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About an hour east of Regina, on a gravel road bearing the name “Highway 606,” is Carry the Kettle First Nation’s (CTK) reserve land. CTK has a registered population of nearly 3,000, with about 900 living on the reserve. Signs in the reserve are as sparse as the landscape, which features typically flat prairie scenery dotted with the odd bluff of trees. Along the west side of the road is a group of buildings including the First Nation’s band office. It’s easy to miss for those who haven’t visited before, as it lacks the loud signage many would expect to see on an important building.

Inside the time worn band office building, the smell of cigarette smoke lingers, and you can hear the chatter of employees fielding calls with their office doors open. Down one of the halls, you will find the office of Elsie Koochicum, Industry Relations Representative for CTK First Nation. It is her job to act as a liaison between the reserve community and companies with business interests on CTK reserve lands, including pipeline companies.

The history of pipelines on Carry the Kettle is unique when compared to other reserves. There have been pipelines buried beneath CTK lands since the 50s, according to Koochicum, who says she grew up living next to a line. TransCanada, which operates in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, has six lines running through the reserve. Five of these lines carry natural gas east towards Quebec and the other carries oil into Manitoba and then south into the American Midwest as part of TransCanada’s Keystone System.

Regarding the relationship between TransCanada and Carry the Kettle, Koochicum says, “I think you have to remember that we never asked for this. It was expropriated. Our land was legally expropriated from us by the federal government to allow TransCanada pipeline to come through.”

“We never had the opportunity for the duty to consult,” says Koochicum, “We never had an opportunity to voice our concern. It was put upon us and so we had to accept it and live with it.”

The duty to consult that Koochicum is referring to stems from Supreme Court decisions in 2004 (Haida and Taku River), and another 2005 (Mikisew Cree) that established the Crown has a duty to consult when considering conduct that might impact Aboriginal or Treaty rights. This duty includes discussion surrounding the construction of pipelines through reserve lands – a discussion that was never held with Carry the Kettle.

In her dealings with pipeline companies, concerning either existing lines or proposed lines, Koochicum takes a pragmatic approach. She understands that now, with the duty to consult, First Nations dealing with industry have some control over what will be buried beneath their lands. As for CTK, its people must play the hand they’ve been dealt when it comes to pipelines that were built prior to duty to consult precedents.

“I sympathize and I’m very supportive to our native brothers and sisters across Canada,” says Koochicum, “but in a situation like [ours], how do you deal with it and how do you propose our future, because we do have ongoing relationships, especially with TransCanada pipeline. So we’re trying to preserve that as well.”

According to Koochicum, ongoing relationships with companies like TransCanada bring in revenue that helps to offset the ill effects of low-income living conditions within the reserve community. CTK’s average income in 2006 was $12,289 –almost $20,000 lower than the provincial average. (The 2011 Census data was not available for CTK at the time of publication.)

“Our First Nation is dependent on the revenue sources that come in,” says Koochicum, “Our Elders, we try to subsidize them with their rent and power. From the revenue sources we get from TransCanada, we pay their utilities.”

The reserve community has only one small fire hall and a single fire truck, which Koochicum refers to as “almost obsolete.” The truck’s clearly dated styling, coupled with its strangely recent red paint, makes it look like it would rather set the pace of the next Canada Day parade than respond to an emergency. She says the reserve is working towards improving emergency response capabilities and she’s hopeful that TransCanada will help shoulder the cost, as the fossil fuels flowing through its pipelines present a potential fire hazard.

Koochicum says that opinions regarding the reserve’s relationship with pipeline companies differ throughout the community, so the effectiveness of the relationship between Carry the Kettle and TransCanada is up for debate. According to Koochicum, the relationship between the two entities is open to public discussion so all members of the community can be actively involved in shaping their future.

As she fulfills her role as Industry Relations Representative, Koochicum says she is mindful of decisions made by other First Nations, but her duty is serving her own community.

“I take a look at all the First Nations across Canada,” says Koochicum, “and for Carry the Kettle, we have to look after ourselves. We have to ensure safety and a healthy growth for our people.”