Talks are underway between First Nations in northern Ontario and the company behind the Energy East oil pipeline.

Like others who live along the pipeline, First Nation leaders are weighing economic benefits against the environmental costs.

When he first heard about the proposed oil pipeline, Chris Sackaney was against it.

The lands and resources manager at Wahgoshig First Nation, who is also a band councillor, said it reminded him of some traditional teachings.

"One from the Crees, for example, where they mention this big black snake crossing through the country of Canada,” he said. “Sure enough, here we are looking at this pipeline and maybe that's what they were referring to."

But Sackaney added after meeting with the company, he's changed his mind.

"The books are wide open for First Nations, in general, on how they want this pipeline to go through the territory."

'We have to be really cautious'

That includes how northern First Nations might benefit financially.

TransCanada’s director of land, community, aboriginal relations said there are a range of "tools" his company offers communities, but direct payment is not one of them.

"Royalties or tariffs or revenue sharing has not been something that TransCanada has offered,” Alain Parise said.

Parise noted his company isn't rushing relationships with the 200 First Nations along the pipeline, which is still a few years away from being approved.

TransCanada Pipelines is in the process of consulting with a dozen First Nations across northern Ontario about the project, which could see an existing natural gas line that runs along Highway 11 converted to carry crude oil.

The chief of the Moose Cree First Nation said the pipeline crosses many major rivers that eventually flow to his community.

"We can't have any project potentially negatively impacting our way of life and our traditional pursuits, so we have to be really cautious with this project,” Norm Hardisty said.

Hardisty said the environmental risk has to be weighed against the potential economic benefits of the pipeline.

For more on the proposed pipeline project, go to CBC.CA/Sudbury and under Features, click on The Pipeline button.