Enbridge pipeline divides First Nations in Burns Lake area

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Albert Gerow, chief of the Burns Lake band, supported the application by Enbridge Inc. to undertake drilling and surveys in two areas along the route of the proposed pipeline.

The First Nations leader backed the Calgary company’s request for temporary-use permits in a letter dated May 24, 2013, to the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations.

“In the letter you stated your support for the exploration permits for the Endako River Crossing and Burns Lake Pump Station areas,” the ministry replied in a letter dated August 14, 2013, from Brian Herbert, senior analyst with First Nations relations.

Gerow didn’t respond to Georgia Straight requests for an interview.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel will submit its report about the proposed pipeline to the federal government on December 31, 2013. It will also release the document to the public on the same day.

On April 20, 2012, the B.C. NDP wrote the review panel to express the party’s formal opposition to Northern Gateway, a 1,177-kilometre twin pipeline from Alberta to the port of Kitimat in B.C.

The party reiterated its disapproval in its May 14, 2013, election platform, the preparation of which was cochaired by Victoria–Beacon Hill MLA James, Gerow’s part-Métis wife.

“It puts our environment and the economy in Northern B.C. at risk,” the B.C. NDP platform declares. “It’s simply not in B.C.’s interests.”

Ronald Charlie is one of three members of the Burns Lake band council. He claims to have learned about Gerow’s endorsement of exploration work for the Northern Gateway pipeline when the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations gave him a copy of its response to the chief’s letter.

Charlie and other band members have been demanding transparency in decisions made by the council on behalf of the community, including those relating to the proposed Enbridge pipeline.

Gerow and two others have sued Charlie and a number of other band members for defamation.

“We, as a community, want to come to a collective decision when it comes to entering into any agreement,” Charlie told the Straight in a phone interview.

The 27-year-old band councillor also finds it “odd” that Gerow supported work related to the proposed pipeline, given that his wife’s political party is against the project.

“You would think Albert [Gerow] would come out and say the same,” Charlie said.

Former band councillor Ryan Tibbetts is one of those sued by Gerow. According to Tibbetts, at least 90 percent of members living on-reserve reject the pipeline.

“It’s not exactly, or entirely, safe,” Tibbetts told the Straight in a phone interview.

Former NDP leader Carole James cochaired her party’s platform committee, which came out against the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
Gerow is also the president and chair of the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation, an entity that represents six First Nations in northern B.C.

At least two of these groups—the Wet’suwet’en and Lake Babine nations—are opposed to the Enbridge pipeline, which is proposed to transport 525,000 barrels of oil per day across many Native territories.

“It will be less than 200 feet from my house,” Lake Babine chief Wilf Adam told the Straight in a phone interview.

When asked how relations among Native groups in the Burns Lake area will be affected if one or some agree with the pipeline proposal, Adam responded: “Whatever they do within their nation, it’s up to them.”

Richard Peters is the chief of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, a member of the Gerow-led Burns Lake Native Development Corporation.

According to Peters, his community will remain neutral regarding the project until the Joint Review Panel releases its report.

“After that decision is handed down, then we’ll make our commitment,” Peters told the Straight in a phone interview.

In June 2012, Enbridge announced that almost 60 percent of aboriginal groups along the path of the pipeline had agreed to become part owners of the pipeline.

Enbridge didn’t provide a spokesperson for an interview with the Straight. It offered a prepared statement indicating that Northern Gateway has signed “equity participation agreements with 26 First Nations and Metis communities” in B.C. and Alberta.

A community and land-use report prepared by a consortium of consultants for the Burns Lake band also notes that the band council entered into an agreement with Enbridge for exploratory work.

Prepared in May this year and updated in November, the report states that although band members participated in a survey about whether or not they support the project, the poll results have not been released.

“Some Band members also believe Enbridge has proposed other partnerships including developing temporary housing for pipeline workers,” the document also states. “The Enbridge proposals have been controversial because of potential environmental impacts and the fact that other local First Nations have opposed this project.”

Responding to an inquiry by the Straight about the application by Enbridge for exploration permits that was supported by Gerow, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations noted that a permit has been issued for the Burns Lake pumping-station area. The other, for the Endako River crossing, is still being processed.