PESHAWBESTOWN — A local tribal member long known for his environmental activism left his job with the tribe several months ago to launch a new consulting business — one now ruffling feathers.
Desmond Berry is the former director of the natural resources department for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. He resigned and opened a new company called 7th Legacy Environmental LLC.
Among his clients is Enbridge, the Canadian oil and gas transportation giant that owns the controversial Line 5 dual pipelines that cross the bottomlands at the Straits of Mackinac.
It’s the stretch of petrochemical infrastructure around which Michigan tribes have united to fight.
The situation has rankled emotions throughout the tribe.
“I find it disgusting a tribal member wants to represent a company that wants to put our water at risk with an oil and gas pipeline,” said Al Pedwaydon, a past tribal chairman for the Grand Traverse Band.
“For a tribal member to turn his back on our community — any community on the Great Lakes — I find to be very disgusting and unethical. He’s trying to sell himself. He’s trying to make a few bucks. But don’t do it on our backs or on the backs of those who use the Great Lakes,” he said.
Berry’s consulting company sent letters in mid-June to various Michigan tribes inviting them to participate in “an open dialogue between Enbridge and the Tribe that could lead to a transformative process that could be grown organically based on your input and direction.” Copies of the letter can be found in multiple places on social media.
The Grand Traverse Band recently put on blast that Berry and other associates at his company are independent from the tribe, even if they are tribal members.
“Because he and his associate identify themselves as citizens of this Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the impression is created that this Tribe supports their efforts. Nothing could be farther from the truth,” reads a legal department memorandum issued by Bill Rastetter, tribal attorney.
The written statement continued that “Berry’s actions are inconsistent with official positions of the Grand Traverse Band.” It also accuses Berry of being an Enbridge employee and advocating for the continued transmission of oil through Line 5 in the straits.
The letter called on Berry to end his relationship with Enbridge.
Rastetter’s letter dated July 19 contends Berry signed a confidentiality agreement that he would not work for any other organization regarding treaty-protected fishing rights — then called for him to “cease and desist his relationship with Enbridge.”
Rastetter said tribal leadership asked him to draft the letter about Berry after learning from other Michigan tribes and environmental organizations that they had been contacted by 7th Legacy regarding sit-down talks with Enbridge.
Tribal Chairman Sam McClellan could not be reached for comment.
Berry declined to comment for this article and instead directed questions to his attorney, Craig Elhart of Traverse City.
Elhart said his client is “extremely disappointed” in the tribe’s reaction. He insists Berry is not an Enbridge employee, nor does he advocate for the continued transmission of oil through the pipelines in the straits — just the opposite.
“The overall goal here is to make sure the treaty rights of all the tribes continue to be protected and facilitate a talking relationship with Enbridge so the parties can determine jointly where to go with it,” Elhart said. “He has no interest in keeping the line there.”
Berry’s efforts are intended to avoid lengthy and uncertain legal battles and instead find medium ground on the controversial topic, the lawyer said.
“He’s being treated as an outcast and that’s a shame,” Elhart said.
Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy confirmed Berry’s consulting firm was hired by the energy company for a narrow scope of facilitation services.
“This involves developing dialogue and conversations with tribes where possible. This limited facilitator role may help create meaningful conversations that can lead over the years to relationships slowly built on earned trust and better communication with one another,” Duffy said.
Pedwaydon said there’s no hiding his feeling that Berry has betrayed his tribe.
He said even the name Berry chose for his business is an affront.
“We always want to protect Mother Nature for seven generations out and that’s how he’s using the title 7th Legacy as a smokescreen to what he is doing,” he said. “We had people die to get some of those treaty rights and here he is siding with the other side.”
Pedwaydon said he’s written to Michigan’s 12 federally recognized tribes to encourage them not to engage with Berry’s company.
“The only thing we can do is resist him, not meet with him, no dialogue. That would be the best outcome,” he said.