‘Please support our responsible development of natural gas and LNG.’

Our Alliance CEO, Karen Ogen-Toews, on First Nations and resource development, a presentation to parliamentarians and others in an online session on Canada’s economic future, hosted by the Task Force for Real Jobs, Real Recovery:

First, let me say it’s good to see Bill C-15, the UNDRIP bill, finally in the Parliamentary works. It’s going to take time, I understand. Three years, though, does seem a remarkably loose timetable. But the bill is a welcome start, even if it comes a full 416 years after the first European settlement in Canada.

I recognize that some resource industries fear that Free, Prior and Informed Consent under UNDRIP may make it harder to do business in Canada and/or raise the financial risks. But if we get this right, I think that it should really create more certainty.

For one thing, UNDRIP is a process, not a do-or-die legal veto. The law does not have to lead to 1990, and Elijah Harper’s one-man constitutional sinking of the Meech Lake Accord in the Manitoba Legislature.

And, of course, Bill C-15 creates no new rights. We Indigenous peoples have rights in our territories, and successive court cases have upheld these rights. At this point, by the way, First Nations have won more than 300 court cases on rights and title and related issues.

After government gets this UNDRIP approach right, there are two more stakeholders who have to get it right: resources industries, and First Nations themselves.

If they work together in partnership, the benefits of resource development can go to both. And we see big LNG developers doing it right, in partnership with First Nations in BC and Quebec. Our First Nations need those benefits.

Some First Nations hope to turn true partnerships in resource development into equity ownership. I hope we will soon see that becoming the usual way of doing business.

You know, we First Nations can do business and do it well: There are 60,000 Indigenous businesses in Canada, and they contribute more than $12 billion a year to the economy. And as my friend JP Gladu says: “We’re gunning for $100 billion.”

I am a member, an elected councillor, and a former elected chief, of the Wet’suwet‘en Nation in BC. We are one of the 20 Nations who support the Coastal GasLink pipeline that will feed the LNG Canada development on Haisla Nation territory on the northwest BC coast.

You no doubt know that the elected council of the Wet’suwet’en supports the pipeline. And so do a majority of our people. But a small group of hereditary chiefs seeks to block the pipeline project. To me, this issue is one for the Wet’suwet’en people to resolve.

Some politicians seem to think they are the ones to make decisions on the governance of the Wet’suwet’en. Please stand down and let us resolve it.

As I mentioned, the Coastal GasLink pipeline will feed gas to LNG Canada, and the result will be the cleanest liquefied natural gas in the world.

The pipeline will also feed First Nations people and families.

So far, something like one-third of all the work completed on Coastal GasLink project has been done by Indigenous people. Over time, First Nations people will share in a billion dollars-worth of opportunities for local and Indigenous communities. Many Indigenous people have already had access to training, and have earned qualifications. These benefits also are held out by the LNG Canada project.

But, as the chief executive officer of the First Nations LNG Alliance, I want to draw the attention of Parliamentarians to this:

Coastal GasLink and LNG Canada have long and honestly promised opportunities for our First Nations people — and Indigenous people have certainly benefitted in many ways. Just ask my friend Crystal Smith, elected chief councillor of the Haisla Nation.

But some of the contractors and sub-contractors have not been getting the message. Or, worse, have been deliberately dodging the message.

There have been too many cases of small contractors bringing in non-Indigenous workers from outside BC. While the big developers see hiring local First Nations people as a priority, there seem to be an awful lot of workers on the job who are non-Indigenous and have Alberta plates on their vehicles.

All that said, LNG development has been a genuine bonus for many First Nations communities and people. I do not have to remind you that we need it.

Poverty is a shocking fact of life in Canadian Indigenous communities. Half of our children live in poverty. Our unemployment can hit 70%. We suffer from poor health, poor housing, lower life expectancy, addiction problems, suicides, and limited education and graduation rates.

For my Nation, and for others, LNG development offers a path away from all that.

Forty-two countries around the world now import LNG. That number is set to grow as more nations switch to natural gas to reduce their dependence on coal and oil, and cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

I hope that BC and Canada will play a huge role in supplying those nations, bringing revenue to Canada that will fund government programs, and will help close the huge socio-economic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.

Please support our responsible development of natural gas and LNG.

Karen Ogen-Toews

(Posted here 10 December 2020)