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First Nations claim victory in Keystone XL pipeline approval delay

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contributing Editor EDMONTON







Pressure brought by First Nations in both Canada and the United States has seen results.

After months of demonstrations centred in Washington over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, US President Barack Obama announced that his government would be delaying its decision on approval of the pipeline which would travel from northeastern Alberta through to Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahama, Texas and Montana.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo, climate and energy campaigner with the Greenpeace Edmonton office, said First Nations from Canada can take part of the credit for persuading Obama to be cautious.

“First Nations had a presence there from the beginning,” said Laboucan-Massimo, who is a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation.

First Nations representatives were in Washington in August participating in demonstrations at the White House as well as in October as links in the human ring that formed around the building. Members joined a delegation that met with Obama Dec. 2 as part of the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

Laboucan-Massimo also helped organize a demonstration in Ottawa, along with the Council of Canadians and Indigenous Environmental Network. That October demonstration, which resulted in 117 people being arrested, was to speak out against the Keystone XL pipeline as well as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline.
While Laboucan-Massimo is pleased that civil disobedience in both countries has brought about the desired results, Premier Alison Redford is disappointed with the president’s action.

In a press conference directly following Obama’s early November announcement to delay a decision on issuing a permit for the major pipeline development, Redford said, “Our energy industry supports this province and our country and it is imperative that we can move our product to market. There’s no doubt that in the long term that decision can have an impact on both the US economy and the Canadian economy.”

Redford said she respected the process underway in the US.

“The good thing about a process is that it allows for valid consideration of concerns that people may have for more information to be shared and for the right decisions to be made. So I won’t pre-suppose an outcome on that,” she said.

Obama’s decision on Keystone XL is expected at the earliest in 2013.

Meanwhile First Nations continue to oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline.

The $5.5 billion 1,200-kilometre twin oil pipeline would ship 525,000 barrels per day of crude oil from a site near Edmonton to Kitimat on British Columbia’s West Coast and return condensate to Alberta.

Public hearings for the pipeline are scheduled to get underway in January 2012 and over 4,000 people and groups have registered to speak.

Laboucan-Massimo expects First Nations to play “another big role” in that decision.  Laboucan-Massimo was in Vancouver early in December as more First Nations, in particular those in the south with concerns over tanker traffic, signed the Save the Fraser Declaration, aimed at stopping the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Signatures now sit at 130.

“First Nations have always vocalized their opinions and their issues, but I feel like in the past our voices weren’t heard. I think there’s something changing where we’re actually making alliances and working with allies to strengthen our messages and to make the stronger message,” she said.  “People are starting to recognize the fact that First Nations have the inherent land rights and have treaty rights … and these are long outstanding land and human rights that need to be respected and protected.”