The Deh Cho First Nations are prepared to drop lawsuits that could delay progress on the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline if they are offered a seat on the environmental review panel and are assured of progress in their land claims negotiations.
In the first sign of a crack in the Deh Cho hard line, Grand Chief Herb Norwegian said Oct. 20 that his community is ready to meet “half way” and respond to any gesture of compromise.
Rather than insisting on having two representatives on the seven-member panel, he said the Deh Cho are willing to settle for a single representative, similar to the other three aboriginal communities along the pipeline route.
Norwegian said the Deh Cho might also drop lawsuits filed in the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories and the Federal Court of Canada seeking an injunction to halt the regulatory review.
But he said there must be progress in the land claims, although a settlement would not necessarily have to precede Deh Cho support for the pipeline, although he insisted that with “no movement (on claims) we would oppose the pipeline.”
Norwegian said the Deh Cho are still looking for fees covering access to their lands, along the lines of compensation paid to property owners in Alberta by oil and gas companies.
So far, the Canadian government has been unwilling to consider such a proposal.
Since filing the lawsuits in September, the Deh Cho, whose land covers the southern 40 percent of the pipeline right of way, have come under attack from leaders of the Gwich’in, Sahtu and Inuvialuit, who are all full partners in the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, and Northwest Territories Premier Joe Handley, who have accused the Deh Cho of undermining the Northwest Territories’ hopes of economic self-sufficiency.
Canada’s Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Andy Scott said he is prepared to meet with Norwegian once some unspecified issues are resolved.