A major crack has developed in the ranks of Northwest Territories aboriginal communities, with the Acho Dene Koe backing a Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline.
The First Nation's council voted unanimously on Oct. 2 to take the next business step towards building a pipeline from the Mackenzie Delta.
Chief Judy Kotchea said the community agreed it "must participate in this business opportunity," relying on its extensive experience in the oil and gas industry and its "traditional knowledge and respect for our land."
The vote endorsed a memorandum of understanding reached in June by the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, representing the bulk of aboriginal communities along the proposed pipeline route, and the Mackenzie Delta Producers Group, consisting of Imperial Oil Ltd., ExxonMobil Canada, Conoco Canada Ltd. and Shell Canada Ltd.
A spokesman for Imperial, the lead player in the producers' consortium, welcomed the participation of "one of the Deh Cho leaders," who had originally rejected the terms for up to one-third aboriginal ownership in the pipeline.
Kotchea said her community respects the views of the Deh Cho communities but believes it "must move forward now. We want to participate in building a Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline and we want our people, especially the young people, to have the long-term benefits."
The Acho Dene Koe has been an active player since 1994 in the Fort Liard area of the lower Northwest Territories, where gas has been produced for the past 18 months from a series of major finds involving exploration by Chevron Canada Resources Ltd., Ranger Oil Ltd. (now owned by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.), Purcell Energy Ltd., Canadian Forest Oil Ltd., Paramount Resources Ltd. and Berkley Petroleum Corp.
Mike Nadli, grand chief of the Deh Cho First Nations, said he was not surprised by the Acho Dene Koe action, but disappointed that his umbrella organization did not get advance notice.
The Deh Cho has represented 10 communities, nine of which have refused to sign the memorandum of understanding until issues covering land claims, benefits, access fees and royalties have been negotiated with the federal government — a process that has been forecast to take at least another year, which the Delta producers consider would be too late to make decisions on gas development.
Both the producers and the Northwest Territories have hinted they have plans to bypass any dissident First Nations.