Canadian pipeline needs aboriginal consent: chief

Wed Jan 25, 2012 5:26pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Enbridge Inc's controversial plan to build a pipeline to the Pacific Coast from oil-rich Alberta requires the consent of aboriginal bands, some of whom staunchly oppose the project, Canada's top native leader said on Wednesday.

The contention underlines the difficulties facing Enbridge as it tries to push through the C$5.5 billion ($5.4 billion) Northern Gateway project, which would cross land belonging to many Indian bands, or first nations, so the oil sands-derived crude could be shipped to Asia and California.

Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said bands had "the right to free, prior and informed consent" over projects affecting their territory.

"We need to move away ... from the notion that we are only stakeholders when it comes to major projects. Whether it be a pipeline or a mine, first nations have real rights (and) those rights must be recognized when it comes to any development in this country," he told a news conference in Ottawa.

The oil industry and Canada's federal government want the 525,000 barrel a day pipeline to proceed as quickly as possible as a way to diversify markets and increase returns for the Alberta tar sands, the world's third-largest oil deposit. Hearings into the development began this month.

Native Indians, who make up around 1.2 million of Canada's 34.5 million population, largely live on reserves and suffer high levels of poverty, crime, unemployment and poor health. However, Canada's booming resource industries are increasingly seeking access to those lands.

Enbridge has offered aboriginal communities affected by its proposal to share in 10 percent of pipeline's ownership and C$1 billion of community development money. A company executive said in Edmonton on Tuesday that 40 percent of first nations along the route have signed on to the equity offering.

However, many in British Columbia have said they do not want the project to move forward under any conditions, citing fears of oil spills on ancestral lands and in coastal waters.   Continued...

<p>Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo speaks during a news conference in Ottawa January 25, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>