It seems like every time BC First Nations draw major press coverage on their opposition to Enbridge, the company comes up with increasingly wild claims about how much support they have from First Nations.
Today, amidst Enbridge’s AGM in Toronto, the company is doing damage control in the face of pressure from some of its prominent investors with regards to the proposed Northern Gateway pipelines. NEI Investments has filed a motion asking the company to respond to risks posed by First Nations opposition to the project. According to NEI manager Jamie Bonham, “…[I]f the company cannot provide a compelling rationale that refutes the risks that we’ve identified, then the prudent course of action would be to put the project on hold.” Meanwhile, Vancity is mulling purging Enbridge stock from its mutual funds for the same reason.
But according to Enbridge executives quoted in the mainstream press today – including this must-listen interview with Rick Cluff on CBC’s Early Edition – these concerns are overblown and a whopping 40 to 50-plus percent of First Nations “along the pipeline corridor” have or will have signed onto revenue sharing agreements with the company by month’s end.
But there’s good reason to be skeptical of Enbridge’s claims of First Nations support for its controversial project. Last December, the day after the historic anniversary of the “Save the Fraser Declaration” in Vancouver – whereupon over 60 First Nations signed onto the document or reaffirmed their commitment to oppose Enbridge (with another 70 nations in BC and Alberta standing with them in solidarity) – Enbridge rolled out Elmer Derrick.
The now infamous former treaty negotiator for the Gitxsan First Nation had made an unauthorized deal with the company for a whopping $7 million over 20 years to share in revenues from the pipeline in exchange for supporting Enbridge’s plan. The mainstream media – particularly Postmedia – bought the ruse, hook, line and sinker, with the Vancouver Sun making it front page news before later backpedaling on the story (though a number of key stories on the issue from this embarrassing chapter for the paper are conspicuously no longer available online).
A few other points worth noting on that deal before moving back to the present day: According to the calculations of a colleague, based on the number of Gitxsan spread throughout three villages in Northeast BC and off-reserve, that $7 million worked out to about $3 per person per month over 20 years – barely enough for a cheap can of salmon each…which I suppose would have come in handy when Enbridge destroys their traditional salmon runs with a spill from its pipeline (of course it would have to be Russian or Alaskan salmon).
It also turned out the Gitxsan’s territory doesn’t actually sit along the pipeline route, which added to the frustration of the nation’s neighbours whose territories the pipeline would bisect and who firmly oppose the project. The deal was quickly discredited by the larger Gitxsan community and hereditary leadership, and subsequently formally annulled. Mr. Derrick and two of his colleagues lost their jobs with the Gitxsan Treaty Society over the debacle, but Derrick has since been rewarded with a plum Harper Government appointment to the Prince Rupert Port Authority.
Now, as the Yinka Dene Alliance leads a delegation of BC First Nations to Enbridge’s AGM in Toronto – the culmination of a cross-country whistle-stop tour by train – the company is boasting it has loads of support from First Nations. An Enbridge representative told CBC’s Rick Cluff this morning, “Over 40% of First Nations along the proposed corridor have entered into agreements with Enbridge to take a position, to take a stake in project.” Enbridge Gateway VP Janet Holder went a step further, telling the Globe and Mail that by the end of May she expects most concerned First Nations to have bought into the deal, stating, “It will definitely be a majority.”
Which nations? They won’t say.
What exactly do these deals really look like? They imply they’re all actual revenue sharing partnership deals – but can we be sure they aren’t mixing protocol and impact benefit agreements in there? Of course, we may never know.
How many nations along the Tanker Route? It’s reasonable to infer from the company’s carefully worded statements that it has the support of First Nations “along the pipeline corridor”, that they have none along BC’s precious and perilous coast. The Coastal First Nations – such as the Gitga’at of Hartley Bay and the Heiltsuk of Bella Bella, to name just a couple – remain steadfastly opposed.
Given the fact that the Gitxsan – the only nation Enbridge has actually touted by name – were in fact not technically “along the pipeline corridor”, how many of these dozens of allegedly supportive nations would actually have the pipeline passing through their territories? According to the Globe and Mail, Enbridge defines the “corridor” and eligible aboriginal groups as any “first nations and Métis groups that claim territory within 80 kilometres of its route.” (emphasis added).
How many of these nations are on unceded territory within BC (as opposed to treatied lands in Alberta)? This is an enormous distinction, in legal terms and on a number of other fronts.
When the company says it’s offering these nations a “10% stake” in the project, what exactly does that mean? Enbridge is conveying the false impression that it’s giving away this stake, when in fact it’s loaning the nation or helping to arrange the financing for it to purchase a “stake” in the project. That’s another big distinction often missed by the mainstream media.
Again, I have to come back to the one deal we actually know about – the illegitimate one cut by Mr. Elmer Derrick. $7 million over 20 years. We hear all about the hundreds of billions of dollars of value the Enbridge pipeline would bring to Canada’s economy. How do you get to a measly $7 million from that? Are all these deals as awful as the one they were actually prepared to brag about?
And the most important question of all: How does this First Nations “stake” in the pipeline help to limit Enbridge’s liability in the event of an inevitable oil spill? Will they dump 10% of the cleanup costs on affected nations? Or will they leave them holding the bag altogether? Long after Enbridge has done its damage, First Nations will still be there, left to deal with the mess. Just ask the people of Michigan.
If I’m mistaken in any of my questions or conclusions, I urge Enbridge to correct me where I’m wrong. That would preferable to having to read between the lines of the company’s increasingly boastful and vague statements – and the often misleading interpretations of them by the mainstream media.