First Nations in Quebec are demanding immediate consultation from the provincial government on the controversial TransCanada Energy East pipeline currently under assessment by Quebec's environmental review agency.

Hearings for the $12-billion, 4,600-kilometre energy project began on Monday, sparking protests and chanting that delayed the proceedings. The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL), which represents 10 nations and 43 chiefs across two provinces, refused to be sidelined in the discussion and issued a press statement on Wednesday asserting their right to a say on the pipeline:

“Our link to the government is unique," said AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard. "It is unacceptable that the Government of Quebec takes unilateral action in this file without any discussions with the First Nations who are in fact extremely concerned by the Energy East project."

A map of the proposed Energy East pipeline from Alberta to Saint John, N.B. Graphic by Canadian Press.

Consultation urged

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Last week, the province sought an injunction against Energy East in an effort to force TransCanada to comply with Quebec's environmental regulations, an action taken without Indigenous input. If approved, the pipeline would transport roughly 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada and a marine terminal in New Brunswick.

The AFNQL is now asking for a meeting with Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel, during which they hope to develop a new consultation process for First Nations on the project.

"To date, the Government of Quebec made no statement whatsoever as to the approaches it commits to undertake to meet its obligation to consult the First Nations," said the press release, citing a recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling that the B.C. government breached its duty to consult local First Nations on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

"The Government of Quebec cannot pursue its assessment the Energy East project without an immediate meeting with the First Nations."

Widespread First Nations opposition

Though it hasn't taken a position on the pipeline itself, the AFNQL issued its statement in support of the nearby Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, which has firmly opposed the proposal. Both organizations cited concern for their traditional territories and resources, and the impact the project would have on climate change by expanding Alberta's oilsands.

The Iroquois Caucus, consisting of leadership from the Akwesahsne, Kahnawa:ke, Kanesatake, Oneida Nation of the Thames, Six Nations of the Grand River, Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and Wahta Mohawks, has also also opposed Energy East for the "devastating effects" it could have on First Nations' lands and waters.

In the meantime, the environmental hearings in Quebec will continue over the next week with an analysis the project’s potential impacts on water and risks of spills. A second round of sessions are scheduled to begin in April, when the environmental agency is set to hear more from the public.

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