Pipeline Split Among Canada Aboriginals Seen as Risk to Wealth

  • Top indigenous leader says projects would benefit communities
  • First Nations must be part of discussions, Bellegarde says

The split in support for oil pipelines among indigenous Canadians is putting livelihoods at risk as Canada’s oil industry waits for new conduits to win approval, the country’s top aboriginal leader said.

Canada has C$650 billion ($496 billion) worth of natural resource projects that may be developed in the coming years, and indigenous Canadians stand to gain, Perry Bellegarde, national chief of Canada’s Assembly of First Nations, said during a speech in Calgary on Monday. Already “13 or 14 first nations” are involved in oil production, and pipelines, if built and operated safely, would help communities prosper.

“Of course we have chiefs who say ‘no, no, no’ to pipelines, but we also have chiefs who say ’yes, yes, yes,”’ he said. “We’re tired of being poor.”

Canada’s first nations are at the center of the debate around the future of Canada’s resource industries, with many relying on oil, mining and forestry for jobs. At the same time, some indigenous communities such as the Tsleil-Waututh near Vancouver oppose pipelines because of the risk to their fishing and shellfish grounds near their traditional territory.

A group of 50 aboriginal groups across Canada and the U.S. last month signed a treaty to stop further oil sands development and pipelines. Their goal is to protect their land, water and air from environmental damage, they said on their website.

Aboriginal Participation

First Nations need to be part of all discussions about energy and the environment because “you’re going to get better decisions,” Bellegarde said. More discussion and safeguarding the environment through climate plans are an essential part of approving resource projects, he added.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday said his government will set a minimum price for carbon pollution of C$10 per metric ton beginning in 2018, rising to $50 in 2022 in order to meet Canada’s climate targets. A majority of Canadians, including aboriginals, support a minimum price for carbon emissions for all provinces and territories, according to a survey by Nanos Research and Clean Energy Canada released ahead of the announcement.

Trudeau has said Canada, one of the world’s largest producers of oil and natural gas, must balance resource development with environmental protection. His government is preparing a decision by the end of the year on whether to approve an expansion of Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain line, that would triple capacity and allow crude exports to Asian markets.

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