The Deh Cho First Nations, whose land covers the lower 40 percent of the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline route, have delivered on their long-standing threat and put the biggest legal obstacle in front of the project.
The umbrella group for 13 aboriginal communities and almost 7,000 people filed a lawsuit Sept. 2 in the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories seeking an injunction stopping the pipeline environmental review until the Deh Cho can appoint two people to the review panel.
Grand Chief Herb Norwegian said in a statement that the Deh Cho are being discriminated against because, unlike the three more northerly aboriginal communities who are full partners in the project, they have not been able to conclude negotiations with the Canadian government on land-claim and self-government issues.
“We are simply asking the court to recognize our right to have a say in this project,” said Keyna Norwegian, chief of the Liidli Koe First Nation, part of the Deh Cho group.
“This is the biggest development project ever to hit the Deh Cho. It has the potential to totally change our lives. We need a voice in this process.”
The defendants named by the Deh Cho are the federal Indian and Northern Affairs Department and the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board, which includes representatives of the Sahtu, Gwich’in and Inuvialuit communities.
Herb Norwegian said the action has been forced on the Deh Cho by the federal government.
After failing to gain representation on the environmental panel “we could not just sit and watch as other people made the decisions on what is best for us.”
Partners in the Mackenzie Gas Project — Imperial Oil, Shell Canada, ConocoPhillips Canada, ExxonMobil Canada and the Aboriginal Pipeline Group — are not named in the lawsuit.
A spokesman for the project has told reporters that because the consortium has no role in determining the structure of the review panel, work will continue on preparing formal regulatory applications, expected to be filed this year.
Officials of Indian and Northern Affairs and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency declined to comment on a matter that is before the courts.
Editor’s note: see full story in Sept. 12 issue of Petroleum News.