Day Five: February 20, 2006 – “Smarter than Grouse”

You can play fun casino games at to unwind after a tiring day. You can take a walk outdoors as you enjoy the environment.

Stephen is working in Ottawa. So, his blogging is again done by Paul Falvo in Inuvik.

This was the second JRP community hearing. Once again, my day started with a pre-dawn walk through Inuvik. The car rental clerk waited for me to request and pay for windshield insurance before mentioning that the windshield was cracked.

Fortunately, the windshield was clear enough that I could see and swerve for two grouse on the road. These grouse were about the same colour as gravel patches on the road. They moved at about the same speed and with the same traffic sense as gravel. We will have to be smarter than grouse if we want to have an impact at these hearings. Then again, grouse are smart enough not to pump natural gas into the Alberta tar sands.

“Tsiigehtchic” is Gwich’in for “Mouth of the Iron River”. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Perched on a hill, it overlooks the confluence of the Deh Cho (the “big river” aka Mackenzie) and the Arctic Red River. We crossed the frozen Deh Cho by ice road to reach it.

The Joint Review Panel (JRP) convened in the school gym. Volunteers brought never-ending food and bottomless Labrador Tea. Maybe it should be called “Labrador Tea tea” since it is tea made from the “Labrador Tea” plant. Whatever we call it, I was glad to drink local. This plant is good for repelling drowsiness and

There was no drowsiness in Tsiigehtchic. In McPherson, no one from the community asked clarification questions. In Tsiigehtchic it took the entire first session!

Many people have been giving the impression that the Gwich’in totally support the MGP. If you think about it, that’s like saying that everyone in the NWT supports it because Joe Handley and Brendan Bell support it.

Itai Katz started the day by referring to the results of a survey of Gwich’in views of the Mackenzie Gas Projects. According to the survey, Itai said, Gwich’in were asked specifically if they thought they be ready for the MGP:

“In the age group of 16 to 24, 18 percent answer: yes, we’re ready; 22 percent answer: no, we’re not ready.

“At the ages of 25 to 39, 9 percent answer: we’re ready; 55 percent answer: we are not ready.

“At the ages of 40 to 54, 18 percent answer: we’re ready; 50 percent answer: we are not ready.

“At the age group of 55 to 90, 30 percent says: we’re ready; 42 percent says: we’re not ready.”

So much for that theory! Itai went on to challenge Imperial on how putting a work camp of 1500 people — half the population of Inuvik — next to Inuvik could be said not to have a significant impact on the town. He likened it to putting 500,000 people in a camp outside Calgary! And, he asked how Imperial could claim to not source water from Travaillant Lake when it would draw water from surrounding lakes that are interconnected.

Imperial responded to the second question by saying that they would keep workers out of Inuvik by bussing them back to the Campbell Lake camp after their shifts. Imperial reasoned that the workers wood be too tired after their twelve hours shifts to go into town and added that the work camps will be drug and alcohol free. Itai countered by referring to a CBC documentary on the tar sands which found that the companies cannot control substance abuse by workers. This exchange led to questions from Peter Usher of the JRP to Imperial on the mechanics of how they would control worker access to communities.

There followed questions about Traditional Knowledge (TK) from Julie-Ann Andre and a bilingual presentation by elder Gabe Andre. John Itsi asked about how hiring would be done. Imperial referred him to the access and benefits agreement and said he would have to find out from the Gwich’in Tribal Council (terms of the agreement are confidential). The TK from the community is also confidential; so, in answer to a question from Jennifer Walker-Larsen of the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board, Imperial said it cannot release it to allow a comparison of TK and the Environmental Impact Study (EIS).

Itai was unstoppable — like the battery rabbit — he kept putting his hand up with more questions and comments. He suggested there is no shortage of jobs in the community — rather a shortage of people with the training and education to take those jobs. He pointed out the irony that Fred Carmichael laments the loss of the fur economy but proposes to replace it with another single economy, with specialised non-transferable jobs — when a diversified local economy would be more sustainable. Imperial countered that there will also be jobs and training in emergency medical response, small engine repair, and administration.

Alestine Andre made a passionate and brilliant presentation — illustrated with beautiful slides. Alestine started with a beautiful proposal to preserve the whole area for future generations:

“I would propose that Canada set aside a world example and designate the NWT Valley into a World Heritage site or park. The area is primarily a boreal forest that is home to certain species of birds, animals, and plants, and it is abundant with fresh water.

“This area could be designated as the only pristine place on earth and set aside as a development-free zone for all Canadians and citizens of the earth. The boreal forest will be for naturalists, school children, and a peaceful place to be with nature.

“The Gwich’in Tribal Council could proceed with such a nomination for designation at their annual assembly. The Gwich’in leaders, the Gwich’in assembly, and the Gwich’in Nation will be world leaders in having the vision to recognize and confirm the cultural importance of their homeland, that they wish to share with future Gwich’in generations and the rest of the world.

“At the basis of this designation is a world of opportunities that could be tapped with a pool of educated Gwich’in. The boreal forest designation and focusing or making education as our Gwich’in children’s number one priority could go hand in hand. That would bring our Gwich’in people, culture, our land and economy forward in a strong and powerful way.

“We do not need a pipeline. It will create a lot of damage to the land and to the people. We do not need that.”

[. . .]

“As a woman of the land and a Gwich’in beneficiary, I stand behind Elaine Alexie — I heard her speaking or her words being spoken the other day from Fort McPherson — who expressed herself strongly.

“I am also behind any other individuals and groups who are working to protect our environment, and also my Gwich’in people in our communities who are concerned about the impacts that will occur to our lives, our people, our communities, our land, and the environment if the proposed gas project were to go ahead.”

Band Councillor John Norbert expressed concern about social impacts and whether there would be alcohol and drug facilities in Inuvik (Imperial’s answer: not up to us).

Itai came back with concerns about the limits of the scope of the panel review. This mirrors concerns Sierra Club is raising about what is “reasonably foreseeable.”

“It is also possible that the companies are aware of much bigger reserves and that they don’t want to say so because they want to try and keep this review to one pipeline and three anchor fields in order to hide the real impacts to the environment and people.

“You need to look no farther than Alberta to see our future. In Alberta, too, it all started with one pipeline.”

[. . .]

“The company denies notions that any of the gas will be used in the tar sands. It’s interesting that any article I read in the Globe and Mail, the economics magazine and some trade magazines, it’s always been said that the tar sands are the obvious destination.

“The oil companies tell us that the gas will go to a general pool and that they cannot control what it will be used for. This kind of reasoning remind me of the arms dealers and manufacturers who claim: We just sell guns; what people do with them is not our concern.”

James Cardinal spoke in favour of the pipeline but expressed concern over climate change. This is actually a common thread: people speak in favour of the MGP but express grave concerns about its effects. Therese Remy Sawyer spoke in favour of the MGP but expressed concern about the land.

Bans councillor Fred Andre said:

“The irony here being that we here in the North will be the ones most affected through the permanent melting of the permafrost, the melting of the polar ice caps and endangerment to the wildlife that we depend on because they are unable to adapt to such fast and unseasonably warm temperatures.

“Is this the legacy that we as a nation wish to leave for our future generations? I don’t think so.

Sierra Club did not make a presentation (at community hearings, we cannot). But community member Don Horrocks stood up and started quoting Stephen Hazell from news reports. He went on to say:

“Why couldn’t Imperial Oil develop — use all their incredible wealth, all their shareholders, all their connections, their network, everything, why don’t they use that to save the world, the environment, by getting into alternate energy resources using the sun?

“But why don’t people on the Board consider the fact that maybe we shouldn’t even be looking at gas and oil?”

On renewable energy, Imperial’s Randy Ottenbreit had this reply:

“I think with respect to various forms of energy, I think people rely on and need and look for the benefits associated with energy use. Heat in a cold climate, the ability to take your Skidoo out on the land, the ability to drive, the ability to fly all use forms of energy.

“And despite all the work that’s been done on alternative energy sources — and alternative energy is projected to be one of the fastest growing segments of energy supply in the future — it is still well less than 1 percent of the total energy supply.

“And so there is a need to supply energy in its entirety and to continue doing work on alternative energy sources, but it is a relatively small source of the overall supply of energy in the world. It will continue to grow at a fast pace.

“But in the meantime, people still look for the benefits associated with being able to travel, the benefits associated with being able to live in colder climates, and so people look for those benefits and we provide that in the form of energy supply.”

Itai was back with one of his best questions — also the simplest: “Where is the Aboriginal Pipeline Group?” It is ironic they are not represented, given this is the only opportunity in this community for people to ask questions. Furthermore, it seems that Imperial can speak for every proponent except the APG. Why is that? One wonders if the oil companies are treating the APG as a second-class proponent. Will the APG get a fair deal?

Itai went on:

“As far as I understand — and I may be wrong, and I don’t know if anyone on the panel that is familiar with the APG arrangement with the producer — the one-third ownership is conditional. In order to become one-third owners in the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, they have to fulfill certain condition.

“Some of them or the first, of course, is the money. The second, they will have to find gas. It could be their gas or they can partner with somebody else — not from the producer — to bring gas into the pipeline, and there’s some other condition that, again, if there was somebody from the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, I’m sure he was able to fill us.

“Regarding the money in order for them to acquire an ownership, it’s very well documented that mega projects of this kind usually run into a major overrun. We’re talking now about 7, $7.5 billion.

“By the time it’s all said and done and in case the project go through, we may be looking at ten or $12 billion. That means that the APG will have to provide a much more significant amount of money than what they’re talking now.

“However, the capacity of the pipeline is limited. So, what I’m saying is that their one third ownership, as I understand it, is not a sure thing in the sense they’re not one-third owners yet. There are certain conditions that they have to fulfill, but they’re given the opportunity to become.”

Virginia Cardinal said: “Our chief president, Fred Carmichael, fully endorse it. So does Nellie. I am one of his people; therefore, I side with him.”

Elder Linda Andre-Blake spoke against the MGP, saying:

“I’m thinking about the youth. I never seen a youth come up here yet and spoke. I wouldn’t mind to see more youth talking for themselves.

“Our chiefs, they’re not even here, and some of them are talking about pension. I know our chiefs are getting old. They’re going to get pension in a couple of years, so they don’t care.

“Like I said when I started, I’m against it. Jobs, it’s just for a little while. Money is just for a little while. People that have businesses will climb, but it’s us natives that will suffer with all the different changes in our life.”

Grace Blake, Tsiigehtchic resident and Mackenzie Gas Project employee, spoke in favour of the MGP.

Sierra Club got a very positive reaction from community members I spoke with. I dished out a lot of materials.