Two groups of First Nations have issued duelling statements on where aboriginal people stand on oil-sands pipelines, highlighting opposing native viewpoints toward the energy industry.
Aboriginal leaders from Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba said on Wednesday that they are keen to form a national alliance to oppose pipelines from northern Alberta's oil sands.
The visiting delegation met in Vancouver with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs to press the case for fighting proposals, such as TransCanada Corp.'s Energy East pipeline venture. Energy East is seeking to take unprocessed bitumen from Alberta to New Brunswick for export, although some of the raw commodity could potentially be refined in the East.
But a statement issued by a group of First Nations from northern British Columbia declared support for Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings Ltd., which envisages refining bitumen into finished products either in Alberta or northeast B.C., before piping them to the West Coast for export.
"Eagle Spirit's proposal also fairly compensates First Nations for the risks posed to our traditional territories," said a letter signed by 17 hereditary and elected chiefs, who sent their accord dated Tuesday to B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and federal Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. Forty-eight Lax Kw'alaams tribal leaders and members also signed the letter.
With Eagle Spirit's plans, there are notable dissenting views. Lax Kw'alaams Mayor Garry Reece has said he opposes the pipeline that would enter his group's territory. Given that the elected Lax Kw'alaams council has spurned Pacific NorthWest LNG's proposed site on Lelu Island for exporting liquefied natural gas, it is hard to imagine widespread support for refined oil exports from a location near Lax Kw'alaams, he said.
A representative from Aquilini Investment Group, owner of the National Hockey League's Vancouver Canucks, said during a June news conference that Aquilini backs Eagle Spirit because the concept is to transport through a pipeline refined products instead of tar-like bitumen.
David Austin, an energy lawyer with Clark Wilson LLP in Vancouver, said uncertainty lingers over which projects First Nations might support or oppose.
"It is not clear what the First Nations' intentions are with respect to oil pipelines and oil product pipelines to tidewater. It will take some time to clear the air as to whether there is unanimous agreement on this point," he said in an interview on Wednesday.
Eagle Spirit's backers say they want to continue working with government and industry to study an "energy corridor" that would allow oil and natural gas pipelines to go across northern British Columbia.
By contrast, chiefs from Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba are warning about the environmental risks posed by energy pipelines, especially any originating from Alberta's oil sands.
"All of these pipeline struggles across Canada are connected," Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in a statement. "Even if the pipeline does not burst on your territory or contaminate your sacred waters – even if the pipeline is built on the other side of Canada – we will all suffer the climate-change effects from increased tar-sands production."
Chief Arnold Gardner of the Eagle Lake First Nation from Treaty 3 in Ontario said he is worried about further erosion of aboriginal traditions and increased pollution. "It is pure madness," he said in a joint release with Mr. Nepinak and Grand Chief Serge Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake in Quebec.
In a resolution, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs pledged to support the three leaders in their efforts to challenge Energy East.