Jul 102006

FIRST in a series.



Commentary, followed by



(This article doesn’t make the connection between the MacKenzie Valley Pipeline and the development of the Tar Sands.)



A series of emails:

2006-07-10   Wow. Peter Lougheed speaks out, Tar Sands; plus LA Times & Globe & Mail on pipeline

2006-09-12   Response from Govt to Saskatchewan Lakes dying from tarsands emissions?

2006-09-13   continued re Tar Sands and SO2 emissions, Sask lakes dying

2006-10-11   Where to go?  &  Alta, Sask officials discuss cross-boundary oilsands pollution (Sask lakes dying)

2006-10-11   re Acid rain in Northern Saskatchewan (Alberta tar sands)




Elation. Yee-es! Peter Lougheed is speaking out against the indiscriminate exploitation of the Tar Sands. AND the use of a relatively clean energy source (natural gas) to process a dirty source (tar sands bitumen).

Hallelujah!  He joins the chorus.


What’s happening is wrong, he insists.”


Earlier he sang tenor in the efforts to organize citizens to become strong and informed about water issues:   Canada had better be prepared- –  in 3 to 5 years  Americans will be AGGRESSIVELY after our Water, Peter Lougheed, Former Premier of Alberta,  Globe & Mail   (2005-11-11).

Peter Lougheed becomes one of my heroes.  Hope burns brighter: with our voices combined we might gain hold of our collective common sense.

NOTE:  Noeline Villebrun spoke at the FSIN (Federation of Sask Indian Nations) recent conference on water.  Her story captured every ear and eye in the hall; there was near silence, except for her voice.  Noeline is an amazing and articulate Chief of the Dene people.  The MacKenzie Valley Pipeline will cross the land that has provided a livelihood to her people for centuries.  Negotiations over “whose land” in the Arctic didn’t take place until the year of my Father’s birth – within living memory – 1921.

It is at once funny and sad; we don’t make the connections.  The journalist (Globe & Mail, item #3 below) quotes people who challenge the right of the Dehcho native people to collect royalties from the natural gas.  I think of the profits (the amount left over from the sale of the product, after the expenses have been paid) as composed of two parts: one part that goes to the Government (“the people”) and the other that goes to the Corporations.

If you look at the Tar Sands example, the Government of Alberta is collecting royalties of ONE percent versus typical royalty rates of up to 30 percent – –  and with no costing of “external costs”.   The Athabasca River is being depleted, contaminated water is going into vast holding lakes; the corporations AREN’T PAYING A CENT FOR THE WATER.

It is not only the native peoples that are getting scr..xx, ummm …  exploited through deals made between the corporations and the Governments.    (The Government of Saskatchewan stands silently by, waiting for their turn to cash in, after Alberta.)

I have always thought that the sons and daughters of the corporation executives, and the children of “the authorities” should HAVE TO BE raised in the communities from whom the wealth is extracted.

EXACTLY WHO gave the right to the oil and gas corporations to all the money flowing from the natural gas and oil development?  And SIMULTANEOUSLY DENIED the right of the Dehcho to any portion of the profits/royalties?  While the Government collects a one percent share.  And while communities then have to go begging to “The Government” for projects and funding that suit the dictates of people who live far, far away. On nice salaries and pensions?

I am reminded of the experience of the native people at Sandy Bay in Saskatchewan.  The Island Falls Dam was built on the Churchill River to provide electricity.  Companies made lots and lots of money. It took 28 YEARS before the community on whose land the dam was built, to get just the mere basic consideration: a meager supply of electricity for themselves.

Many thanks to the Sierra Club of Canada for three articles.  To Shelagh Montgomery from Yellowknife who submitted to Sierra Club.  And God bless Peter Lougheed and you.  No one can do it alone.







(Friday, July 7, Globe and Mail)

CALGARY — Peter Lougheed, Alberta’s former premier, would never be described as a radical.  But discussing Alberta’s oil sands, he’s almost as radical as they come.

Mr. Lougheed had been privately unhappy about government policy toward the oil sands.  A recent trip to northern Alberta caused his apprehensions to deepen. Now, his unhappiness has bubbled over into a kind of blast from the past.  He’s giving interviews and speeches warning Albertans to wake up.

What’s happening is wrong, he insists.

His complaints are root and branch.  Coming from such a respected figure, they cannot easily be dismissed as the argument of a crank.

Indeed, they are precisely the sort of arguments that many thoughtful Albertans have been wondering about, or making, but only in private because they didn’t want to rile up the Klein government or the petroleum industry.

It’s unwise, Mr. Lougheed argues, to use natural gas, a relatively clean fuel, to produce the heat needed to extract relatively dirty oil from the bitumen. That gas should be used for other purposes, including perhaps building up a petrochemical industry. It’s too valuable and clean to be used for the oil sands.

It was wrong, he thinks, to have allowed so many projects to proceed at once. The mad rush overheated the provincial economy, especially in the oil sands areas.  The cost of labour and materials skyrocketed.  Many projects are running over budget.  The infrastructure of Fort McMurray and other communities can’t cope. They need schools, sidewalks, hospitals, accommodation, parks.

The provincial royalty scheme cheats Albertans, he insists.  The taxpayers get very little up front — a 1 per cent royalty — until the capital costs of the projects are paid when the royalty rises to 25 per cent.  Albertans own the resources, he argues, and they should get more faster.

Now comes the really radical part.  Mr. Lougheed thinks a moratorium should be declared on oil sands projects. Public hearings should be held during the moratorium. Albertans should be asked what kind of development they want, and at what pace.

Perhaps, he acknowledges, not much can be done about the projects that have already received provincial government approval.  But the rest should wait while criteria are established to determine which projects should proceed after the moratorium is lifted.

These criteria might include which ones will use less natural gas or none at all, and which have the best technology for capturing and storing carbon, the major contributor to global warming.

As for the infrastructure deficit in Fort McMurray, including the inadequate road to Edmonton, Mr. Lougheed thinks the energy companies should pay some of the upgrading, since they need it.  Albertans “own” the resources.  The world is beating a path to the oil sands.  Alberta should take the time to get policy right, he argues.

At least one part of the Lougheed critique has already found an audience.

Provincial politicians are reporting that Albertans are asking why the province isn’t getting more money from the oil sands. They are muttering publicly about reviewing the royalty regime. The mutterers include some of the candidates to succeed Premier Ralph Klein.

Even the Alberta Energy Department acknowledges that the province’s share of oil and gas revenues has slipped to 19 per cent, below the target of 20 to 25 per cent.  Other studies say the share has slipped to 15 per cent.

Industry reaction can easily be imagined.  When Mr. Lougheed in his early years as premier increased the royalty regime on oil and gas companies, his membership in the Petroleum Club got revoked.  Investments temporarily slumped.

The same reaction would likely occur today.  Some investment during the moratorium would flee.  Companies would complain that the government was changing policy in mid-stream, thereby being unfair.  Shareholders would be irate when company share values slumped.

Companies would also insist that governments, not the private sector, are responsible for public infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals.

The provincial government wanted the private investment in the oil sands and is receiving huge tax revenues as a result.  Government now has to provide public investments for the public goods to support that investment.

Companies would point to market corrections already occurring in the form of delayed projects or expansions because of higher costs for natural gas, labour and materials.

Given the ideology of Alberta and the shape of the Conservative Party leadership, Mr. Lougheed’s radicalism, despite the pedigree of the source, is unlikely to carry the day.








(This article doesn’t make the connection between the MacKenzie Valley Pipeline and the development of the Tar Sands.)

* * * *


The Dehcho Indians have long resisted a planned gas line through one of North America’s last great wildernesses.  Can they save their ancestral land?

By Tim Reiterman, LA Times

July 2, 2006

After the ice broke up and the ferry began running on the Liard River, two rangy Indians with weathered faces and easy gaits shouldered a sack of beaver and muskrat pelts for the spring fur auction and took a rifle for bear protection.

On their short hike through the woods to the ferry landing, Jonas and Roy Mouse paused as they often do, heads bowed and caps in hand, at a rosary-draped cross that marks the spot where their aged mother collapsed and died several years ago. The cross stands alongside an oil pipeline that was dug through their forested homeland and that the brothers say for eight years drove away animals that they hunt and trap for a living.

Today, the brothers, members of the Dehcho First Nations, are facing another encroachment on their aboriginal way of life: an even bigger 800-mile-long natural gas pipeline that would bisect the tribe’s traditional territory and help spawn industrial development in Canada’s vast boreal forest, one of the last intact stretches of the Earth’s original forest cover.

For three decades, the Dehcho have been resisting the $7-billion project, which is backed by other native groups in the Northwest Territories. But the Dehcho are under mounting pressure to drop their opposition to a project that would serve North American energy markets as the United States strives to reduce dependence on the Middle East. Canada is already the largest foreign supplier of natural gas to the U.S.

The companies that want to build the underground pipeline — Imperial Oil, Shell Canada, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil Canada — estimate that it would carry 1.2 billion cubic feet of gas per day, which industry experts say is enough annually to heat more than 3 million homes for a year.

Recently, officials of Canada’s newly elected Conservative government signaled their unwillingness to let the Dehcho stand in the way of the project, which proponents want to start building in 2008 and finish a few years later. Jim Prentice, minister of Indian affairs, declared that the pipeline, which still needs regulatory approval, would be built along the Mackenzie Valley with or without the tribe’s blessing.

However, Prentice’s remarks only stiffened resistance from the 4,500-member tribe, the largest native group along the pipeline and the only one with an unresolved claim to its traditional lands.

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian said that if the government tried to expropriate Dehcho land for pipeline construction, the tribe would retaliate with litigation and possibly blockades.

“People think of a pipeline like a garden hose in your yard,” Norwegian said. “But a pipeline of this magnitude is like building a China Wall right down the valley, and the effects will be there forever and ever.”

Many Dehcho fear that hundreds of trucks would disrupt their quiet communities, that construction camps would breed drug and alcohol abuse, and that the massive project would drive away caribou, moose and other wildlife that sustain people like the Mouse brothers.

In the long run, they fear the project would spur a wave of oil and gas prospecting that would bring more pipelines and roads and so many newcomers that the Dehcho could become a powerless minority in the land they have occupied for many centuries.

The pipeline would tap into 6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in three well fields north of the Arctic Circle. It would move the gas south along the Mackenzie River to Alberta province, where it would be used to fuel a massive oil extraction project or be sent directly to markets in Canada and the United States.

“It is a significant new supply source,” said Imperial Oil spokesman Pius Rolheiser. One trillion cubic feet could serve all of Canada’s gas-heated homes for a year, he said.

The project is expected to spur development of other natural resources in the Territories, an area that is almost three times larger than California but has only 42,000 inhabitants.

“You are going to get a lot of lateral pipelines built into the system,” said Chris Theal, research director at Tristone Capital Inc., a worldwide energy investment bank.

But about 40% of the pipeline route crosses land claimed by the Dehcho, and before approving the project, they want a power-sharing agreement over

80,000 square miles of ancestral territory, allowing them to preserve lands for cultural or environmental reasons, to control industrial development and to collect royalties and taxes.

Dehcho leaders acknowledge that withholding support for such a significant project gives them leverage to secure unprecedented authority.

Government officials say their demands are unrealistic. “It would give 4,500 people the power to govern an area about half the size of France,” said Tim Christian, the chief federal negotiator. “And we certainly have not done that anywhere else [in Canada] and do not believe that is an appropriate model.”

The government recently offered the Indians $104 million and ownership of about 18% of their traditional land, but Norwegian called it a “low-ball”

Conservation groups are concerned about the pipeline’s impact on one of the continent’s great natural resources, Canada’s 1.4-billion-acre boreal, or northern, forest. It is home to many of North America’s land birds and big wild animals and is a major storehouse of fresh water.

“What is extraordinary … is you are opening one of the last great wildernesses of the world,” said Stephen Hazell, a lawyer with the Sierra Club of Canada. “The oil and gas companies will want every last scrap of land for exploration.”

The Canadian Boreal Initiative, a conservation organization, has been working with the government, industries and tribal groups to identify land that should be protected from development. But the organization’s executive director, Cathy Wilkinson, said that only about 35 million of the Mackenzie Valley’s more than 400 million acres of boreal forest have interim government protection. “The worry today is the pace of developing is outstripping the pace of protecting areas,” she said.

Although the pipeline’s right-of-way would be constructed during winter to minimize permafrost damage, scientists working for the energy companies acknowledged that it would increase the exposure of wildlife such as grizzly bears and woodland caribou to hunters or predators.

In addition to a 120-foot-wide pipeline right-of-way, the project calls for constructing staging areas, barge landings and camps for thousands of workers.

But scientists hired for the project contended that the disruptions would be short-term or limited to permanent facilities such as compressor stations.

“The ecosystem integrity … will not be compromised,” environmental consultant Petr Komers told a recent hearing. “Wide-ranging species will continue to move through the area and will continue to survive.”

Lisanne Forand, assistant deputy minister for northern affairs, said construction “will go ahead only if the environmental assessment process indicates effects can be mitigated [and] if producers can make it economically viable.”

Rolheiser, of Imperial Oil, which is the lead company, said whether the pipeline is built hinges partly on the cost of any government-required environmental mitigation and on the final tab for agreements with aboriginal groups. “It is an economically challenging project,” he said.

In this frontier region, where tundra and timber lands unfold to the horizon, the economy already depends heavily on products that come out of the ground.

The diamond mining industry is one of the world’s largest, but natural gas development could eclipse it, according to Joe Handley, premier of the Territories. “This is a good time,” he said. “The price is right. The demand is there.”

Handley believes the pipeline would generate billions of dollars in royalties for Canadian governments, as well as spur population growth, jobs, hydroelectric power and the first highway through the entire Mackenzie Valley.

Nonetheless, Handley said the project must balance development with protection of the environment and the traditional ways of life of the aboriginal people who constitute half the population.

Fort Simpson, where the Liard and the Mackenzie converge, was founded in the early 1800s as a fur trading post. Today, the town of 1,200 is home to hundreds of Dehcho. Like the rivers, their feelings about the pipeline run deep and wide.

“The land will be ruined,” said 15-year-old Jacqueline Thompson. “The animals won’t walk through it anymore.”

“We were First Nations people before the government and made do with what we had…. So we are not too worried if the pipeline does not happen,” said the grand chief’s cousin, Keyna Norwegian, the local chief in Fort Simpson.

But the grand chief’s brother, Bob Norwegian, is the community liaison for the Mackenzie pipeline project, and he believes it would encourage economic development and job training. “Folks are romanticizing about when we lived off the land,” he said. “We are not going back to snowshoes and dog teams.”

Last year, unemployment was 5.4% in the Territories — but twice that among aboriginal people. “The Dehcho is one of the have-not regions,” said Kevin Menicoche, who represents six of the tribe’s 10 communities in the legislative assembly. “There is no new money coming in.”

The other tribes along the route have established an Aboriginal Pipeline Group and would acquire up to a third of the pipeline ownership. They have set a July 31 deadline for the Dehcho to join or risk losing many millions of dollars in gas profits, but the tribe has indicated that it would not decide by then.

“They are walking on pretty thin ice, because at the end of the day they could end up with no ownership in the pipeline and it could be built without any settlement of their land claim,” said Fred Carmichael, chairman of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group.

But University of Victoria law professor John Borrows, an expert on aboriginal legal rights, said the Canadian Constitution, court rulings and treaties provide the Dehcho with strong protection against government expropriation of their traditional territory.

“If it went to court, it could be tied up 10 to 15 years,” Borrows added.

The pipeline’s impact could be greatest for people like Steven Jose-Cli, who supplement their diet or income by hunting, fishing and trapping. One of about 30 Fort Simpson trappers, Cli works part time for the town’s housing agency but prefers to be at his cabin 32 miles downriver, where he was raised.

Recently, Cli loaded an aluminum skiff for his first trip of the spring.

Ice floes still drifted down the Mackenzie. A black bear rooted around a muddy bank, and a beaver cruised along before diving with a flip of its tail. In a biting wind, Cli swiftly lifted a shotgun and brought down two mallards as gifts for a neighbor.

“I don’t want the pipeline to go through because it will destroy it all, and this is all I have,” said Cli, who has little schooling and has been trapping since boyhood.

“They are going to make roads into my trapping area,” he said.

Officials for the pipeline project said subsistence hunters and trappers would be compensated for relocation costs or any loss of game. Addressing concerns that the project would aggravate substance abuse, they promised that workers would stay in drug- and alcohol-free camps.

Fort Simpson Mayor Duncan Canvin, a former Mountie who owns the town’s only liquor store, said he wants business from pipeline workers to stimulate the stagnant economy. “Even an aging [person] with a coronary would like a pulse now and then,” he said.

The last big pulse for Fort Simpson came in the mid-1980s, when a pipeline company buried a 12-inch oil line along more than 500 miles of the Mackenzie Valley.

The line was built over the objections of the Dehcho, recalled Menicoche, the legislative representative here, who said the project provided some jobs but not much lasting economic benefit.

The proposed high-pressure gas line would run through largely undisturbed areas parallel to the existing oil pipeline near here.

From a helicopter, the old right-of-way looks like a grassy roadway through an endless expanse of forest. It passes about 100 yards from the Mouses’ cabin on the Liard.

Although the brothers take charging bears and subzero temperatures in stride, coping with the pipeline was a traumatic experience.

When the moose and beavers disappeared for seven or eight years, Roy, 59, said they had to move to a second cabin deeper in the woods.

If work on the new pipeline gets too close, the brothers said they would move to a third cabin. And if the game is scared off again, they would have to repeat the arduous task of cutting a new trap line. “We are going to be older and may not be able to hunt,” said Jonas, 63. “But until we can’t do it, we will be out there.”



(3)   Pipeline rift runs deeper than blood

Three decades after it was proposed, a respected elder says the Mackenzie Valley project will be good for the region. His nephew isn’t convinced, Roy MacGregor writes from Fort Simpson, NWT


From The Globe and Mail, jul 03 2006

When the Grand Chief of the Dehcho gets excited, his arms follow along like a symphony conductor.

Herb Norwegian is in a flap, tongue and arms, as he hurries along a corridor of the community centre — the hearings into the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline on a brief recess — in search of the reporter who has been asking about his uncle, 85-year-old Leo Norwegian, the Dehcho’s respected voice of the past.

Uncle Leo was supposed to be the grand chief’s trump card — a wise old man born the very year the disputed treaty with Canada was signed, the one who carries the oral histories of those times and, in the Dehcho opinion, those long-ago deceits.

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian had been certain his uncle was going to say outsiders could not be trusted then and should not be trusted now. Such a comment would prove a powerful weapon in the Dehcho quest to at least delay the pipeline until a new, indeed revolutionary, claims deal could be worked out with the government and the big energy producers out to build this $7.5-billion megaproject.

But suddenly there was word in the air that Leo Norwegian, revered Dehcho elder, had gone over to the other side.

“He’s in his truck!” Herb Norwegian shouts, pointing in several directions at once. “He’s sitting in it. It’s green. You’ll see when you get there.”

The grand chief, an energetic 54-year-old who wears emotion like a much younger man, looks about to break into tears.

“See if he’ll tell you why he’s doing this?” he pleads.

Down by the river, within sight of the huge teepee frame where Pope John Paul II once prayed for Canada to become “a model for the world in upholding the dignity of the aboriginal peoples,” Leo Norwegian sits in his green truck staring out over the waters carrying the last of the spring melt north.

This is the mighty Mackenzie, challenger to the Mississippi in size of area drained, wide and brown, once believed to hold monsters, once thought to be the passage to the Orient and, consequently, dubbed the “River of Disappointment” by Alexander Mackenzie, the explorer who left it his name even though it was already well known as “Dehcho” (“Big River”) by those who lived by it.

“A river so Canadian,” the poet F. R. Scott once wrote, “it turns its back on America.”

No longer true. Not since that odd yellow seepage that Alexander Mackenzie first noticed along the northern shores back in 1789 turned out to be oil.

“This river,” Mr. Scott wrote so romantically, so long ago, “belongs wholly to itself/ obeying its own laws.”

No longer true, either. Twice in a generation now there have been legal hearings concerning this extraordinary river and the beautiful, fragile valley through which it twists.

The hearings Grand Chief Herb Norwegian, arms quieting, heads back into are part of the new laws, the river now belonging less to itself, it would seem, than to different levels of Canadian government, to the oil-and-gas industry, to various aboriginal groups downstream that have already settled their land claims and to the Dehcho, the large group still holding out for an increased say in what, apart from muddy water, travels up and down this historic route.

Leo Norwegian likes to watch the river flow. He sits, passenger door open, a sharpened axe by his knee.

He has been out beaver hunting. He watches for beaver swimming in the high water washing over their lodges, shoots them with a .22 and then, if necessary, dispatches them with the axe.

“I got nothin’ today,” he complains.

But he is wrong. He has dealt a blow, perhaps mortal, to his nephew’s hopes to block the pipeline long enough for the Dehcho to negotiate a new type of land claim, one that would establish the Dehcho as “stewards” of the vast lands 44 per cent of the 1,220-kilometre pipeline will pass through, a deal that would, in Herb Norwegian’s fondest wishes, give the Dehcho real control over land use and, potentially, even powers of taxation to guarantee a say in resource development.

What Leo Norwegian has done is speak out — and say precisely the opposite of what Herb Norwegian had been counting on his uncle saying.

Thirty years ago, when Mr. Justice Thomas Berger was conducting his famous inquiry into the first push for a Mackenzie Valley pipeline, it was the elders who were most against it, most convincing in leading Judge Berger to call for a moratorium on construction until the outstanding land claims could be settled.

Judge Berger has declared himself largely satisfied with the manner in which this new pipeline has proceeded. “I can’t complain,” he told the Edmonton Journal when the National Energy Board opened its latest hearings.

Nor, it appears, do most of today’s elders have complaints. They may look much the same, but they do not sound the same.

“Times have changed,” Leo Norwegian says. “I lived our traditional way of life, but we’ll never do that again.”

He has let it be known he is all for the pipeline. He believes the old Dehcho burial sites, now detailed on a computerized data base, will be protected, as will the environment. “They’re not going to harm the land,”

he says. “They’ll be watched like hawks by the environmentalists. In the long run, I think it will do good.”

But why now? Why speak out now just as the grand chief is about to make his presentation to the panel?

“Because I’m the spokesman for the Elders Council,” he says. “They told me to get up and say something. So I did.

“I feel good about it. I got some pretty nasty phone calls, but they were from young guys who don’t know one end of the moose from the other.

“I made some people mad. I made some people happy. Well, somebody’s got to tell the truth. Maybe I’ll burn in hell for it, I don’t know.”

He grabs the handle of his axe and laughs.

“Maybe I could be the guy who chops the wood.”

They come and go in the community centre. The seven-person joint review panel reviewing the Mackenzie gas project sits facing the crowd that gathers in the large, green-walled room. The panel, led by chairman Robert Hornal, is all miked, their questions carried on a sound system that must rise above the simultaneous interpretation to Slavey.

Presenters are asked to go slowly to help the interpreters, but all the time in the world cannot translate some of the jargon spilling about on this day when the oil-industry scientists have been asked to appear. One gives a long lecture, including charts, on “edge effect,” “fragmentation” and “conductivity” concerning the pipeline.

Panelist Peter Usher, a geographer with extensive experience in the North, asks most of the questions and, it seems, all of the good ones.

His best is saved for a moment at the very end of this numbing lecture.

“What,” Mr. Usher asks, head shaking, “does all this mean?”

It means, essentially, that the pipeline is going through if the industry proponents decide it is a worthwhile economic venture. The review, more than anything, is to assess the effect it will have, if built, on the people and the environment.

The crowd is restless during the scientific talk. Listeners head out for smokes and fresh coffee. Young teenagers come in, sit a few minutes and then bolt. A small boy runs about with a handful of fresh-picked dandelions. Government representatives and environmental lawyers sift through their prepared papers. Old men sit yawning, translation earplug dangling from an ear.

Leo Norwegian does not come. He does not consider himself a prop. He laughs at the way cameras focus on the very old at such meetings.

“Chiefs,” he says dismissively, “take the dumb elders who haven’t a clue.

They do it just so they can point and say, ‘We have our elders here.’ We all get old, but only some of us get to be elders.”

The old people who do not come, he says, are almost always in favour of the pipeline. Eighty-one-year-old Alphonsine Cazon, for example, sits on a bench by the river’s edge this sunny day and says those who are fighting against progress are “crazy. It’s jobs. We need jobs. Why are they sticking their nose where it’s not wanted?”

Both Grand Chief Herb Norwegian and former premier of the Northwest Territories Stephen Kakfwi, however, are determined to get their noses in, wanted or not. The crowd has not come to make sense of the scientists or how silly phrases like “going forward” translate into Slavey, but rather to hear from the two men most identified with the “maybe” — if not exactly the “no” — side of the pipeline issue.

The major aboriginal groups from the north — Inuvialuit, Gwich’in and most of the Sahtu — have already reached their agreements and are firmly on board with the project. They have joined to form the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, a company that would take one-third ownership of the pipeline on behalf of the aboriginal population of the Northwest Territories, and they have been saving a space for the more reluctant Dehcho.

“We stated from the outset,” Imperial Oil’s senior vice-president Randy Broiles told an Inuvik petroleum show two weeks ago, “that without aboriginal support, the project simply could not and would not proceed.”

Mr. Kakfwi is from Fort Good Hope, a Sahtu community, and he is adamant that firm agreements be in place before construction begins.

“There are three diamond mines and now a pipeline going in here,” he said a week earlier while sitting on a bench in downtown Yellowknife. “And we have nothing to show for it. Somebody has got to take a stand. No one has yet stood up on his hill and said, ‘That’s it!’ ”

Mr. Kakfwi was originally the negotiator for the Sahtu, but when he decided to demand direct annual payments from Imperial Oil and the other pipeline proponents, panic set in that his demands might kill the project and, he says, he was soon pushed out of his job. Imperial temporarily halted preparations, leading both the territorial government and the federal government to issue “letters of comfort” ensuring that there would be no surprises hiding in the black spruce. Other Sahtu spokespersons said they were quite content with their deal and criticized Mr. Kakfwi for trying to reach beyond his authority.

Mr. Kakfwi now does advisory work for various environmental groups. He is also a fledgling singer-songwriter with a new CD containing the perfect soundtrack for his own personal stand against the current pipeline plans:

“You will find yourself alone

In an angry moving sea

You will fight to get somewhere

With the ones who cannot see.”

Mr. Kakfwi has come to Fort Simpson this day to speak on behalf of the World Wildlife Fund and the Canadian Boreal Initiative, and his message is all about “balance.” He supports Herb Norwegian’s grand plan to move beyond the modern land-claims process — where extinguishment follows agreement on matters such as land, money and self-government — into a sort of “stewardship” system where an aboriginal group would not only own all rights to large amounts of land but also institute land-use plans that would control any future development in their territory.

What is needed, Mr. Kakfwi says, is real self-government, funds to build and sustain new institutions over the long term, and specific protection for species and lands — with particular attention paid to the reality of global warming.

“We need a vision,” Mr. Kakfwi says, “not just for the next 10 years, but for the next century.”

No one denies that, back in 1921, a treaty was signed between the Government of Canada and the Dehcho of the Mackenzie River Valley. It’s just that they can’t agree on what was agreed upon.

If the Government of Canada’s position is correct, the 1921 treaty recognized the Dehcho, laid out certain provisions and resulted in the “extinguishment” of any future claims. If the Dehcho’s oral history is correct, it provided for no such extinguishment at all.

“We say the treaty is valid,” Grand Chief Herb Norwegian says. “But it is a ‘trust agreement’ between two sovereign people. And therefore, if you’re going to operate on our territory, you’re going to need our permission to do so — and we will also have to benefit from that.”

On this, Leo Norwegian agrees. Not only was he born the year the treaty was signed, but his grandfather, Johnny Norwegian, was the main signatory.

Leo Norwegian was raised by his grandparents and claims clear recollection of his grandfather explaining to visitors, over the years, that the treaty recognized the Dehcho as the people who lived on this land and that anything that would ever be taken from it would have to be shared with the Dehcho.

“I wasn’t there when they signed it,” Leo Norwegian says, “but it was just like I was.”

In As Long as This Land Shall Last, René Fumoleau’s landmark study of the treaties of the North, the author says that the 1921 treaty was largely the result of the heavy hand of Bishop Gabriel Breynat. The bishop, convinced he was doing the right thing, helped gather 300 natives at Fort Simpson, where they received $12 each from the government negotiators, and the deal was apparently sealed.

In the 1970s, Mr. Fumoleau interviewed Dehcho elders who were there that day and found that none of the natives had answered “yes” to the commissioner’s statement before he began handing out the money, which they took.

“One thing that he said good,” one old man remembered, “was that if he gave out the treaty money to the Indian, the Indian would never be in need of material things again.”

According to the surviving elders, they requested a paper with this promise written down, and the commissioner said he would deliver it the following summer, but he never did.

When Bishop Breynat asked Ottawa, on behalf of the natives, to indicate precisely what those commitments were, he was informed that the federal government had no knowledge of any such promises.

Seventeen years later, after having spent most of his life in the North, Bishop Breynat snapped. He wrote a piece for the Toronto Star Weekly, “Canada’s Blackest Blot,” and into it he poured his outrage: “The story of the white man’s invasion of the Canadian Northwest may be named by future historians as one of the blackest blots on the pages of Canadian history.

It is an ugly story. A story of greed and ruthlessness and broken promises. It is the story of the degradation of our Northwest Indians.

“Never before has the whole story been told. Canadians have heard only of the fortunes in furs and the gold and the silver and radium ores of this stern country. Occasionally they have seen newspaper reports of starvation and suffering among the Indians.

“But Canadians should know the facts of our Northwest. Because, unless they act at once they will some day bear the scorn of all peoples for having blindly allowed a noble race to be destroyed.”

Herb Norwegian dismisses that 1921 treaty and, instead, concentrates on the innovative new one — he calls it “the full evolution process” — that he says needs to be negotiated before the pipeline proceeds.

This stance has not endeared him to others. “They’re playing politics,” says Nellie Cournoyea, chief executive officer of the Inuvialuit Regional Corp. and a key pipeline supporter.

“They want to hold something up as hostage — ‘See what we can get out of it.’ ”

When it was suggested to the Dehcho that the government would merely expropriate the necessary passage — which the federal government considers Crown land — Herb Norwegian answered, “If they expropriate, we’ll retaliate. And we’ll liberate. We have every right to defend ourselves.”

The grand chief’s list of concerns is almost as long as the pipeline itself. Extensive development, he says, “will change our landscape, it will change our economics. But most of all, it will change our politics.”

“There are 30,000 people living in the Mackenzie Valley. If 300,000 new ones come in, all of a sudden you will have a transient population making the decisions for the permanent population. It will be like Oklahoma — everybody jumping in their wagon to head out to stake out their land.”

Again, not everyone agrees. “It will likely do about as much as the last pipeline did,” Fort Simpson Mayor Duncan Canvin says. “The construction is going to cause a boom for a while, just like the last pipeline did. Then it was over.

“There will still be 1,276 people here — which is 100 less than what the last pipeline left.”

But Herb Norwegian says that people have not caught on to the scale of this project and what it could ultimately mean. Like some others — though industry and government officials adamantly deny this is the case — he sees it is a fuel line to deliver natural gas to the Fort McMurray area of northern Alberta.

“That Alberta tar sands,” he says, “are growing like a tumour. And now we’re going to run a blood vessel to it?”

And this, he says, is why he insists on a new deal and now, before it is too late. His notion that an aboriginal group might collect taxes and royalties, which already spooked the oil-industry giants once, seems a non-starter within government circles.

“It would be the same as creating another territory,” Northwest Territories Premier Joe Handley says.

“There’s just no way a population of 3,000 people could create another jurisdiction. In a way I understand what they’re saying, but we can’t turn the clock back. We need compromise.”

Heading into the end-of-June deadline for the Dehcho to join in on the aboriginal one-third of the project, however, compromise still seemed a way off.

The federal government was offering a new land-claim deal that would give the Dehcho $104-million, ownership — including the all-important subsurface rights — to 39,000 square kilometres and a measure of self-government, only to have the Dehcho say they were “disappointed and frustrated” with the offer and would need more time to consider. The June 30 deadline was missed and pushed back deeper into summer.

Not all the Dehcho, however, agreed with Herb Norwegian’s calling the offer “a non-starter.” Harry Deneron, the Dehcho chief at Fort Liard, told the CBC it would be folly to try to stop the inevitable.

“If you think you can stop the pipeline,” he said, “think again.”

In fact, Herb Norwegian knows it is coming, that his Uncle Leo is right when he says the traditional life is gone forever.

All he wants, the grand chief says in a quiet moment, is to make sure, as much as possible, that this massive change comes as carefully as possible.

“It’s not as if you’re running a garden hose across your backyard and then when you’re done with it just rolling it up again,” he says.

“You’re talking about building something the equivalent of the China Wall.

Something that will stay forever and ever.”


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