The three person National Energy Board Joint Review Panel, that is holding hearings into the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project arrived in Burns Lake last week.
Twenty-two local intervenors registered to provide oral evidence at the meeting, which started at 1 p.m. and wrapped up at 8:48 p.m. at the Island Gospel Church.
It was estimated by the National Energy Board that 200 people attended the Burns Lake meeting.
Registered speakers were from Lake Babine Nation, the Office of the Wet’suwet’sen, the Ned’u’ten Nation and the Metis Nation of B.C.
Hereditary Chiefs from Wet’suwet’en First Nation and Lake Babine Nation opened the proceedings with drumming and dancing, as well as a rattle cry. They chanted, “We live off the land, our territory is our livelihood …. a connection of land and animals … Enbridge, don’t step on our land … out territory is our livelihood.”
Lake Babine Nation Hereditary Chief Frank Alec said to the Joint Review Panel; Sheila Leggett Kenneth Bateman and Hans Matthews, that the rattle cry signifies the start of the serious business of talking straight and talking in an appropriate manner.
He said, “Along with the rattle cry, is the feather. The plume, when it rises means whatever that has been spoken about, that whatever is mentioned, needs to be listened to. The feather is very sacred to us when it rises. We’re doing this here because this is serious business. This has to do with the livelihood of everybody, Natives and non-Natives alike. That’s the way we look at it.”
Leggett, who is the panel chair, explained the process the hearings would take. She said, “The purpose for the panel being here is to gather traditional oral evidence. We are here to gather the oral traditional knowledge. That’s the information that we’re after at this point.”
She said registered speakers should not voice their opinions on the outcome of the proposed pipeline or advise the panel to make a decision about the project one way or the other.
“Your opportunity to tell us your thoughts about the decisions that this panel will need to ultimately make will occur later in the process.”
The Joint Review process includes two sets of hearings. The community hearings where registered intervenors can provide evidence to the panel orally, followed by the final hearings in which Northern Gateway and other registered intervenors can be asked questions about their evidence and provide their final arguments to the panel.
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Moricetown Madeek [Jeff Brown] was first in line to present his traditional oral evidence. He spoke about the history of his father working on grease trails in the Morice River area. He said his father was also a packer, transporting furs across the territory.
He said it is this territory that is going to be directly impacted should the pipeline be allowed to go through.
“One of the things that really bothers me is our government and how it’s run. At this point, Prime Minister Stephen Harper knows exactly how First Nations people feel about having a carrot dangled in front of them by the oil people. They [the government] don’t know how to manage their land and their people. And that’s what we know how to do because of our protocols on the potlatch system. We look after each and every one of our members. They are not going to go suffering or go hungry. They’re always going to be fed. They’re always going to have good medicines. They’re always going to have the best care because of the fact that we know how to look after them,” he said.
Hereditary Chief Alec showed the panel a timber wolf hide, a pine marten hide and dried salmon and said, “I’m a trapper and I’m here to tell you that I still exist out there. I am in proximity of where this development is going to be happening. In our cultural practices, we always alternate our traditional trapping, hunting. So being some kilometres away from the pipeline does not mean that it will not impact me. It will impact me and that is the reason why I took the time to come here and have a say into this process,” he said.
Ron Austin, Henry Alfred, John Ridsdale, Andrew Tom, Walter Joseph, Mike Ridsdale and David Dewit from the Office of the Wet’suwet’en also presented their oral submissions.
Eleven speakers from Lake Babine Nation followed. Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam said to the panel, “The Lake Babine Nation’s territory is 1,267,277 hectares, or 12,672 square kilometres. If you put that into perspective, it’s twice the size of Prince Edward Island. The proposed pipeline will go through the Eastern portions of our territory. Any accidents will impact the wildlife and the resources that we rely upon in this area. Accidents will also impact the migratory birds because, in the Eastern portion it’s the Sutherland Estuary, that’s where the geese, the swans and the ducks migrate. The plume that we used this morning [during Hereditary Chief Alec’s submission] comes from that area. Any accident will surely affect our precious salmon and freshwater resources, resources that are critical to our culture and economy.”
Lake Babine Nation’s Frank Michell, Alec Michell, Louise Lacerte, John Bertacco, Verna Power, Millie Alec-George, John West, Melvin Joseph, Grace George and Robbie Reid also made oral submissions to the panel.
Kristen Higgens, communications officer from the National Energy Board explained the reason why the hearings were not advertised.
She said, “A decision was made to not advertise since these hearings were predominately for hearing oral evidence and those intervenors had all been contacted directly about the date. A decision on whether or not to advertise for oral statement hearings has not been determined at this time. The hearings are all open to the public and anyone can attend and watch the proceedings. People can also listen to the audio broadcast of the hearings.”
The hearings are set to continue until July 2012. During September and October 2012, the panel will hold the final hearings where intervenors, government participants and the panel will question those that have already presented oral or written evidence.
From November 2012 to March 2013, the panel will hear the oral statements from registered participants who do not live along the proposed pipeline route. Then in April 2013 the panel will hear final arguments from Enbridge Northern Gateway and they anticipate releasing the Environmental Assessment of the proposed project in the fall of 2013.
Complete transcripts of the Joint Review Panel hearings can be viewed at www.gatewaypanel.review-examen.gc.ca.