First Nation coalition threatens blockades over oil pipelinePosted: September 18, 2008
Jason Warick, September 15, 2008, Saskatchewan News Network -- The chief of a Saskatchewan First Nation is leading a coalition of First Nations considering blockades or other action to halt construction of a multimillion-dollar oil pipeline until their concerns are addressed.
First Nations from across Western Canada meet today and Tuesday in Edmonton to plot their strategy, Red Pheasant Chief Sheldon Wuttunee said in an interview Sunday.
Enbridge Pipelines Inc., which recently began construction of the Alberta Clipper pipeline through Saskatchewan and other provinces, is reneging on its written pledge to provide jobs and contracts to First Nations people, Wuttunee alleged.
"Promises were broken. These pipelines are running through our traditional lands, and the First Nations are getting peanuts here," said Wuttunee, whose reserve is located 100 kilometres west of Saskatoon.
An Enbridge spokeswoman called the concerns "unfortunate," and said the company is employing dozens of aboriginal peoples on pipeline projects.
The Alberta Clipper pipeline is being built to transport up to 800,000 barrels of crude oil daily from Alberta, through Saskatchewan and Manitoba, to Superior, Wis., to supply Midwestern U.S. markets. It is scheduled to be completed by mid-2010.
Canadian-owned Enbridge is one of the world's largest energy transportation and distribution companies.
Some First Nations, including Sweetgrass and Moosomin in Saskatchewan, are taking Enbridge to court to demand benefits from the pipeline. Some portions of the proposed Alberta Clipper and other pipelines run through reserve land, while other sections traverse what the band term "traditional territories."
Such disputes often revolve around interpretations of laws requiring "consultation and accommodation" when development affects First Nations.
That may be the wider issue, Wuttunee said, but his focus is on the agreement the parties have already reached.
Red Pheasant wanted to avoid a legal battle, so it negotiated an agreement with Enbridge, Wuttunee said. According to Wuttunee, Enbridge agreed to award contracts and provide meaningful employment to Red Pheasant members.
However, the only things Red Pheasant has to show for the agreement are a small handful of temporary, unskilled jobs such as erecting fencing or being a watchman at storage sites.
"I wanted to do things diplomatically, but now we're going to push. We're done waiting," Wuttunee said. A coalition of bands has formed and named Wuttunee as its spokesman. They want to see construction stopped until their demands are met.
Legal action or even blockades of the pipeline are going to be discussed, Wuttunee said.
"The pipeline has to be stopped until First Nations get this resolved," he said.
Enbridge spokeswoman Gina Jordan said her company "has an established relationship with the Red Pheasant First Nation" and other First Nations and aboriginal groups. She said it's "unfortunate" Wuttunee and others have concerns.
Jordan said Enbridge is always open to meet further with Red Pheasant officials or other groups to discuss these issues.
Jordan noted construction on the Alberta Clipper project has only recently gotten underway. Dozens of aboriginal people have already been hired or are being trained.
"We haven't (yet) hit the peak number for employment," she said in an interview.
She said Enbridge officials can provide more concrete aboriginal employment and training figures this week.