Alberta Cree official admits dilemma over Gateway as Edmonton hearings begin – by Trish Audette (National Post – January 30, 2012)

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Edmonton — The lead community-industry liaison for the Enoch Cree First Nation finds herself in a “bind” when it comes to the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

“We were known as the caretakers of the land . . . if you’re going to take something from the land, give something back,” Leigh Ann Ward said Tuesday at hearings of National the Energy Board-Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel in Edmonton. “There is a need for (the pipeline), but what are the environmental impacts?”

At the same time, Ward is interested in the economic benefits of the proposed pipeline, which would carry Alberta bitumen to port in Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded aboard Asia-bound tankers.

“We want it to go ahead because this will ensure employment for our band members,” she said, noting as many as 24 members are already trained to work on pipeline construction. “The benefits are really, really high.”

Ward wants to ensure the Enoch Cree and Enbridge work together “as one,” which also means promises of protection for lakes and rivers, limited tree removal, working together to ensure traditional use of the land is respected, and if necessary ensuring the proper handling of unearthed graves or historic artifacts.

“What we want is not to jump into this project, but take a little more time,” she said.

The joint pipeline panel heard from Alberta First Nations for the first time Tuesday. Until now, hearings have taken place in northern British Columbia and largely focused on First Nations there, who have presented a near-solid wall of opposition to the project.

The Samson Cree First Nations requested preferential hiring policies to benefit band members and a limit on clear-cutting if the pipeline is ultimately approved.

The federally appointed panel is expected to spend the next 18 months weighing the environmental and economic costs of the proposed pipeline.

The panel’s recommendation is intended to inform the federal government’s final decision on the pipeline.

One Samson member, Victor Bruno, called on the panel to discuss and consider the pipeline for far longer than the current 18-month timeline.

“Our elders, in our past, they’ve taught us to be patient, to look, listen and meditate on what’s on hand,” Bruno said. “We do not jump into this easily, but if need be . . . we take two, four, six years to clearly look at this.

“Because it is, in fact, going to affect our future generations.”

The proposed Northern Gateway project has found a cross-section of environmental and indigenous opponents, while oilsands companies and the Alberta and federal governments support the opportunity to ship Alberta oil to Asian markets.

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