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NNSL Photo/graphic

Sam Gargan, left, who works with the elders council on behalf of Dehcho First Nations, addresses a National Energy Board panel in Fort Simpson Dec. 13. The panel was gathering public feedback on a proposed schedule for Mackenzie Valley pipeline hearings. Fort Providence elders Sam Elleze, foreground, and Ted Landry are also at the table. - Derek Neary/NNSL photo

Elders question pipeline panel

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Dec 23/05) - The panel charged with deciding whether a Mackenzie Valley pipeline is in the public's best interest has no aboriginal members.

Sam Gargan, speaking on behalf of the Dehcho elders council, made the observation that the National Energy Board's three-member lacks a First Nations' representative. Yet Dene laws, principles and values should be considered in such deliberations, said Gargan, a Fort Providence resident.

The panel made a stop in Fort Simpson on Dec. 13 to get input on pipeline hearing topics, locations and dates scheduled for next year.

Although no one responded to Gargan's concern, a spokesperson later said that National Energy Board (NEB) members are selected through a national process based on knowledge and expertise of technical issues.

Jonas Antoine, of Fort Simpson, emphasized the value of traditional knowledge but said its essence is impossible to capture on paper.

"It is something that is very, very sacred. It is our attachment to the land," he said. "It comes from our soul."

During the evening meeting, senator Nick Sibbeston, also of Fort Simpson, questioned the panel's credibility.

"Are you good, honest, sincere people?" Sibbeston asked. "Are you prepared to listen? Are you free and in a position to decide that a pipeline is not in the best interest of the North... Is there a judge (Thomas) Berger among you?"

Chair Ken Vollman, vice-chair Gaetan Caron and panel member David Hamilton proceeded to recite their biographical information. Caron said he's been trained "to think objectively."

Vollman, who said Berger is a tough act to follow, promised, "I will certainly do my very best... to earn your confidence."

The Acho Dene Koe First Nation in Fort Liard sent lawyer Douglas Rae to inquire as to the NEB's ability to ensure that natural gas is supplied to the communities along the pipeline route for free.

Rae also wanted to know whether the NEB has the legal authority to force the pipeline through the Deh Cho.

Although his questions were recorded, no answers were provided at last week's meeting.

After completing next year's hearings, the NEB, which will oversee the safety, construction, route selection and economic feasibility of the pipeline project, will combine its volumes of information with the work collected through Joint Review Panel hearings.

The latter body will gather feedback on cultural, environmental and social issues.

The NEB will then forward a recommendation to Parliament.

The NEB has proposed to set aside the following amount of time for pipeline hearings in Deh Cho communities:

Wrigley (one day), May, 2006; Topic: General.

Fort Simpson (2.5 days), May, 2006; Topics: General, route and site selection, engineering.

Fort Providence (one day), June, 2006; Topic: General.