Enbridge Inc. is struggling to win aboriginal support for its Northern Gateway project, despite major financial promises and efforts to curry support through sponsoring golf tournaments, powwows and rodeos, regulatory documents filed by the company show.
The $5.5-billion pipeline, designed to transport Alberta crude to the B.C. coast for export to Asia and California, has garnered major industry support, but substantial opposition from first nations that believe it will endanger the environment.
Enbridge has pledged some $1-billion in financial sweeteners to first nations, including a 10-per-cent equity stake in the project and promises of hiring guarantees and hundreds of millions in spending on aboriginal businesses. It has promised economic benefits to any B.C. group with reserve land within 80 kilometres of the proposed right of way.
But documents filed with the National Energy Board by Enbridge, which is seeking regulatory approval for the project, show that a surprising number of groups do not appear interested in the offer, which was first made public in February.
Enbridge has presented its benefits-package offer to 35 groups and first nations. As of March 31, another 13 had not received the benefits package. Many, including a series of coastal nations, have outright refused to meet with the company.
And even some of those who initially agreed to look over the offer now say they aren't interested. Take the Tl'azt'en Nation. It is listed as having received the benefits package. But its chief, Ralph Pierre, says bluntly that his people have "rejected it and refused to even go through the package."
The Enbridge documents say the Tl'azt'en have invited Enbridge to speak with leaders about financial specifics in the package. But Mr. Pierre said the package is "still sitting right here in front of me right now and I'm just not interested in opening it, to tell you the truth."
Discerning how many first nations actually support Northern Gateway has been challenging, in part because Enbridge has declined to provide numbers. But the document suggests the tally is low.
Two groups – the Macleod Lake Indian Band and the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation – have requested that the company relocate pumping stations onto their land, as a way of increasing the benefits that could flow their way.
But when Enbridge held an all-expenses paid weekend in Banff earlier this year for a "Best Practices in Aboriginal Business and Economic Development" conference, only five nations were represented. Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway says the company invited only half a dozen whose "fit was established based on the focus of the Banff program and corresponding identified aspirations of invitees."
Critics, however, took the short list – which included several nations known to be pipeline supporters, as well as the Tl'azt'en, where a leadership change has eroded support – as evidence that Enbridge has few on its side.
"What it indicates to me is that, after six years of trying, they've got five nations showing up to these things. So for love or money, they can't get solid support," said Eric Swanson, a campaigner for the Dogwood Initiative, a Victoria-based environmental lobby group.
Enbridge, however, says first nations interest in business opportunities are substantial. An aboriginal business summit held in early 2010 brought out representatives of 42 communities along the pipeline route.
"In March, 2011, Northern Gateway polled some of the aboriginal groups to determine the level of interest for a second aboriginal business summit," the company says in the filings. "All aboriginal groups contacted expressed a strong interest."