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'We have to be involved': N.W.T. First Nation says Enbridge not properly consulting on pipeline repair

The Liidlii Kue First Nation says Enbridge Pipelines Inc. is not taking its duty to consult Indigenous groups seriously as it plans to repair a pipeline in the Northwest Territories.

Liidlii Kue First Nation raises issue during 3-day NEB hearings in Fort Simpson

Daniel T'seleie spoke for the Liidlii Kue First Nation on the third day of National Energy Board hearings Thursday in Fort Simpson, N.W.T. (Facebook)

The Liidlii Kue First Nation says Enbridge Pipelines Inc. is not taking its duty to consult Indigenous groups seriously as it plans to repair a pipeline in the Northwest Territories.

Daniel T'seleie, the co-legal counsel for the Liidlii Kue First Nation (LKFN), spoke for the issue during the third day of National Energy Board hearings Thursday in Fort Simpson, N.W.T.

Enbridge proposes to replace a 2.5-kilometre section of its Line 21 pipeline by drilling 100 metres underneath the Mackenzie River about 10 kilometres from Fort Simpson. The line runs 869 kilometres between Norman Wells, N.W.T., and Zama, Alta.

That section is being replaced because it currently sits on an unstable river bank. The company says those "stability concerns" are why it shut the pipeline down in November 2016.

The company says the $53-million repair is routine and is not likely to negatively affect the environment or people living in the region, according to documents filed with the National Energy Board.

But T'seleie and Liidlii Kue Chief Gerald Antoine say Enbridge is not keeping community members informed. They say the company either doesn't answer questions from members of the First Nation, or offers vague responses on issues such as monitoring for leaks in the pipeline.

"We're in a situation where Enbridge is saying: 'Trust us, we know best with this information and we've made the best decision for you,'" T'seleie told the National Energy Board's review panel.

"I disagree that Enbridge has that right to make decisions for us, for LKFN or other Dene," he said.  

Enbridge plans to replace a 2.5-kilometre section of its Line 21 pipeline by drilling 100 metres underneath the Mackenzie River. (Enbridge via NEB)
Another issue is decommissioning the old pipeline, T'seleie said. Community members want to know why the old pipe is going to be left in place. In submissions to the NEB, Enbridge says it will fill the old pipe with concrete but leave it where it is. 

The application does not list why the old pipe cannot be completely removed.

'We have the intelligence' 

Antoine compared the pipeline to a "plumbing issue" in the community's home in an interview with CBC News on Friday. As "homeowners," the people living in the region have a right to know exactly what is happening, he said.

"We have to be involved," Antoine said. "We have thousands and thousands of years of information we know about the land."

The First Nation is seeking to be "full partners and equal partners" in the development, with the ability to regularly assess the pipeline's progress, Antoine said.

"We have the intelligence, we have the capacity to be able to work in partnership. We need to be open-minded and they need to work with us."

Duty to consult before Supreme Court 

Proper consultation with Indigenous governments on resource projects came up in two cases in the Supreme Court this summer.

In a unanimous decision, Canada's top court ruled the NEB's consultation process was "significantly flawed" when it allowed a Norwegian company to use sound technology to search for oil near Clyde River, Nunavut.

In the other decision, regarding a pipeline in southwestern Ontario, the court warned the NEB and energy project proponents that "any decision affecting Aboriginal or treaty rights made on the basis of inadequate consultation will not be in compliance with the duty to consult." 

The Liidlii Kue First Nation isn't outright opposed to Enbridge's plan for its Line 21 pipeline, it just wants to have more answers from the company and be consulted on the changes, T'seleie said. 

This profile image shows the route the pipeline will take 100 metres under the Mackenzie River. (Enbridge via NEB)

"They've been doing this drilling work for decades," he said. "That's their traditional knowledge, based on decades of experience, but the Dene have thousands of years of detailed knowledge about this land, these rivers, of the animals and plants."  

In documents submitted to the NEB in March, Enbridge says it respects the rights of Indigenous people to be consulted. It laid out their efforts to do so in its submissions. 

The company designed a consultation program that includes mail outs, in-person meetings, and an open house in Fort Simpson in February.  

It reiterated that position in a statement to CBC News Friday, and said the company is "committed to working through any concerns noted during the hearing with the interested parties." 

With files from Loren McGinnis, Joanne Stassen

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