First Nations LNG Alliance members Chief Dan George, Karen Ogen-Toews and Chief Clifford White after meeting NDP MLAs in Victoria, May 10, 2018. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Indigenous leaders see new hope for LNG

‘Once in a lifetime’ economic opportunity for B.C.’s northwes

A group of northwestern B.C. Indigenous leaders is encouraged by meetings with the NDP government about the prospects for liquefied natural gas development.

Members of the First Nations LNG Alliance travelled to Victoria this week, after Premier John Horgan’s government breathed new life into the emerging industry with tax incentives for the Shell-led LNG Canada project that would include an export terminal at Kitimat.

The Alliance is chaired by Chief Dan George of the Ts’il Kaz Koh, formerly known as the Burns Lake Band. He said the group’s role is to present the benefits and risks to communities along the proposed pipeline that would cross their territories.

“There are very few opportunities that come along in northern B.C.,” George said in an interview with Black Press. “We have very small communities, we don’t have prime real estate, so our economic development is very limited. These are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for us.”

The main environmental disturbance in the northwest today is the aftermath of the pine beetle epidemic. The salvage logging that followed has left clearcuts that extend for 30 km or more.

The Ts’il Kaz Koh council has been working for five years with TransCanada, proponent of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline that would bring natural gas from the northeast to the coast.

“A pipeline uses a 200-metre right of way, and it’s relatively small compared to the big picture in northern B.C.,” George said.

Karen Ogen-Toews is a former chief of Wet’suewet’en and now CEO of First Nations LNG Alliance. She said the group had a warm reception from the NDP caucus, discussing environmental impact and the four conditions for LNG support set out by Horgan before last year’s election.

The conditions are a fair return to B.C. for the gas resource, jobs and training, partnerships with Indigenous communities and projects that fit the province’s greenhouse gas commitments.

“Long before the NDP got in, we worked with both governments, and we have surpassed those four conditions,” Ogen-Toews said.

Other alliance directors on the trip were Crystal Smith, Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation, site of the proposed LNG Canada terminal, and Robert Dennis Sr., Chief Councillor Huu-ay-aht First Nations. Huu-ay-aht are partners on the Kwispaa (formerly Sarita) LNG project at Sarita Bay near the mouth of Alberni Inlet on Vancouver Island, the largest proposal that is not in the northwest.

Chief Clifford White of the Gitxaala Nation represents the island group between the northwest mainland and Haida Gwaii, where the community known as Kitkatla has been occupied for 14,000 years.

White said the Gitxaala elected and hereditary leadership are concerned about the local environment, but also understand that LNG is a global project to replace coal’s impact on the atmosphere shared by all countries.

“We’re still living in poverty, so the opportunities like LNG when they come along, are important,” White said. “We have been fortunate that people have reached out in partnership with us.”

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