- Category: news
- Created: Friday, 04 October 2013 13:07
- Published: Friday, 04 October 2013 13:07
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By James Munson
British Columbia First Nations leaders aren’t included in current talks between their province and Alberta over ocean-bound crude oil pipelines, leaving open big questions as to where they’ll fit if an agreement between the two provinces is struck.
B.C. aboriginals – who are governed by a patchwork of treaties, federal legislation and land claim agreements – have opposed or been balky about increased energy infrastructure in the province as long as the morass of stalled or broken negotiations among them, the province and the federal government remains unresolved.
Ottawa made no special effort to address the delicate political situation in B.C. during the first two years of the National Energy Board’s evaluation of Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline, and has been playing catch-up over the past months, sending ministers and deputy ministers to meet with aboriginal leaders in Vancouver.
The B.C. government has been more sensitive about the unresolved aboriginal rights and title issues for the most part. Environmental concerns and worries about respect for aboriginal rights led the province to officially oppose Northern Gateway in the National Energy Board’s request for submissions this spring.
The move wasn’t unexpected. Premier Christy Clark made a grand show of her disagreement with the Northern Gateway project during a Council of the Federation meeting the previous summer in Halifax.
At the time, Clark was sinking in opinion polls in the run-up to an election. Since she beat expectations and won a majority this past May, there’s been talk – even at this summer’s Council of the Federation meeting held in Niagara-on-the-Lake – of a rapprochement between her and Alberta Premier Alison Redford.
That chatter has always ignored an important fact: during Clark’s initial outrage over the pipeline in Halifax, she gave five conditions that Enbridge would have to meet in order to win B.C.’s approval, inlcuding proof that aboriginal rights and title would be respected.
In July, iPolitics asked the premier’s office what happened to the promise to aboriginals, given that a deal was said to be in the offing.
An official, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that the province would still like to make sure aboriginal rights are respected, but said Victoria didn’t make representations during the National Energy Board’s hearings on the Crown’s obligations to aboriginals rights. It remained unclear how the province could eventually say the fifth condition would be met if aboriginals remained opposed to the pipeline.
Fast-forward to this week. On Monday, the Globe and Mail reported that the two provinces are even closer to a deal on getting crude oil to the Pacific.
So where are the aboriginals in all of this?
First Nations organize themselves politically in a number of ways in B.C., but speaking generally, a trilateral organization known as the First Nation Leadership Council has spoken for B.C. aboriginals on the problem of broken treaty negotiations and aboriginal rights and title, and more currently, the pipeline debate.
The council is made up of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, First Nations Summit Grand Chief Edward John and the British Columbia regional chief for the Association of First Nations, Jody Wilson-Raybould.
This group has met with federal and provincial officials a number of times on the pipeline debate, which now includes an application to expand Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline in southern B.C. They have been instructed to voice aboriginal opposition to pipelines by their members because of the general discontent regarding the aboriginal treaty and rights situation.
At their last meeting with Clark – held just over one week ago on September 23 in Vancouver – the council gave the premier two conditions if they were going to change their minds, said Wilson-Raybould.
“What we raised with the premier was that fundamental need for the government of B.C and the federal government to speak directly with those First Nations that are impacted – the nations that have the title to the territories that will potentially be impacted by any pipeline,” said Wilson-Raybould.
Secondly, “we are looking for the premier’s commitment to develop an overall framework for consultation or to establish a meaningful and deep engagement – not only with the leadership council but more importantly with our nations throughout British Columbia,” she said.
So could Clark be cooking up a “framework for consultation” in order to get a deal with Alberta and finally settle the fight over Northern Gateway?
Who knows. A spokesperson for her office did not respond to questions Wednesday.
But APTN – Canada’s national aboriginal network – reported that the Yinka Dene Alliance, a political group that represents some First Nations in northern B.C., is claiming the B.C. government is granting Enbridge permits to enter land claimed by aboriginals, ostensibly a breach of the leadership council’s first condition.