December 2, 2010 / 9:07 PM / in 7 years

Canada's aboriginals eye role in energy projects

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada’s top native leader said on Thursday he wants aboriginal groups from across North America to get together next year to examine energy and resource development on their traditional lands.

The planning process for major development projects takes years, but aboriginal peoples are usually brought in only at the end of the process, despite legal and cultural land claims, said Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

“There has to be a paradigm shift on planning for resource development,” Atleo told reporters at a Vancouver news conference on aboriginal opposition to Enbridge Inc’s planned Northern Gateway pipeline.

The C$5.5 billion ($5.5 billion) line from the Alberta oil sands to British Columbia’s Pacific Coast has run into stiff opposition from native and environmental groups.

Atleo said the forum, which he expects will be held in June, will also allow native groups to explore ideas on how they can benefit from resource development projects they support.

Atleo said it is important for native Indian leaders from both Canada and the United States to be involved because the projects are international in nature.

Atleo said he has discussed the plan with head of the National Congress of American Indians and with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The energy and mining industries should learn from the federal government’s rejection of Taseko Mines Ltd’s proposed copper-gold project in British Columbia, which had strong aboriginal opposition, the head of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said at the new conference.

“They had to go essentially back to the drawing board,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said.

Ottawa blocked Taseko’s mine plan in early November, citing environmental concerns, overruling a green light the provincial government had given the project

Representatives of 61 First Nations in British Columbia said on Thursday they will oppose Enbridge’s bid to build the Northern Gateway pipeline to move crude from the oil sands to the port of Kitimat, giving Asia direct access to Canada’s vast oil sands reserves via tankers.

The line and the tankers are too great an environmental threat, the leaders said, although they did not offer specifics on how they planned to stop the project.

“The message is simple: Enbridge go home,” Stewart said.

Enbridge said earlier this week it wants to work with aboriginal groups whose territories lie along the planned route. It is also offering the groups a 10 percent stake in the project.

“While some First Nations have expressed opposition with respect to Northern Gateway, many have indicated project support as well,” Pat Daniel, Enbridge’s chief executive, said in a speech on Tuesday.

($1=$1.00 Canadian)

Additional reporting by Scott Haggett; editing by Rob Wilson

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