The CEO of TransCanada Corp. faced questions from shareholders about its dispute with the Lubicon Cree as members of the band and their supporters protested outside the pipeline company's annual general meeting in Calgary.
About 50 protesters gathered at the Roundup Centre on Friday morning to bring attention to the northern Alberta band's unresolved land claims. Most TransCanada shareholders entered through another door and didn't see them.
After more than 60 years of intermittent negotiations with the federal government, the band of about 500 people has yet to establish a reserve in the Peace River region north of Edmonton.
TransCanada plans to build a $983-million, 300-kilometre natural gas pipeline between northwestern and northeastern Alberta — through the Lubicon's traditional lands — to feed oilsand production. Plans target the spring of 2010 for the pipeline to start deliveries.
Elder Reinie Jobin said Friday they want TransCanada to acknowledge their land claim and to do a proper environmental assessment on the pipeline corridor.
"All the Lubicon are asking for on this pipeline is to be recognized, to recognize our rights on our own land," he said. "The Lubicon have never sold, have never leased, We have not signed [a] treaty with any government in this country."
The Lubicon Cree believe their traditional lands are being compromised by logging and oil and gas drilling, and worry about what the industrial activity is doing to fish, wildlife and water in the area.
A shareholder inside the Friday meeting told TransCanada CEO Hal Kvisle that he worries the Lubicon issue will delay the pipeline project, while another said he wasn't impressed with the way the company has been dealing with the dispute.
Kvisle responded that he feels TransCanada is stuck in the middle and expressed frustration with the government's lack of progress on the long-standing land claims.
"We genuinely wish them well on that but it's not our position to take a leadership role in a very complicated situation involving two levels of government and the people of the Lubicon," he said.
Kvisle added that the pipeline will be built in an environmentally responsible way and hopes that the construction will benefit the Lubicon with jobs and other opportunities.