WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - A Canadian native chief has asked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to help his people gain a share of revenues from two pipelines being built to ship surging volumes of oil to the United States.
Terrance Nelson, chief of the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation in southern Manitoba, wrote to Chavez this week to ask the leftist firebrand for C$1 million ($1 million) to help fund a legal bid for royalties from the pipelines, which run near the reserve.
"All the white guys are getting money off this resource," Nelson said in an interview. "None of this oil ... came over on the boat with John Cabot," he said, referring to the Italian explorer who landed in what is now Canada in 1497.
Venezuela is a major oil exporter and Chavez is a fierce critic of the United States, and Nelson said he could score public relations points by allying himself with Canada's aboriginal people, who often live in worse conditions than other segments of society.
He said he hopes Chavez will encourage other oil exporters to urge the Canadian government to improve conditions for aboriginals.
The Venezuelan government has received the chief's request but does not yet have a reply, a Venezuelan official said.
Chavez has reached out to disadvantaged people in the past, offering cheap heating oil to low-income consumers in the U.S. Northeast and selling oil and fuel to Latin American and Caribbean countries on preferential terms.
Enbridge Inc's Alberta Clipper pipeline and TransCanada Corp's Keystone line are being installed within 28 km (16 miles) of Nelson's reserve, home to 569 people just north of the border between North Dakota and Manitoba.
When they start up near the end of this decade, the lines will boost Canada's oil exports by more than one million barrels a day.
Enbridge spokeswoman Gina Jordan said her company has engaged in a major public consultation campaign with native groups in the region, including the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, as part of Alberta Clipper's planning.
Issues regarding royalties and compensation, however, are between the First Nations and the government, Jordan said. She declined to comment on the letter to Chavez.
A TransCanada spokeswoman said the company would not comment on the matter.
Additional reporting by Jeffrey Jones and Louise Egan; Editing by Peter Galloway