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'Eyeball to eyeball'

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (May 01/06) - There's a staring contest of sorts going on over the proposed natural gas pipeline.

On one side is Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian and on the other is new Indian Affairs minister Jim Prentice. It's all over Prentice's comment that the pipeline doesn't need unanimous consent from First Nations for it to go ahead.

"It's been eyeball to eyeball and we are just waiting for the other side to blink," said Norwegian last week, dismissing Prentice's comments as nothing more than political posturing.

At the Circle of Northern Leaders meeting in Norman Wells April 19, Prentice said the proposed natural gas pipeline doesn't need unanimous approval from aboriginal groups for it to go ahead.

"Unanimity would be an excellent outcome, but it is not always attainable, and we do not intend to allow the legitimate aspirations and prosperity of the majority of aboriginal and non-aboriginal stakeholders to be frustrated by inaction," Prentice told the gathered leaders.

Norwegian said he believes those statements were meant to give reassurance to investors and big oil companies.

"Threats are all part of this business. They have been passed around since the first land treaties in the 1920s," said Norwegian.

"We've heard it all. Pour it on, let's see what you've got," he said. "We are still standing firm."

A number of initiatives, including negotiations on land and governance and finalization of the Dehcho land use plan, still need to be completed, said Norwegian.

The Dehcho First Nations are also waiting for oil companies to treat them as owners of the land instead of panhandlers while working on access and benefits agreements, he said.

Norwegian said he anticipated many of Prentice's comments. The two men met two weeks ago in Calgary. Prentice wanted to know what it would take to get the Dehcho onside with the pipeline, said Norwegian.

So far, Norwegian said Prentice hasn't given the Dehcho First Nations the benefit of the doubt to sit down face to face and see which issues can be resolved.