Yukon Dene are threatening to place a legal obstacle in the path of any Alaska Highway gas pipeline unless they see progress on land claims negotiations.
David Porter, head negotiator for the Kaska Dene, whose 3,000 members live along a 450-mile pipeline right-of-way, said the highway project could be delayed for years in the courts.
He said five lawsuits have been filed against the Yukon and Canadian governments. "We are well positioned on the legal front to pull the trigger if necessary," he said.
The Kaska Dene plan to take their warning to companies and financial institutions who would underwrite the pipeline asking them to pressure the governments to make a deal.
Porter said the energy industry appears to have been "deluded into believing that the pipeline right-of-way is all clear."
"We are prepared to take whatever steps -- be it litigation or otherwise -- to ensure that this pipeline doesn't proceed until we have satisfaction," he said.
Porter acknowledged the Dene will use the pipeline for leverage in their land claims, but insisted "we are not in any fashion out to deliberately undermine the Yukon."
An umbrella agreement with Yukon First Nations is in place, although seven of 14 claims are unresolved.
Yukon Premier Pat Duncan, who has made the negotiations a priority, also urged the Kaska Dene to "get out of court" and resume negotiations.
Northwest Territories Energy Minister Joe Hanley said the Kaska Dene stance may encourage North Slope and Mackenzie Delta producers to take another look at the "over-the-top" route from Alaska under the Beaufort Sea and down the Mackenzie Valley.
He said all aboriginal leaders in the NWT are squarely behind plans to develop Mackenzie Delta gas reserves and build a pipeline. "Industry is not very eager to get into big delays," he said.