Gwich’in Tribal Council Grand Chief Ken Smith is not impressed with the latest potential delay in development of a $40 million Wind Project that will be built in the Inuvik area.
After the Gwich’in Land and Water Board overruled a bid by NGC to block the project Oct. 29, Smith told Inuvik Drum he was happy the project would be going forward and the GTC was pleased with the GLWB’s decision.
But on Nov. 30, the NGC filed a new judicial review notice, again asserting the GNWT’s “reservation by notation” was not properly consulted with the NGC and therefore NWT Energy Corporation does not have legal right to occupy the Reindeer Grazing Preserve.
The new appeal will now go before a judge on Jan. 8 in Yellowknife court, though a source close to the matter told Inuvik Drum the NGC board of governors may be reconsidering its decision.
“The GTC did not delegate authority on our legal duty to consult to the Nihtat or its advisors, to speak on behalf of the Gwich’in with respect to this project,” said Smith. “This is not just a Nihtat Gwich’in project, it is significant for the Town of Inuvik and surrounding region which includes our other Designated Gwich’in Organizations in Aklavik, Teetl’it Zheh (Fort McPherson) and Tsiigehtchic.”
The ongoing debate has drawn attention from outside the Delta as well. Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly chimed in on his Facebook page late Dec. 2 with his support for the Nihtat.
“Very happy to see this happen, to challenge GNWT’s poor land management practices,” he wrote, which drew criticism from Smith the next morning.
“Did you speak to the collective rights holder for the Gwich’in on this project to get their thoughts before weighing in on this?” wrote Smith on Dec. 3. “That is the Gwich’in Tribal Council if you are unaware. This is an estimated $40M sustainable energy project for the Mackenzie Delta in a region that sorely requires development.
“You are willing to potentially scuttle this important project to play politics and try to prove a point of ineptitude for the very government you are supposed to be a part of. As an advocate of alternative energies, I am surprised and disappointed you have taken this position.”
O’Reilly responded that he supported renewable energy but the process to zone it needs to be done properly.
“GNWT cannot unilaterally change land designations set out in regulation,” he said. “This is not about politics but holding GNWT to account for its actions.”
At the heart of the dispute is the piece of land being proposed for the Wind Generation sight, which is currently designated as Reindeer Grazing Reserve and has been in place since 1933, which NGC says the GNWT unilaterally ignored when signing off on the wind farm.
Smith said the NGC has been involved with the planning of the project since 2016 and had been paid over $1 million to prepare the project description and environmental assessments. He added the GTC felt the required consultation was done properly.
“The key to this is dialogue,” he added. “Any projects conducted in our area must be sustainable and be of benefit to us as Gwich’in and other residents of the Mackenzie Delta. Most importantly, we must be engaged and involved in the planning, design, assessment, construction, operation and if required closure and remediation of any project in our Gwich’in Settlement Region. In the opinion of the GTC, NTEC and the GNWT Department of Infrastructure has engaged us more than adequately thus far and we look forward to participating in the future execution of the project, if it is still going ahead.
“For us as Gwich’in, our rights are not for sale. With that said, proponents such as industry and government must consult our people and assessed impacts cannot and should not infringe, remove or otherwise unnecessarily impact our rights in the Gwich’in Settlement Region.”
A source close to the Nihtat Gwich’in Council board told Inuvik Drum the governing board would be meeting Monday to discuss whether to go forward with the judicial review or not.