The division between pipeline industry proponents and First Nations is being exacerbated by recent announcements that Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines (ENGP) plans a summer of field work along the pipeline route through Northwestern B.C (see Enbridge this issue).
“The field work we are undertaking is in direct response to the safety, integrity, and environmental issues raised by Aboriginal groups during the recent JRP hearings,” explained Ivan Giesbrecht, communications manager for Western Access Enbridge Inc.
“This is the type of work that needs to be done in order to answer the questions these groups and others asked of us.”
But not all First Nations along the proposed pipeline route are satisfied with the explanation for the field work.
The Office of the Wet’suwet’en (OW) which speaks for the hereditary clans of the 22,000 square kilometre Wet’suwet’en traditional territories, which includes Burns Lake, is unequivocal in its opposition.
“We’ve told Enbridge not to come on the territory because we in no way, shape, or form endorse pipelines on the territory,” said John Ridsdale, a Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief.
The OW recently reaffirmed their opposition to any pipeline activity within their traditional territories at a May 20, 2013 meeting where laws were passed prohibiting pipeline activity.
The OW and First Nations along the proposed pipeline route have been included in Enbridge’s consultation process for pending summer field work.
“The project has, as a courtesy, and not a legal obligation, informed all those Aboriginal groups on whose traditional territory non-invasive reconnaissance fieldwork is taking place (mostly in and around highways), of those planned field activities,” Giesbrecht said.
Giesbrecht affirmed that Enbridge is not only in compliance with any and all Canadian law regarding field work, but that it is in compliance with all Federal or provincial requirements for aboriginal consultation.
“Northern Gateway has provided copies of the geotechnical investigation permit applications to the Aboriginal communities whose traditional territories will be traversed by the fieldwork and has offered to provide further information where that is requested,” Giesbrecht said.
“A number of meetings have taken place to date with Aboriginal communities who have requested additional information. However, those communities have asked that we not disclose their identities or the details of those conversations at this time.”
Wilf Adam, Chief of Lake Babine Nation (LBN) said that the LBN has no contact with Enbridge. Wet’suwet’en First Nation (WFN) Chief Karen Ogen said that they have received notice from Enbridge of the field work, but that WFN has not consented to the activity.
Burns Lake Band (BLB) traditional territories encompass both of the planned field work sites near Burns Lake. Burns Lake Band Councilor Ron Charlie is concerned that the collective desire of BLB members is not being represented by band council on pipeline issues, and that confidential arrangements with industry may have been made without community consultation.
Burns Lake Band membership provided a copy of a July 10, 2013 letter from Enbridge to the BLB council indicating the commencement of field work in the area. Chief Albert Gerow was not available for comment at press time.
On July 25, 2013, Charlie travelled to a special presentation by Enbridge to Smithers town council to voice his concerns over what many see as a lack of transparency when it comes to First Nations consultation in Northern B.C.
Charlie agrees that, when it comes to pipelines, the OW speaks for his interests as BLB councilor and for the interests of the membership that supports him, regardless of what BLB leadership may or may not have agreed to in the past (this is Charlie’s first term on council).
“We’re on the same page, we’re all trying to work together,” Charlie said. “We see all around the world the destruction that pipelines have done to communities, and we don’t want that for our kids.”
Three recent major construction ground breaking ceremonies in Burns Lake recently acknowledged that work was being done within BLB traditional territories, with BLB leadership invited to attend media events as community representatives.
While the traditional territories are not in dispute, who speaks for the membership is another issue.
“They [Enbridge] say they have support from First Nations along the route, but reserves only have jurisdiction on reserve,” Ridsdale added. “In the territory of the Wet’suwet’en… that authority lies with the people and the clans of the nation. We’ve never signed a treaty, ceded or surrendered any of that land.”
With the duty to consult with First Nations understood in different ways by interested parties, some are concerned that tensions may escalate to the point where not only pipeline reconnaissance activity will be affected, but other important local industries may start to feel an impact.
“I still see a huge discontent among First Nations,” said Houston B.C. Mayor Bill Holmberg at a recent Regional District of Bulkley Nechako board meeting in Burns Lake. “They have a blockade at the Morice River [Southwest of Houston]. Our [forest] license holders, West Fraser and Canfor, are very concerned because it’s going to get to the point where we can’t get in there to log.”