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Though Skeptical Of Government Intentions: Starblanket, Ahenakew Commend Berger Pipeline Inquiry Findings

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1977      v07 n05 p49  
The chief of the FSI and the president of the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB) both praised the report of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline inquiry released by Mr. Justice Thomas Berger in early May.

But both leaders were skeptical that the report's recommendations would be put into effect.

The Berger report called for a moratorium often years on any pipe-line development in the north and rejected any plan to build a pipeline across the environmentally-sensitive northern Yukon.

David Ahenakew, FSI chief, said "the people are not going to be considered" despite the report's sympathetic recommendations.

Ahenakew said the desire of powerful business interests and the United States to have the pipeline built will ensure that development will go ahead.

"Greediness for the good life will prevail," he said.

NIB president Noel Starblanket said there is no doubt the federal government will decide in favor of a pipeline by September 1.

But he said the government may choose the alternative Alaska-Canadian route which is less controversial. Yukon Indians who would be affected by the alternative route have also called for a ten-year moratorium on construction. The route is now under study by a commission headed by Ken Lysyk, Dean of law at the University of British Columbia and former deputy attorney-general of Saskatchewan.

Starblanket said the National Energy Board report on northern energy development will hold more weight among federal cabinet members than the Berger report.

He said the NEB is a quasi-judicial body whose recommendations, if rejected, must be nullified by an Act of Parliament. The NEB is expected to recommend an early start to pipeline construction.

The NIB president said his staff will be lobbying Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Warren Allmand and other cabinet members to back the NIB's opposition to the pipeline. But he said he was not confident of success.

Ahenakew said the Berger report may lead to "a better deal (for northern people) than they would have had otherwise...They (the government) may make a lot more concessions."

But he said the settlement of aboriginal rights is likely to be similar to the James Bay settlement which extinguished rather than preserved those rights.

That kind of settlement will not meet the aspirations of native people, Ahenakew said.

The FSI chief heaped praise upon the Berger report itself.

"That's the way a commission should operate. It should get right down to the people to see exactly what the people feel and find out where the real impact is going to be - on the people who live there."

Berger interviewed more than 1,000 northern natives during the three-year course of his inquiry. He also heard testimony from pipeline companies, public interest groups, native organizations, the territorial council and other interested groups.