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Pipeline partnership in limbo

Northern News Services

Hay River (Jun 08/01) - Deh Cho First Nation Grand Chief Michael Nadli is holding out hope that a deal can be struck on the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline later this month.

"We're not closing a door -- we want that door to stay open," Nadli said after he refused to sign a memorandum of understanding following two days of talks between territorial leaders on the Hay River Dene Reserve.

The memorandum proposes that the Mackenzie Aboriginal Pipeline Corporation take a one-third interest in the project on behalf of all First Nations in the territories.

Nadli has tied Deh Cho support for the pipeline to reaching a land claim agreement with the federal government, but he promised that the memorandum will be presented to an assembly of Deh Cho people at Kakisa that opens June 25.

Nellie Cournoyea, chair of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, (APG) said the two-day meeting of leaders on the Hay River Dene Reserve "went exactly the way I thought it would go.

"Sometimes you have to go through these processes, so everybody hears and everybody understands.

"This is very, very good news; they're certainly willing to tackle the situation as quickly as possible and I believe they will."

Senior vice-president of Imperial Oil Limited, K.C. Williams said the producers' confidence was not shaken by the failure to get all signatures on the memorandum.

"We never took the aboriginal support for granted," Williams said.

"The producer group is encouraged by the progress we've made. We are grateful to the aboriginal leaders for their hard work in helping to negotiate principles they believe represent the interests of their people."

Randy Ottenbreit of Imperial Oil said "we understand that aboriginal support is essential to the success of the project."

Financing a project such as the pipeline requires producer support and the deal, "could be the start of an historic arrangement," he said.

"We aren't here to pressure anyone, but the reality is, there is an Alaskan initiative going on at the same time."

Larry Tourangeau, president of the Ernie MacDonald Land Corporation and other Sahtu delegates agreed to "sign with reservations."

Tourangeau's principal complaint was a section of the agreement that prevents signatories from supporting "competing alternate proposals that are primarily for the transportation of Mackenzie Delta natural gas."

Winter Lennie, president of the Western Arctic Energy Corporation wants the leaders hold out for 100 per cent ownership of the pipeline as offered by Harvey Andre's Arctic Resources consortium.

"We say we have to have absolute control of what happens on our lands," Lennie said. "The only way you can exercise control is to have ownership."

The community liaison for the APG and the driving force behind the project, resigned over the decision by the Deh Cho.

In an emotion-choked speech, Harry Deneron resigned his position as community liasion.

"The day I have to report business back to tribal council, I'm gone," Deneron said.

"It's very difficult to mix business with politics -- we're going backwards."

APG Deh Cho representatives Doug Cardinal and Dennis Nelner were visibly disappointed, but are confident progress will be made.

"We would have liked to see it signed today and move on with the task at hand, because we feel pressure from the Alaskan route," Nelner said.

"We don't want to lose out, because we all worked so hard on this."

Fred Carmichael, president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, was also disappointed.

"As much as we love the land and are determined to look after it, we all know we can no longer make a living hunting and trapping," Carmichael said.

"Let's face it, we are in the year 2001 and the way of life for aboriginal people has changed."