Sandra Sulyma, a local resident, was confused and taken aback when visitors to her property requested access for a crew surveying for “a development.”
Sulyma was at her home on the Stuart River on Sunday, June 23 with her two children when two unexpected visitors came down her driveway in hi-visibility vests.
The visitors eventually identified themselves as being from the Skin Tyee Nation, on the south side of Burns Lake.
Sulyma said they requested access to her property to do some surveying to get soil, environmental and cultural information on the area for a development, which they seemed reluctant to specify.
“So I was curious,” said Sulyma, who said she asked them “What exactly do you mean by ‘development’?”
She said it took about a half hour of persistent questioning on her part to discover the visitors were working with Enbridge on the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project.
“Initially I was thinking, ‘oh ya, that sounds fine,’” said Sulyma, because of the First Nations interest the two stated. But she then changed her mind once she knew the group they were with was doing work for Enbridge.
“It was at that point that the whole atmosphere of the conversation changed,” she said.
Sulyma then began asking the pair if they knew anything about local groups such as the Fort St. James Sustainability Group and the District of Fort St. James and their roles in the intervenor process.
Sulyma said they indicated no knowledge of the groups or their public opposition to the Northern Gateway Project.
“Which shocked me,” she said.
While she said the pair were polite and respectful, she was surprised Enbridge had not informed them of the local concerns and the fact Sulyma herself is a registered intervenor in the process.
She also said she would have liked to have had prior warning from Enbridge and there should have been an effort to set up a meeting, instead of showing up unannounced.
The entire incident left Sulyma feeling motivated to reconvene with the local landowner group to make sure everyone is well informed about their rights, as she said some people might not realize until the project is approved, or there is a written agreement in place with the landowner, landowners can deny companies access to their property.
Sulyma said she has had little contact with Enbridge in terms of consultation; she and her husband Randy were visited by an Enbridge representative two or three years ago. After requesting further information, she has never heard back from the company or their representative.
“It seems like landowners are somewhat of an afterthought,” said Sulyma. She also said landowners should not have to be intervenors in the complicated joint review process in order to have their concerns taken into account.
“They’re impacting our land,” she said.
Enbridge spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht said the visitors were not employees of Enbridge, they were community members providing local knowledge.
“We were working in the area doing some visual reconnaissance,” said Giesbrecht. “They do not work for Enbridge nor do they speak on our behalf.”
Giesbrecht said the company has strict protocols not to enter onto private land without clear and prior consent and reconnaissance was meant to be going on only on Crown Land.
Nak’azdli Chief Fred Sam, once he was informed of the incident, contacted the Skin Tyee Chief Rene Skin and told him they need to follow protocol and contact the local First Nation. Sam said the work Enbridge is doing should wait until the necessary approvals are in place.
“[Enbridge] shouldn’t be proceeding with anything,” he said.
However, Giesbrecht said the work is necessary to address concerns raised during the review process and requests for further information.
“That’s what this type of work will do – it will give us more information it will start to help answer some of the questions that people have about the environmental concerns,” he said. “Everybody is asking for more information, so that’s what we’re trying to pursue here.”
Following the incident, the Yinka Dene Alliance, of which the Nak’azdli First Nation is a member and it was Nak’azdli traditional territory the incident took place on, issued a warning to Enbridge employees and contractors.
“This shall serve as public notice to all employees and contractors hired by Enbridge Northern Gateway Inc., Enbridge Inc. and/or any of its affiliates in relation to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines and tankers project that you are not permitted entry onto the collective territories of the Yinka Dene Alliance nations,” said the release.
Enbridge’s presence in Yinka Dene traditional territory was “premature” according to Geraldine Thomas Flurer, Yinka Dene Alliance coordinator. She also said it was a breach of First Nations protocol.
“Enbridge is gaining a reputation for being very sneaky,” said Thomas Flurer. “It shows a lack of respect on behalf of that company.”
Giesbrecht, however, said he takes exception to the statement communities and stakeholders were not informed work would be done in the area.
“Certainly we notify people in the communities, we notify anybody that’s involved … we notify them that we’re coming and we notify them what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s certainly our intent to notify them in advance.”
Sam and Sulyma both said they were not notified work was being done in the area and the District of Fort St. James said they received an email notification from Enbridge of work being done in the area the day after Sulyma told Enbridge they could not access her property.
As for future work in the area, Thomas Flurer said Yinka Dene will take further action according to indigenous law if necessary to prevent Enbridge from accessing the land within their traditional territory.
Giesbrecht said while Enbridge is waiting for permit approvals from the province through the MInistry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the company is still committed to getting more information.
“We plan on continuing to do as much as we can in the areas where we’re able to do so, in areas where there is an elevated concern,” he said. “And we will work with those landowners and those communities and those First Nations to help them understand and continue to discuss how we can continue to come to an agreeable solution.”
The Yinka Dene is hoping to meet with Premier Christy Clark on the issue.
“Hopefully, Christy Clark gets on board,” she said. “We’re thankful that she took the position that she did, it shows a lot of strength, that she’s not going to be bullied and we respect that.”