Opinion: Working together a surefire way to protect First Nations interests in resource development


When I was elected chief councillor of the Kitselas First Nation, located near Terrace, it was part of my mandate to move forward on economic development for our community while also balancing environmental protection. While Kitselas has been working to diversify its economy, the opportunities that major resource projects, such as LNG, will bring to our people needs to be acknowledged.

A resource-based economy is a big reality of living and working in the north. Resource economies bring well-paying jobs, stability for many families and prosperity to our communities. But, ensuring that the right voices are heard is crucial when trying to engage with industry or government to get resource projects underway.

That way, when the projects do move forward, they’re developed with First Nations interests and environmental-impact reduction in mind. We have found that moving forward on various resource-development projects makes more sense when you can draw on the strength of a group rather than going it alone. This is why I have been very involved in the work of the First Nations LNG Alliance (FNLNGA), the Tsimshian Environmental Stewardship Authority (TESA) and the First Nations Major Projects Coalition.

FNLNGA and TESA were both formed in 2015 to unite First Nations voices regarding the many major projects being proposed on B.C.’s coast, such as the Pacific NorthWest LNG Project. Specifically, The FNLNGA is a collective of First Nations who are participating in and supportive of sustainable LNG development in B.C. The alliance promotes increased engagement among First Nations communities in relation to LNG opportunities by communicating balanced information about the industry. It also provides the opportunity for pro-development nations to interact, share knowledge and resources, and discuss environmental issues and priorities. Finally, the alliance looks for opportunities to inform industry and the public about the strong level of First Nation support for the LNG industry.

The TESA includes the Metlakatla, Gitxaala, Kitselas, Kitsumkalum and Gitga’at nations. This organization is working to advance the interests of our people and better express our environmental concerns to government by pooling the resources of all the different nations together. TESA is primarily focused on the environment and by working together, the five First Nations involved have garnered major environmental concessions that will help to ensure our traditional resources, such as fisheries and clam beds, remain intact. If we share our knowledge with the project proponents and governments, they can come to understand the importance of certain environmental features and integrate mitigation measures.

The First Nations Major Projects Coalition, representing 27 First Nations, of which both elected and hereditary chiefs are members, is working collectively to advance First Nations interests in major projects. The coalition is examining ways to access capital, so First Nations can negotiate for ownership in projects. Additionally, the coalition is looking at baseline standards for environmental stewardship for major projects.

With so many proposed resource projects in development in B.C., northern First Nations are at a critical juncture. We need to invest the time to set our direction and chart our own course independently from industry and government. It’s clear that being unified provides us with a louder and stronger voice, which ensures our interests are being heard. Furthermore, it ensures we collectively get a fair share of the pie and that we’re a part of the process, from planning and implementation to ongoing work or monitoring. It also allows for a respectful, and timely process, that provides surety to our industry partners.

The FNLNGA, TESA and the First Nations Major Projects Coalition are prime examples of how First Nations can come together to protect the environment and help ensure our resources are developed responsibly with our best interests in mind. While this model is certainly not new, the successes that result are, and they will continue to result from us working together. Ongoing collaboration will bring job opportunities and benefits, while creating and strengthening relationships with proponents and governments — bringing greater prosperity to our northern communities and the whole of B.C.

Joseph Bevan is chief councillor of the Kitselas First Nation.

Article originally appeared in The Vancouver Sun online, March 21, 2017.
Image source: Kitselas First Nation

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