From the Globe and Mail – June 9, 2011
by Nathan Vanderklippe
Enbridge Inc. (ENB-T30.42-0.32-1.04%)
is struggling to win aboriginal support for its Northern Gateway
project, despite major financial promises and efforts to curry support
through sponsoring golf tournaments, powwows and rodeos, regulatory
documents filed by the company show.
The $5.5-billion pipeline, designed to transport Alberta crude to the
B.C. coast for export to Asia and California, has garnered major
industry support, but substantial opposition from first nations that
believe it will endanger the environment.
Enbridge has pledged some $1-billion in financial sweeteners to first
nations, including a 10-per-cent equity stake in the project and
promises of hiring guarantees and hundreds of millions in spending on
aboriginal businesses. It has promised economic benefits to any B.C.
group with reserve land within 80 kilometres of the proposed right of
But documents filed with the National Energy Board by Enbridge, which is
seeking regulatory approval for the project, show that a surprising
number of groups do not appear interested in the offer, which was first
made public in February.
Enbridge has presented its benefits-package offer to 35 groups and first
nations. As of March 31, another 13 had not received the benefits
package. Many, including a series of coastal nations, have outright
refused to meet with the company.
And even some of those who initially agreed to look over the offer now
say they aren’t interested. Take the Tl’azt’en Nation. It is listed as
having received the benefits package. But its chief, Ralph Pierre, says
bluntly that his people have “rejected it and refused to even go through
The Enbridge documents say the Tl’azt’en have invited Enbridge to speak
with leaders about financial specifics in the package. But Mr. Pierre
said the package is “still sitting right here in front of me right now
and I’m just not interested in opening it, to tell you the truth.”
Discerning how many first nations actually support Northern Gateway has
been challenging, in part because Enbridge has declined to provide
numbers. But the document suggests the tally is low.
Two groups – the Macleod Lake Indian Band and the Alexis Nakota Sioux
Nation – have requested that the company relocate pumping stations onto
their land, as a way of increasing the benefits that could flow their
But when Enbridge held an all-expenses paid weekend in Banff earlier
this year for a “Best Practices in Aboriginal Business and Economic
Development” conference, only five nations were represented. Enbridge
spokesman Paul Stanway says the company invited only half a dozen whose
“fit was established based on the focus of the Banff program and
corresponding identified aspirations of invitees.”
Critics, however, took the short list – which included several nations
known to be pipeline supporters, as well as the Tl’azt’en, where a
leadership change has eroded support – as evidence that Enbridge has few
on its side.
“What it indicates to me is that, after six years of trying, they’ve got
five nations showing up to these things. So for love or money, they
can’t get solid support,” said Eric Swanson, a campaigner for the
Dogwood Initiative, a Victoria-based environmental lobby group.
Enbridge, however, says first nations interest in business opportunities
are substantial. An aboriginal business summit held in early 2010
brought out representatives of 42 communities along the pipeline route.
“In March, 2011, Northern Gateway polled some of the aboriginal groups
to determine the level of interest for a second aboriginal business
summit,” the company says in the filings. “All aboriginal groups
contacted expressed a strong interest.”
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