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Hereditary Chief Yahaan, Gitwilgyoots Tribe of the Lax Kw'alaams, speaks at a press conference in Ottawa on April 19 to voice First Nations' opposition to LNG on Lelu Island. Behind him are Chief Na’Moks of Wet’suwet’en Nation, in regalia, and other Lax Kw'alaams leaders.

BC First Nations Adamantly Oppose LNG on Lelu Island Despite Province Claims

Daniel Mesec

First Nation leaders from northwestern British Columbia said this week that they adamantly oppose a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility on Lelu Island, despite recent provincial government claims to the contrary.

A delegation of First Nation leaders from Northwest B.C. traveled to Ottawa this week to ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reject Petronas’s Pacific Northwest (PNW) Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility on Lelu Island and make clear the project does not have the full support of the Tsimshian community of Lax Kw’alaams. The supportive letters, they said, came from elected leadership in a system set up by the federal government and Indian Act, while the opposition’s source is community members themselves and their hereditary leadership.

“We’ve come to Ottawa to clear up some issues that have been developing out of letters from our band council being sent to the federal government declaring the band is in full support of the development on Flora Banks,” said Hereditary Chief Yahaan (Donald Wesley), Gitwilgyoots Tribe of the Lax Kw'alaams. “Christy Clark has been announcing that she has full authorization [for PNW LNG] from First Nations on the North Coast and the Tsimshian communities, which is not true.”

The delegation consisting of hereditary chiefs from Lelu Island, Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan First Nations, as well as Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs President Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, said that in recent months there have been misleading claims of support for the $36 billion PNW LNG project.

“Contrary to the mythical claims of First Nations support being spread by B.C. government officials and Petronas lobbyists in Ottawa, there is a deeply entrenched, extensive and broad indigenous opposition to the proposed PNW LNG project,” said Phillip in a statement. “Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet ministers can no longer pretend that this is not a significant factor in deciding if the project goes ahead.”

Last year the community of Lax Kw’alaams, which is home to Lelu Island and Flora Banks, the proposed site for the PNW LNG project, unanimously rejected a $1 billion revenue benefit agreement offered by Malaysian owned Petronas.

RELATED: $1 Billion? No Thanks: First Nation Turns Down Offer for LNG on Ancestral Land

At the time it signaled an outright rejection of the proposal in any form. However, in March of this year, just before the deadline to submit comments in support or opposition to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency regarding the project, the newly elected Mayor of Lax Kw’alaams, John Helin, did an about-face and issued a letter of conditional support for PNW LNG. But the hereditary chiefs in Ottawa said the letter of support goes against the wishes of the Lax Kw’alaams people as a whole and that Mayor Helin—who declined to comment—only has jurisdiction over the band council and reserve and does not speak for all the Lax Kw’alaams people. Yahaan said they hoped to reach a national audience and set the record straight with the April 19 press conference held on Parliament Hill.

“We met with senior members of Cabinet this morning and talked about the CEAA process and consultation, and about how flawed the process was,” Yahaan said. “It’s really critical that all components of consultation with the people is taking place. That’s the kind of dialogue we’re trying to get across to them, which has not been done up to this point.”

Last fall Yahaan, along with several other members of Lax Kw’alaams in opposition to the project, started building what they called a defense camp on Lelu Island to ensure their territories were protected from development associated with the PNW LNG facility. Just last week, in an effort to force the camp members to vacate the area, the Federal Port Authority of Prince Rupert issued a letter ordering the dismantling of structures, including two cabins, on Lelu Island because it would interfere with preparatory plans for the project.

The delegation to Ottawa is also in response to several claims made by Premier Christy Clark and her administration that the province has the full support of First Nations, including Lax Kw’alaams. She has also said that British Columbia stands to benefit from more than $1 billion in revenue from the project and that it would generate nearly 20,000 well-paying jobs and has indicated that she plans to push through the project. Petronas did not respond to a request for comment, and the provincial government said that all involved First Nations had in fact been consulted.

"It is our understanding that the elected Lax Kw’alaams leaders conducted a consultation process with its members before offering conditional support for the project," the B.C. government told ICTMN by e-mail. "Questions about their process need to be directed to them. There is strong First Nations support for this project. Sixteen First Nations along the proposed route to the PNW LNG facility have benefits agreements in place with the Province."

Hereditary leaders from Lax Kw’alaams aren’t the only First Nation chiefs concerned about potential impacts from an LNG facility at the mouth of the Skeena River, which is home to Canada’s second largest salmon run. Chief Na’Moks (John Ridsdale) of the Wet’suwet’en Nation says the potential impacts of PNW LNG on wild salmon stocks is too great a risk and that trying to force the project through without proper consultation with First Nations will “haunt the provincial and federal governments.”

The governments’ failure to consult with hereditary leadership and not just the elected band councils is a major issue that the delegation sought to address while in Ottawa.

“We’re looking to put some pressure on Parliament itself and the public, to educate them on the fact of jurisdictional issues on the territories,” Na’Moks said. “It’s not elected band chiefs who have jurisdiction on the territories; it’s the people themselves, the hereditary system.”

If the PNW LNG facility is built it will become one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in Canada, which will threaten Canada’s international climate change commitments, the delegation said in a statement. An approval of the project could also diminish Prime Minister Trudeau’s efforts to strengthen relationships with First Nations, which has been a focal point for the Trudeau administration since the Prime Minister took office last November, they said. Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna is set to make a decision on the LNG project within the coming months.

“If [Trudeau] is keeping to his word on this new relationship he wants to instill with First Nations, then he should be listening to the First Nations,” said Na’Moks, “not to another form of elected government.”

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