VANCOUVER/CALGARY, April 23 (Reuters) - Canadian regulators had serious concerns the federal government was not consulting enough with aboriginal groups about the Northern Gateway pipeline project, according to internal emails obtained by the Haisla First Nation and released on Thursday.
The Enbridge Inc pipeline will move 525,000 barrels of Alberta oil sands crude to a port on native land near Kitimat, British Columbia.
The Sept. 1, 2009 internal emails between Environment Canada employees obtained under access to information legislation, noted many flaws, including lack of First Nation input into the consultation plan's design.
Under Canadian law, federal and provincial governments must consult with aboriginal people about resource and infrastructure projects that could impact their territories and traditional way of life.
The federal government has said the regulatory process for the project, which recommended approving the line after a series of public hearings, was adequate consultation. Many of British Columbia's native communities contend the process was flawed.
"Their own administration was telling their leadership that it wasn't a good process," said Haisla Nation Chief Councillor Ellis Ross.
The Haisla, whose traditional lands include the site of the terminus of the 1,177 kilometer (731 mile) pipeline, have launched a court case challenging the adequacy of the consultation. Ross said the emails are unlikely to be used in the case.
The emails also noted that Environment Canada's role in face-to-face consultation was unclear, and the process provided "limited or no opportunity" for government agencies to engage with aboriginal groups until after a regulatory review was completed.
Environment Canada and Canada's natural resources minister could not be immediately reached for comment. Ivan Giesbrecht, a spokesman for the Northern Gateway project, said Enbridge was aware of the emails.
"Northern Gateway has been made aware of this information previously," he said in an email. "Our priorities remain focused on building trust, engaging in respectful dialogue and building meaningful partnerships with First Nations and Metis communities." ($1 = 1.2135 Canadian dollars) (Editing by Andre Grenon)