concerns about the Alaska Highway Pipeline Project,” White River Chief David Johnny wrote in a letter to the Northern Pipeline Agency at the end of October.

“We can’t support the current proposed easement because we’ve never been adequately consulted with respect to it,” said Chief Liard McMillan, of the Liard First Nation.

Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd., a subsidiary of TransCanada, has requested that its right to a 760-kilometre-long and 240-metre-wide right-of-way through the territory be renewed for a third time.

In 1976, Ottawa granted the easement for a proposed natural gas pipeline after more than 200 days of National Energy Board hearings and passage of an international treaty.

Since then, TransCanada hasn’t built anything – it hasn’t even submitted an application to build anything, the National Energy Board confirmed.

The company has paid annual land rent and the arrangement was renewed in 1987 and 1992.

The current extension will expire on September 20, 2012.

TransCanada has asked Natural Resources Canada to extend the easement again, for another 10 years.

But Ottawa can’t do that unless they adequately consult with Yukon First Nations, said McMillan, Johnny and George Miller, chair of the Kaska Dena Council.

The original easement was granted before aboriginal rights and title were given constitutional protection and before the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was enacted, wrote Johnny in his letter.

Without signed land claim or self-government agreements, the White River and Kaska First Nations are dependant on Ottawa to protect their rights.

But Ottawa is not fulfilling its obligation, they said.

“Canada has taken no steps to protect our rights or title,” wrote Johnny. “And there has been no attempt made by Canada or the Yukon territorial government to clarify the regulatory process for the project or work on the easement, despite concerns raised throughout the fall of 2010 and the winter of 2011.”

There is confusion over the current work being done and the approval permits needed to do that work, the letter said. “And we continue to be concerned with the apparent inability of both the Yukon territorial government and the government of Canada to tell us exactly what regulatory process(es) will be followed.”

The only environmental assessment on the project was done in 1977, wrote Johnny.

There are also several inconsistencies between both Canada’s and TransCanada’s own records and legislation and their current actions with Yukon First Nations, the letter noted.

In the past, company executives and bureaucrats have pledged to work with First Nations. Today, evidence of that is hard to find, wrote Johnny.

“The company is still in discussions with potential shippers on many of the issues that were brought up during the open season that was launched last year,” said TransCanada spokesmen Terry Cunha of the current status of the 35-year-old project. “Things are still ongoing and the company continues to work towards completing all of the necessary work that needs to be done.”

But Cunha did not offer any comments about the company’s relationship with Yukon First Nations.

“All affected First Nations, settled or unsettled, are being consulted on the proposed amendment to the easement agreement,” Natural Resources Canada said in an emailed response on November 2. “In May 2011, the Northern Pipeline Agency initiated formal consultations with First Nations with territory on the pipeline route. The agency has received input from many First Nations and will give their views full consideration.”

But there is still no consultation agreement, said McMillan – something the aboriginal groups have requested for “quite some time,” he said.

The Kaska have reduced their participation in the First Nation-developed Alaska Highway Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition to observer status after it became clear Canada and the company were using the organization as a one-window stop to replace direct, one-on-one negotiations, said McMillan.

But each First Nation that will be affected by this proposed pipeline will be affected differently, he said.

The proposed route cuts through 230 kilometres of White River’s traditional territory and more than 100 kilometres of Liard First Nation land.

“As traditional stewards of the land and animals in our traditional territory, we need to be able to act responsibly and make an informed decision that includes considering all aspects of the project and how they’ll impact the interests of our community, and our citizens and our traditional way of life,” said McMillan, adding this project is just one of many being proposed on their lands, and that they all need to be considered cumulatively.

“We’ve never been against development when it’s done in a responsible fashion. But we need to be able to retain the right to be able to say no to a project every now and then, when it makes sense.”

And while consideration for employment, training, contracts and revenue sharing should not be ignored, it is not the main objective behind the First Nations’ concerns.

“From our peoples’ perspective, the land and the wildlife are more important than the money,” said McMillan, pointing out the easement cuts through the Little Rancheria Caribou herd’s wintering ground.

This issue is not strictly a First Nations’ issue, added McMillan, citing the recent, territory-wide support northern First Nations received in their campaign to protect the Peel River Watershed.

“We can’t take these decisions lightly and it’s important that all Yukoners – including First Nations, whether settled or not settled, that all those voices are heard.

“And from time to time, we need to be able to say no to a project.

“That can only be good for the Yukon, in general.”

The aboriginal leaders prefer to sit down and negotiate with Canada and the company over the proposed pipeline.

“But if it comes to litigation, or other means to get our point across, I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” said McMillan.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at