Inuvialuit leader backs Mackenzie pipeline

The Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline should go ahead, whether the last holdout First Nation has a settled land claim or not, says Inuvialuit leader Nellie Cournoyea.
The Mackenzie Valley pipeline should be given a right-of-way, Nellie Cournoyea told the National Energy Board Tuesday in Inuvik, N.W.T. ((CBC))

The Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline should go ahead, whether the last holdout First Nation has a settled land claim or not, says Inuvialuit leader and former N.W.T. premier Nellie Cournoyea.

Cournoyea, who chairs the Inuvialuit Regional Corp. in Inuvik, N.W.T., said the $16.2-billion proposed pipeline should not be held up by the Dehcho First Nations group, which is negotiating a land claim with the federal government.

"I really believe that they don't have the right to purposely put impediments in our way for no reason at all," Cournoyea told the National Energy Board at a hearing Tuesday in Inuvik.

The Inuvialuit are Inuit who live in the western Canadian Arctic. 

The Dehcho First Nations body claims traditional territory in the southwestern Northwest Territories, covering 40 per cent of the pipeline's proposed 1,200-kilometre route.

But of all the aboriginal groups that would be affected by the pipeline, only the Dehcho does not have a signed land claim.

Proposes right-of-way

If approved, the 1,200-kilometre pipeline would run from the Beaufort Sea and through the N.W.T.'s Mackenzie Valley to northern Alberta, where it would connect with existing gas networks. ((CBC))

Late last week, Dehcho Grand Chief Sam Gargan told the NEB that the pipeline should not go ahead until his group settles a land claim and works out a land-use and resource management plan for Dehcho territory.

But Cournoyea suggested the federal government should create a right-of-way so the pipeline can go ahead while Dehcho negotiations continue.

"There's a provision for that and that's what they should do, and then the Dehcho can take a hundred years to settle their claim and do their land-use plan — so they can have all the time in the world," she told the board.

"I don't believe it's in the Canadian interest that one group, or part of one group, can hold up the economic opportunities of a lot of other people."

The Inuvialuit, or western Arctic Inuit, are one of three N.W.T. aboriginal organizations along the pipeline route that are in the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, which has negotiated a one-third stake in the project. The Gwich'in and Sahtu nations are also in the group.

The APG is part of a corporate consortium, led by Calgary-based Imperial Oil, that is spearheading the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. Also in the consortium are ExxonMobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

Impacts 'minimal'

If approved, the pipeline would transport natural gas from the Beaufort Sea through the Mackenzie Valley to a hub in northern Alberta.

APG chairman Fred Carmichael said the Mackenzie project would open the way to prosperity in a region that has not been prosperous before.

"We have become dependent on a southern industrial way of life, but with no industry or no long-term plan for economic stability for the people of the North," Carmichael told the board.

Cournoyea said much of the discussion about the pipeline has focused on communities along the pipeline route, some of which have raised concerns about potential impacts on the environment.

"Although pipeline construction will significantly impact all regions along the pipeline route during the four-year construction period, the pipeline is but a means of transporting the gas from three anchor fields, all of which are situated in the Inuvialuit settlement region," Cournoyea said.

"When the pipeline has been completed, the impacts on these regions that do not have either anchor fields, or additional hydrocarbon reserves to feed into the pipeline over time, will be minimal."

Gwich'in Tribal Council president Richard Nerysoo said he can understand the frustration the Dehcho First Nations may be experiencing and offered services to help move their negotiations along.

"We're willing to work with the Dehcho," Nerysoo told the energy board. "We're willing to add support, we're willing to share the resources we have, willing to share the information we have."

The federal board, which regulates parts of Canada's energy sector, has been holding a final round of hearings since April 12 as it decides whether to approve the pipeline proposal.