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Enbridge Northern Gateway undermining democratic process in Burns Lake Band, critics say

Screenshot of Ron Charlie, Burns Lake Band councillor
Ronald Charlie, a Burns Lake Band councillor and son of a hereditary chief, is composed but angry as he talks about the disruption that has swept over his community over the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. His band is one of the groups listed as being actively engaged with Northern Gateway. But most of these talks, he says, are secret. 

“The whole community is being left out in the dark, including me,” he said.

No one has heard what was discussed between former chief Albert Gerow and a handful of his trusted colleagues, for instance, he said.

“I’ve never seen the Enbridge agreements, and that’s not from a lack of trying. I’ve sent emails and even made legal requests through our lawyer, saying we want to know, because our Chief and Council are not telling the community. They've never told me who they’re meeting, where they’re going or what’s being promised on behalf of the band.”

Enbridge has to date refused to release the information, telling Charlie he must present a Band Council Resolution (which requires input from the chief) to see the documents.  


Letter from Enbridge lawyer noting that a Band Council Resolution is required to disclose material on Enbridge Northern Gateway and Burns Lake Band. 

The small, 129-member band, which is located right in the middle of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline route, has been plagued by disputes throughout last year. A group of concerned band members occupied the administrative office last April and were removed at gunpoint by dozens of RCMP – a move that some members associated with Gerow’s power as a former RCMP officer and spouse of BC NDP leader Carole James. The band’s leaders then filed a defamation suit against many of its critics (allegedly using band funds), and finally at the end of the year, the chief was forced to resign.

 First Nation traditional territory, outlined in purple

On the surface, it may appear to be internal band politics. But, Charlie said, an underlying factor has been the Northern Gateway pipeline, which the federal National Energy Board recommended to approve on December 19, 2013.

To help resolve the conflict, Charlie is taking the unusual position of backing Pauline Goertzen – a Caucasian community organizer and anti-racism activist – in her running against long-time politician Wes Sam for the position of chief.

“We believe that Pauline, as a new Chief, can be someone who can really help represent this community. She's been observing what's been happening here, on and off, for the last 17 years,” he said.

Since leaving his position as Burns Lake Band chief, Gerow has taken a job with Trans Canada Ltd., a Calgary-based pipeline giant and proponent of the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Alberta’s bitumen to U.S. and Asian markets.

“The proof’s in the pudding. Where does [Gerow] work now?” Ron Charlie’s father and former chief, Kascamqot (Rob Charlie) said. Not long after Gerow got his new job, former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine also took a position with TransCanada to help the company negotiate with First Nations.

Charlie feels the lack of transparency around pipeline negotiations has driven a wedge between leaders and the community on the reserve. What’s more, the federal government has been informed of the problems around pipeline negotiations, but has decided not to intervene or ask questions about the validity of the company's consultation process. 

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