Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs take $7 million stake in Northern Gateway project

Energy  First Nations

Note this update: Gitxsan chiefs, band
leaders, “stand in solidarity” opposing Gateway pipeline, say they do
not support Derrick’s Enbridge agreement

Update 2: Enbridge video embedded at end of this story.

Elmer Derrick, representing the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs today announced the Gitxsan Nation was taking a $7 million stake in the controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline.

Derrick told a conference call with reporters that the the hereditary chiefs signed the agreement with Enbridge on the basis of a 1997 Supreme Court decision that granted the chiefs “rights and title” to their traditional territory.
Derrick spoke about the poverty of the Gitxsan people, especially after the collapse of the forest industry beginning in the 1980s, with the exhaustion of good quality timber, leaving only pulp trees.  He said “the situation was bleak”  with a high number of  youth suicides then said “young people cannot eat Gitxsan rights and title.”

He said the Gitxsan have been looking for economic development partners in many fields, including mining and biofuels and that Enbridge was one of the companies that had approached the nation with a partnership offer.

The agreement, Derrick said, calls for the pipeline to be built and operated safely by Enbridge.

 Under questioning by reporters, Derrick acknowledged that the Northern Gateway pipeline will only a cover a small area of the 33,000 square kilometres of Gitxsan traditional territory,  “five or six small streams that feed into the Babine Lake.”   (Babine Lake itself is largely in the traditional territory of the Dakleh or Carrier First Nation). Gitxsan traditional territory is partly along the upper reaches of the Skeena River.  Enbridge’s plans call for the pipeline to avoid that area altogether by crossing directly west from the Burns Lake area  over and through  the mountains, including using two tunnels, to the Upper Kitimat River.

Derrick said there had been no consultation with the local band councils,  because, he said, the hereditary chiefs have the right and title to the land. He characterized the band councils as the equivalent of municipal councils.

There are six band councils in Gitxsan traditional territory and like many other BC First Nations there are those who support the hereditary system and those who prefer the elected councils.

There were repeated questions from reporters about how much consultation there had been with the band councils and members of the Gitxsan Nation. Asked if the Gitxsan band councils approved the deal, Derrick replied, “I don’t know.”  He did say that the hereditary chiefs had “conferred”  with the elected officials and had “talked to as many people as possible over the past six years.”

 Derrick said that the $7 million dollar would go into a trust fund, likely for the education and training of younger members of the Gitxsan First Nation. He could not give specific details, but did add that the whole community would be consulted about the trust fund.  That number is based on an offer from Enbridge of  a total of 10 per cent equity in the pipeline project.  With 50 First Nations along the route, Derrick said the Gitxsan will be getting approximately one fortieth of that ten per cent. The pipeline project is estimated to be worth $5.5 billion Canadian.

He said there was no estimate of the jobs that the Gitxsan Nation would get as a result of the agreement.  He noted that the members of the Gitxsan nation travel across northwestern BC in search of work and said that if  Gitxsan worked for the pipeline project, that wouldn’t be much different from other jobs. In response to a question about rumours that the Gitxsan had been in negotiations with Enbridge about operating the “pig”  the robot that monitors the interior of a pipeline for maintenance and safety purposes, he said that was no part of this deal.

Derrick also said he did not anticipate any problems with neighbouring First Nations that have expressed opposition to the pipeline.

Derrick said there was no connection with the announcement Thursday by 131 First Nations from across North America that they opposed the Northern Gateway Pipeline, saying he wasn’t even aware of the Save the Fraser Gathering until asked about it. Derrick said the news of the deal was released “because of the opportunity to sign today.”

Janet Holder, executive vice president of Western Access for Enbridge emphasized to reporters that it was the Gitxsan making the announcement, not Enbridge. Like other, unspecified, agreements with other First Nations along or near the pipeline route,  the Gitxsan agreement had confidentiality clauses and it was up to the First Nations to make public whether or not they had agreements with the company.   Pressed by reporters how many other First Nations had agreements with the company, Holder would not even give a rough figure.

She said “we are making good progress along the right of way and we’re optimistic from our discussions that the majority of First Nations support the project.”

An earlier news  release from Enbridge says:

“Over time we have established a relationship of trust with Enbridge, we have examined and assessed this project, and we believe it can be built and operated safely,” said Chief Derrick. “We believe that the construction of this pipeline is of vital importance to the future of Canadian energy security and prosperity.”

The agreement is expected to deliver at least $7 million in net profit to the Gitxsan people. Enbridge will be providing financing at favourable rates, and the partnership will provide a solid foundation for an ongoing dialogue between the Gitxsan and Enbridge regarding regional renewable energy projects.

“Let me stress that all decisions we make in pursuing business on Gitxsan land remain faithful to the laws of our people, said Chief Derrick. “Those who wish to do business in Gitxsan territory will be held to Gitxsan standards.”

Janet Holder, Executive Vice-President of Western Access for Enbridge, welcomed the announcement and the support of the Gitxsan Nation. “I want to acknowledge the vision demonstrated by Chief Derrick and the Hereditary Chiefs,” said Ms. Holder. “The most significant way in which Aboriginal people can benefit from the Northern Gateway project is by owning a stake in it and sharing in the net income it produces.”

The announcement comes a day after 61 First Nations declared their opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline. According to the Vancouver Sun by the end of the day Thursday, that number had grown to 131 First Nations.

Enbridge video of Janet Holder and Elmer Derrick (via Youtube)