Work with First Nations? First, ask
If there’s a “right way” for LNG industry to approach First Nations, it’s “respect.” So said two chiefs, both members of our Alliance board, at the Canada Gas and LNG Conference in Vancouver this week.
“First thing, ask the First Nation,” said our chair, Chief Dan George of the Ts’il Kaz Koh Nation. “And that’s ask. Ask. And do it before you do all the work, before you get into your engineering and design. Doing all the work first and spending all that money first is the way to get your project rejected.
“Ask first. And understand that it takes a very long time to consult and negotiate. It’s a lot of information, a lot of meetings, a lot of discussion. It’s a lot of information and discussion in the first couple of years.”
Chief Robert J. Dennis Sr. of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations said Steelhead LNG’s approach to his people is a good example of the right way.
“Steelhead came in and asked if we were interested. They didn’t come in with a plan and put it in front of us. They asked if we were interested. And it led to our agreement, and the co-management plan we have with them on the Kwispaa project.
“With Steelhead, we found a commonality, a willingness to make our project work. It’s been an incredible partnership. We’ve created a healthy balance of the economy and the environment.”
(Steelhead is eyeing 2020 for a Final Investment Decision on the Kwispaa project, on Huu-ay-aht territory near Port Alberni.)
The two chiefs were members of a conference panel discussion on Reconciliation and working with First Nations. At one point, panel leader Tiffany Murray of Steelhead LNG asked about media reports of First Nations opposition to projects.
Chief Robert: “The majority of people in British Columbia are in favour of LNG development. That’s not what the media is saying.”
Chief Dan: “There are a few people that dictate to the media and say First Nations are opposed. In fact, there are 40 or more First Nations in BC who are in agreement with different LNG projects. We are in agreement. We just want it done right.”
Dan George had a blunt message to those who seek to “dictate” to the Ts’il Kaz Koh what the nation should or should not do about LNG development. “We don’t dictate what other people should do on their territory. They cannot dictate what we do on our territory.”
Earlier, our first round of panelists saw LNG as helping First Nations tackle long-standing problems.
All cited social issues, and Chief Dan reminded the audience of the gap between the general standard of living in Canada (rated No. 6 in the world) and the standard of living for First Nations in Canada (rated No. 63 on the same scale).
‘LNG offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and with minimal impact compared to logging and the mountain pine beetle. LNG can get us there.’
Chief Robert noted historic logging and fishing damage in the Huu-ay-aht territory on Vancouver Island. LNG development, he said, can help he Huu-ay-aht tackle these problems, and support “a very sustainable way of managing our territory.”
Chief Crystal Smith of the Haisla Nation (another Alliance board member) cited a long history of negative social issues. “’We see LNG projects as a form of independence, and a recovery from social issues. . . . We need the ability to govern ourselves. We need these projects to go ahead. And now we are focusing on long-term issues.”
All praised the LNG developers they work with for early engagement with their nations, and encouraged governments of all levels to keep up the pace. Chief Dan noted the importance of true engagement, including Traditional Knowledge of the areas affected.
MEETING GOVERNMENT MLAs
A delegation of Alliance leaders held a positive meeting with NDP MLAs in Victoria on May 9.
From left: Alliance chair Chief Dan George (Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation), Chief Crystal Smith (Haisla), Chief Robert J. Dennis Sr. (Huu-ay-aht), Alliance CEO Karen Ogen-Toews, and Chief Clifford White (Gitxaala)
The team discussed First Nations priorities for LNG development, including protecting the environment. And in a discussion on Reconciliation the delegation pointed out that BC needs to listen when we say yes to resource projects and not just if we say no.
Tom Fletcher, legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press newspapers, talked with us after the meeting, and wrote this story: ‘Indigenous leaders see new hope for LNG.’ You can read it here.
A few days later, Karen was interviewed on APTN’s National News. She noted, among other things, that First Nations‘ agreements on LNG in BC include ‘the highest environmental standards.’ The interview starts at 6:32 of the May 14 broadcast at http://aptnnews.ca/newscasts/#.Wvpeh1Vn324
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