Tim Christian, in charge of federal negotiations with the Deh Cho First Nations on the Mackenzie Gas Project, sent a letter Nov. 23 to Deh Cho chief negotiator Chris Reid telling Reid that if a Deh Cho ultimatum was not rescinded he would advise Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Andy Scott to immediately terminate pipeline talks and interim measures agreements with the Deh Cho.
Christian, who has met three times with Deh Cho officials in the past three weeks, was referring to a Deh Cho ultimatum to the Canadian government that was tabled by the Deh Cho on Nov. 18. In that ultimatum the Deh Cho said they would not consider an abeyance of their litigation filed in the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories and the Federal Court of Canada seeking an injunction to halt the regulatory review of the Mackenzie natural gas pipeline unless Canada agreed that Deh Cho support was necessary before the Mackenzie project could proceed.
“In other words, the Deh Cho First Nations would have a veto on the Mackenzie Gas Project,” Christian wrote in his letter to Reid.
Christian said he had been “instructed to inform” the Deh Cho that “Canada will not capitulate to this ultimatum. Rather, Canada must act in the interests of all Northerners.” He said giving the Deh Cho “veto on the approval” of the gas project is “manifestly not in the wider public interest.”
Christian said in his letter that Reid had advised the chiefs and Metis leaders that continuation of the litigation would jeopardize the Deh Cho process, the Interim Measures Agreement between the Deh Cho and Canada, the exploratory discussion, and the Interim Resource Development Agreement.
“If the ultimatum does not represent the position of the Deh Cho First Nations please advise immediately,” Christian wrote to Reid.
In the first sign of a crack in the Deh Cho hard line, Grand Chief Herb Norwegian said Oct. 20 that the Deh Cho were willing to meet the federal government “half way” and possibly drop lawsuits that could delay progress on the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline if they were offered a seat on the environmental review panel and assured of progress in their land claims negotiations.
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 were 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.
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. All have accused the Deh Cho of undermining the Northwest Territories’ hopes of economic self-sufficiency.