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Relations on shaky ground

DCFN abruptly cancels meeting with oil companies

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 17/01) - Accusing oil companies of trying to dictate the agenda, Deh Cho First Nations Grand Chief Michael Nadli called off a July 30 meeting with the Mackenzie Delta Producers Group.

In an open letter, Nadli scolded executives of the producers group for insisting the memorandum of understanding (MOU) for a Mackenzie Valley pipeline be discussed during the meeting. Instead, Nadli stated that the purpose of the meeting was to further enlighten oil company officials about the Deh Cho process.

Shawn Howard, spokesperson for Imperial Oil, said there has been some confusion and misunderstanding, but the producers group is attempting to set up another meeting to mend the rift.

"We want to address questions the Deh Cho have regarding the MOU, but we have to know what those questions are," he said, adding that the producers group had suggested the MOU also be reviewed in each community so decisions can be made at a scheduled assembly in Wrigley on Aug. 27.

Chris Reid, chief negotiator for the DCFN, said the producers group obviously doesn't have a thorough grasp on the political scene here.

"They sort of view First Nations in the Northwest Territories as just one homogenous lump," Reid said. "The MOU itself reflects that. It's the same deal for every region in the Northwest Territories. It doesn't reflect any regional variations at all."

Howard admitted the oil companies still have much to learn about the Deh Cho process.

"We need to understand the process that's going on and how those negotiations may or may not impact a potential pipeline," he explained.

On another front, Nadli admonished the producers group for inviting the Aboriginal Pipeline Group (APG) to the meeting, despite the DCFN's withdrawal from the APG.

"I was surprised and disappointed that you chose to invite other groups to a meeting which the DCFNs were hosting without even bothering to first consult with us," Nadli wrote.

Howard said they only invited the APG because the producers group doesn't speak on behalf of the APG, whose representatives could have answered pertinent questions.

Reid said he hopes this strained situation is isolated, rather than setting the tone for future relations.

"It definitely struck the grand chief as very arrogant on their part," he explained. "Our hope is that they've taken this experience and learned from it."