The Dene First Nation on Wednesday threatened to withhold its support for the Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP) unless the Canadian government moves to protect a huge swath of land in the Northwest Territories. The aboriginal group lays claim to land that covers about 40% of the proposed pipe route.

Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Herb Norwegian said there will be no natural gas pipeline built if the federal government does not adopt an interim land-use plan, which calls for about half of Dene First Nation lands, or 20 million hectares, to be protected from development. The aboriginal group was joined by World Wildlife Fund-Canada, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Canadian Boreal Initiative.

"Our position is that without the land use plan, there won't be a pipeline," said Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Herb Norwegian. "Implementing the land use plan is the key to unlocking the development potential of our territory and securing a sustainable future for our children."

Under an Interim Measures Agreement signed between Canada, the Northwest Territories and the Dene First Nations in 2001, half of the Dehcho region, which covers 20 million hectares of the Mackenzie watershed, was protected from development to enable land use planning and negotiations to proceed. The rest of the disputed territory, including most of the areas of interest to oil and natural gas companies, was to be open to "well-regulated" development.

Norwegian said Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has retreated from the interim agreement, which was put together by the previous administration. "Canada seems to be dragging their heels and reneging on all the previous agreements that they've made."

If the Canadian government refuses to endorse the interim land-use plan and moves forward with the gas pipeline development, Norwegian said the Dehcho may take the issue to court and would consider "direct action" to stop the development.

"Our people have poured our hearts into the development of this plan," he said. "The plan reflects the wisdom of our elders, the knowledge of hunters and the aspirations of our communities. It is something that the government of Canada should take pride in helping to advance."

The MGP consortium includes Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, which consists of most of the other major First Nation groups in the Northwest Territories.

Last month, the consortium announced that estimated costs for the project had jumped 130% in almost three years, to C$16.2 billion (US$13.7 billion) from C$7 billion (US$6 billion) in October 2004 (see Daily GPI, March 23). The consortium also pushed the expected completion date to 2014, three years later than planned, because of delays in permits and approvals.

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