December 11, 2014 / 9:19 PM / 4 years ago

Canada aboriginals ready to challenge energy projects, new chief says

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada’s indigenous peoples will not hesitate to use courts, political channels and activism to halt pipelines, mines or other resource projects they oppose, the new head of the country’s main aboriginal group said on Thursday.

Perry Bellegarde, who was elected national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on Wednesday, said aboriginals do not oppose development in general, but want to be involved in projects from the outset.

Canada’s 1.4 million aboriginals have clashed with industry and the government in recent years over development of resource projects on their traditional territories.

“If industry and governments are serious about ... wanting to create economic development, we need to be included and involved, and our rights and (land) title respected,” Bellegarde said in an interview with Reuters. “If we’re excluded, nothing will move. Nothing will happen.”

Bellegarde said that if legal and political strategies fail, aboriginals will turn to activism, but would not specify if this means peaceful protests or civil disobedience.

Aboriginals want jobs, equity ownership and revenue-sharing, but also to protect the environment, he said, adding that he and the AFN “need to do homework” to determine what specifically aboriginals want from resource projects.

Major projects that are being challenged by aboriginal groups include Enbridge Inc’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would transport crude oil from the Alberta oil sands to British Columbia’s Pacific Coast.

Enbridge has said it is offering aboriginal communities, known in Canada as First Nations, along the route C$1 billion ($866.03 million) in long-term benefits, including a 10 percent equity stake, jobs and contract opportunities. Nearly half of the 45 affected First Nations have rejected the offer.

Bellegarde, who was seen as the candidate for national chief who was most open to working with government, said there is also “huge risk” if aboriginal groups take too hard a line against resource development and miss opportunities to alleviate poverty.

Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Vancouver; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson; and Peter Galloway

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