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First nations consider court action to halt pipeline

First Nations along the Northern Gateway pipeline route say the federal government is shutting them out of the major oil project's review process -- and now some are considering legal action.

This month, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) and the National Energy Board released a draft agreement to conduct a joint panel review of the project.

Such a review won't engage First Nations at a decision-making level, says Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Chief David Luggi. He said the CEAA and NEB should have consulted First Nations before launching the panel review process, and that the process as it stands does give them the opportunity to say no to a project on their territory.

Last week's B.C. Court of Appeal ruling for adequate consultation on projects in aboriginal territory will "absolutely" have a bearing on how they proceed, said Art Sterritt, who represents an alliance of north coast and Haida Gwaii First Nations.

"We're sitting down with the Carrier Sekani, in terms of looking at a strategy to move forward on this. We're getting legal advice and weighing our options right now," he said.

Luggi said it's too early to say whether the Carrier Sekani will pursue a lawsuit. He said they are also consulting with First Nations along the pipeline route in B.C. and Alberta to discuss their strategic options.

"Our people's message so far is that they don't want this condensate and crude oil pipeline to pass through their territories," said Luggi.

Sarah Kylie, spokesperson for the National Energy Board, said the CEAA is responsible for coordinating First Nations consultations and said "aboriginal concerns will be addressed to the extend possible through the JRP [joint review panel] process."

Lucille Jamault, senior communications advisor for the CEAA, told The Tyee that the agency sent letters to first nations in October inviting them to comment on the panel review. She said the CEAA is making funds available for First Nations to participate in the environmental assessment process.

Steven Greenaway, vice president of the Northern Gateway project, said the firm has signed protocol agreements with 30 of the 52 First Nations along the route.

"We said for a long time that we understand the First Nations have concerns with regards to the federal government consultation process," he said. "Those are concerns they need to take directly to them."

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