The Haisla First Nation comprises about 1,800 people, more than half of them living in Kitamaat Village, 10 km south of Kitimat.
“We have lived off the land and waters of our traditional territory for thousands of years, and it remains the focus of all we do,” the official history runs.
Fisheries and forestry have thus been mainstays for revenue — but responsible LNG development is seen as a huge new opportunity.
“It’s hope,” says Chief Councillor Crystal Smith.
“The proposed LNG projects for Haisla Territory hold so much hope for our members in terms of employment and capacity-building for future generations that come. We see significant employment for our members, access to educational opportunities, and a way forward for a truly independent nation.
“We know exactly what we need — the ability to govern ourselves, take care of our families, and ensure our young people have opportunities that allow them to remain in our community and become self-supporting. What we need are well-paying jobs and economic development opportunities.”
True, the Haisla had some benefits from past industrial development in the region: Rio Tinto’s Alcan aluminum smelter, the Methanex methanol and ammonia plant (closed in 2006, with a loss of 127 jobs) and the Eurocan paper mill (closed in 2010, killing 525 jobs).
But those were developed “around” the Haisla rather than “with,” says Chief Crystal. “For 50 years we never had any real involvement in terms of the economic prosperity that happened around us.”
That has changed. At last, the Haisla Nation is front and centre in the process.
“LNG Canada has definitely set the bar in terms of how they deal with First Nations. For an example, on environmental issues — and believe me when I say that we are the experts when it comes to our Haisla Territory and the environment that surrounds us. If we have any issues regarding work in our traditional territory and what we value as important to the Haisla people, they have worked, and continue to work, with us to meet our concerns”
“There is a mutual respect that we have with the LNG proponents. It’s the same with Chevron (and its Kitimat LNG project). And with both, there are Impact Benefit Agreements that we’ve worked on.
“These agreements would allow us the ability to meet our community needs at a level that could not have happened through government. Education, training, mental health and addictions support, programs and supports for our youth and elders, infrastructure and all the other social issues we face as a Nation. The programs that we would be able to deliver to our members truly make me emotional, thinking about the wellbeing that we and our future generations can have, and it will all be as a result of the LNG industry in Haisla territory.”
Her Haisla council has its eyes on long-term employment and lasting benefits. Chief Crystal gives no details, but notes: “We are working closely alongside LNG Canada to ensure our members will have equal opportunity for employment both in operations and maintenance..”
Throughout the process, the Haisla have pressed protection of the environment.
In a recent letter to the editor, the chief councillor took issue with an eco-group’s argument that LNG development would devastate BC’s tourism industry.
“Before the Sierra Club B.C. writes any more about LNG, I invite them to spend time with the many First Nations that support LNG development. The Haisla have worked closely with LNG Canada, a proposed LNG-export project that would be located in our traditional territory.
“We have spent a significant amount of time participating in an environmental assessment review process to ensure our concerns about the land we live on and the waters that surround our village would be protected. We are satisfied that LNG Canada has designed its project to address our concerns, and operate with the lowest greenhouse-gas emissions of any large-scale LNG project in the world today.”
Our Alliance’s CEO, Karen Ogen-Toews, gives the Haisla credit for first spending time on learning all about LNG. “You have to congratulate the Haisla for doing their homework. They literally spent years studying LNG, and getting to know the ins and outs, before deciding to support the projects at Kitimat. They really became experts themselves.”
The anticipated future for LNG and the Haisla took a hit in 2016, when LNG Canada’s timeline changed.
There had been expectations for a Final Investment Decision (FID) on LNG Canada’s $40-billion plant and shipping terminal in 2016. But in 2015, world LNG prices began to drop. Supply began to increase faster than demand. And in July 2016, LNG Canada announced a delay: any FID would probably come in late 2018. And the company began to work hard on reducing costs.
Chief Crystal: “When LNG Canada announced their delay, the only way I could describe the feeling was it like somebody had died. It was devasting, as we have put in so much work and effort into both of these projects, to get them across their finish line.”
LNG Canada’s latest word is that an FID should come later this year.
How many fingers does the Haisla chief councillor have crossed?
“All of my fingers. But I have never considered the possibility of this project going away. That’s never been an option.”