By Lloyd Dolha
The day after a huge blockade shut down the Trans-Canada Highway in Saskatchewan, aboriginal leaders are demanding to meet with both federal and provincial officials.
The protest on Sunday, Sept. 28th, was staged over the building of oil and gas pipelines on what the chiefs of Treaty Four First Nations consider their traditional land.
The protesters say they haven’t been consulted and are demanding a share of the revenues.
“We want to put out a message that we’ve had enough, that we’re going to stand together as Indian people to make sure we get our fair share of the resources that come from our traditional lands,” said Red Pheasant First Nation Chief Sheldon Wuttunee, who led the procession.
The march concluded at the Kerrobert headquarters of Enbridge Pipelines Inc., the company behind the pipeline project.
Construction on the pipeline is currently taking place near the Red Pheasant reserve, located 85 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. Several kilometres of top soil have been removed to prepare for trenching.
Wuttunee and several of his band members, along with supporters from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) and First Nation bands in Manitoba, Alberta and B.C. as well as across Saskatchewan, have also set up a campsite adjacent to the pipeline path just south of Luseland.
Four teepees have been erected, including one directly on top of the pipeline path.
Enbridge is planning to send 800,000 barrels of oil per day to Wisconsin and TransCanada Pipeline is sending another one million barrels per day to the United States, said Roseau River Anishinabe (Manitoba) First Nation Chief Terrance Nelson, whose band has also had issues with Enbridge.
The chiefs say they’ve been excluded from jobs and say the governments and the pipeline companies have left them out of the loop.
“It’s years and decades and generations of frustration that’s boiling over,” said Edmund Bellegarde, Treaty Four spokesman.
The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) is blaming the federal and provincial governments for ongoing First Nations protests aimed at the pipeline industry that began Sunday.
FSIN vice-chief Morley Watson said the organization fully supports the actions near Kerrobert and Regina launched by Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 chiefs to disrupt the activities of Enbridge Inc. as it develops its “Alberta Clipper” project.
The first step to resolving the dispute — which centres around the use of traditional lands and First Nations participation in the project — is a meeting among the chiefs and the federal and provincial governments, he said.
“We believe that the governments have failed; they have failed the First Nation people by not consulting us. They have a duty to consult and accommodate us. They haven’t and again our communities are frustrated. We want what everybody else has, that’s jobs and opportunity and profitability and, unfortunately, the governments have bypassed us,”said Watson.
At the provincial legislature, Saskatchewan Party First Nations and Metis Relations Minister June Draude said she is willing to meet with the First Nations leadership and Enbridge on the issue “at any time.”
Draude said she had also tried to facilitate a meeting between the First Nations and the company 10 days ago but that was rejected by the chiefs. Treaty 4 spokesperson Edmund Bellegarde said that was because the province was narrowly focused on a contractual dispute and not the broader issues involved.
Watson called Draude’s offer to meet “encouraging” but said First Nations leadership needed to sit down with both levels of government.
He acknowledged the ongoing federal election could hamper the involvement of elected officials but noted there are senior civil servants who can attend the meeting.
Enbridge officials say they are disappointed the relationship has come to public protest.
“We would like to keep that dialogue open and get back to the discussion table to resolve this as quickly as possible,” said Glenn Herchak.
Provincial officials say they respect the right to protest and would like to sit down and discuss the issue with aboriginal leaders.
“Come and talk to us,” said First Nations Minister June Draude. “We really appreciate the fact that we have opportunities here in this province that they don’t have in other places in the world.”
FSIN officials said they want to meet with both provincial and federal officials before continuing talks with Enbridge.