Native leaders meet to discuss gasline proposal

Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- About 30 tribal leaders from Alaska and Canada were meeting in Fairbanks Wednesday to discuss the possible impacts of a natural gas pipeline on Natives on both sides of the border.

''We don't have the resources to deal with the issues,'' said Keith Van Bibber, oil and gas coordinator for the Whitehorse-based Council of First Nations. The Council is a consortium of 11 Canadian tribes.

Representatives from Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the Alaska North Slope Gas Producers, and the state and federal Joint Pipeline Office are attending the meeting. The meeting was the latest of several held in Canada and Alaska, said Randy Mayo, one of the organizers of the meeting.

Van Bibber told the group he has been grappling with a multitude of issues ever since he heard the possibility of the Alaska Highway route for a natural gas line.

One of those issues is how Canadian tribes can get assurances from Ex-xonMobil, BP Exploration and Phillips Alaska that their tribal members are put to work on any gas line project that comes through Canada, whether it comes down the Mackenzie Valley or the Alaska Highway, he said.

Additionally, he worried about who would pay for training a qualified workforce.

Van Bibber also expressed concern about the influx of people that would accompany such a large project and the likely impact on small Native communities. Northern Canada tribes are already experiencing increased populations in their small communities because of increased oil and gas exploration, he said.

''Our chiefs have a huge concern,'' he said.

Alaska tribal leaders said they have similar concerns based on experience. Tribal councils along the trans-Alaska pipeline route are dealing with social and economic problems that started nearly 30 years ago upon the completion of the pipeline, Mayo said.

Alaska villages have seen people move to larger communities to find work, only to have them return years later, bringing children with them, said Wilson Justin, a representative from Chistochina, a Copper River community. Those families need jobs, housing, clinics and schools, he said. Usually, the village tribal councils are responsible for meeting the demand, he said.

Participants at the meeting agreed that tribes will have to make their concerns known to governments and gas producers, but how to do that is still up for debate.

The tribal leaders concerns are legitimate but a route has not been selected yet, said Dave MacDowell, a spokesman with Alaska North Slope Gas Producers group, a consortium formed by BP, ExxonMobil and Phillips Alaska.

''Right now we are focusing on trying to create an economic project that brings North Slope gas to Canada and Lower 48 markets.

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