First Nations in BC “have an opportunity in front of us that is historic”, an opportunity that comes from the development of the LNG industry.
Those words were from Chief Councillor Crystal Smith, at a Prince Rupert gathering hosted on Tuesday by the First Nations LNG Alliance.
“We have the opportunity to re-instil our economy of our past . . . and bring it into a modern context. It is imperative that we become united, united as Indigenous communities for the benefit of our people.”
Then Karen Ogen-Toews, CEO of the Alliance, told an audience of Gitxaala Nation members and others how there had been recent headlines about divisions among hereditary and elected leaders in her Wet’suwet’en Nation, regarding pipeline development for LNG.
“These two entities serve band members and clan members. The point is, they are the same people. As leadership, it is a tough balancing act. We need to find ways and means to sustain our communities economically. We need to balance the environment and economy, for the people.”
Ogen-Toews noted that hereditary and elected leaders in the Gitxaala Nation have long been working together.
“You have been modelling for us all across BC how hereditary chiefs and elected chiefs can work together for the people, for your people. It is inspiring. Thank you for your wisdom.
“As a former chief, I attempted to bring our Wet’suwet’en elected chiefs and hereditary chiefs together so we can work together for the benefit of our people. It is sad that within the Wet’suwet’en nation it is broken and we need to fix it.
“Our people need both the hereditary chiefs and elected chiefs to work together for the people. Witnessing the Gitxaala and their words of wisdom, compassion and humility has given me hope for our Wet’suwet’en nation. I pray and hope that we can come together as one people and work together so our people can prosper.”
The First Nations LNG Alliance chair, Chief Dan George of the Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation (Burns Lake Band) pointed out earlier that there are hereditary chiefs who support the planned Coastal GasLink Pipeline, and value the benefits it will bring to First Nations people.
The natural-gas line has agreements with the elected councils of all 20 First Nations (whose members include hereditary chiefs) along the 670-km pipeline route. It will run from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, feeding natural gas to the LNG Canada plant on Haisla territory at Kitimat.
The project includes directly awarding $620 million to Indigenous businesses and contractors for construction activities, with an additional $400 million anticipated to both BC northern communities and Indigenous communities during the construction period, totalling approximately $1 billion spent locally in BC.
Chief Smith, also a director of the First Nations LNG Alliance, noted: “Our former hereditary chief Jassee (Tommy Robinson) gave the directive to our elected leadership to share the wealth in our territory. This came as a result of work in the ’90s. Our elected leadership of the time designated, through a referendum vote, one of our reserves on the West side of the Douglas Channel as an industrial site, specifically for a LNG export facility.”
She added: “There is a lot of opportunity. . . . We can only do this together. Together we need to utilize our Rights and Title as our foundations to use LNG Canada and the CGL (Coastal GasLink pipeline) project to lift our people and rise as Nations.”
Several speakers from among Gitxaala elders said the future looks bright for their grandchildren, thanks to LNG development—as long as the environment is protected.
Chief Smith, and Chief Councillor Vivian Tom of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, had messages for environmental activists.
Chief Tom: “I don’t mind environmentalists coming into our territory, but when they try to stop everything we have to think no. I am really thankful that we are going to have employment (from LNG development) in our Nation. It’s exciting.”
Chief Smith: “We as Nations that support LNG Canada and CGL need to actively support one another as we face the environmental activists that are (saying) that we as First Nations leadership sold out . . . our environment. Our Haisla Territory is our identity. It is our culture.”
The Haisla have already had early benefits from the LNG Canada project. More than 130 Haisla members, for example, are working today on dredging Kitimat Harbour to accommodate LNG carriers for LNG Canada.
Smith said the benefits have gone beyond jobs.
“We have been able to support our students. . . . We have an education and capacity department that consisted of two employees prior to 2016 and now employs 20-21. Just this past term we have heavily invested in our culture and language. For the first time, we have a culture and language department.
“We have done this through economic development, not through government funding.”
The First Nations LNG Alliance is a collective of First Nations who are participating in, and supportive of, sustainable and responsible LNG development in BC.
Chief Crystal Smith
(This news release issued and posted here 18 December 2018)