Manitoba Hydro will consult with the province's 52,000 Métis on changes it wants to make to the route of the Bipole III transmission line.
The last-minute offer was made Wednesday by Hydro lawyer Douglas Beford to Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand during an environmental hearing into the controversial project.
Chartrand said the offer was the first time the Crown power utility said it would sit down with the Métis after weeks of threats by the MMF it would take Hydro to court to block the transmission project.
The MMF argues it's been bypassed in the lengthy consultation process leading up to the Clean Environment Commission (CEC) hearing on Bipole III, now nearing the end of its seventh week.
Chartrand welcomed the olive branch from Hydro, but questioned its worth.
"What are they going to talk about?" he said. "Are they actually going to talk about environment impact? How is it going to affect me? Is it going to be a proper consultation? If that's what they're going to do, then that's good news.
"But if they're just going to say 'Hi, we met you in an elevator and I talked to you about it; are you OK with it now?' that's not what I'm looking for."
Chartrand earlier told the CEC panel the proposed 1,400-kilomtere line cuts through the "Métis breadbasket" on the west side of the province, an area where the Métis have hunted for generations.
"I support the development of Hydro," Chartrand said. "I truly do.
"The challenge is I'm not going to do it at the sacrifice of my people."
Chartrand said his priority is to negotiate a deal with Hydro to preserve the traditional hunting areas of the Métis, but it's an area already under stress from a declining moose population. The province has put hunting restrictions on the worst-hit game-hunting areas in the hope the moose population increases.
The CEC is weighing the environmental impact of the line, to run from the Gillam area in northern Manitoba to south of Winnipeg. Based on what it hears, the commission is to decide whether to give Manitoba Hydro an environmental licence to proceed.
Chartrand said the Selinger government consulted with the Métis on their recent securing of harvesting rights, which should serve as notice for Hydro to do the same.
"If they want to do it through the courts, I hope not, but if they do, then let's see each other in the courtroom."
The CEC public hearing was originally set to end Nov. 27, but was extended into March to give affected communities time to digest Hydro's plan to revise the line's route. Hydro made the revisions to avoid fragile caribou grounds in a northern area and a large area farther south known as "Moose Meadows."
The extension means Hydro's plans for a 2017 in-service date for Bipole III might be delayed.
The hearing continues Thursday.