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Opposition to Petronas LNG ‘Extensive,’ First Nations Leaders Tell Trudeau

First Nations from northwest B.C. are strong in their opposition to a proposed liquefied natural gas project near Prince Rupert and will fight it in the courts and on the land if it is approved, a delegation of senior aboriginal leaders warned the federal Liberal government Tuesday. 

The group travelled to Ottawa to urge the government to reject Petronas’s Pacific Northwest LNG project at the same time as six municipal politicians from northern B.C. travelled to Ottawa in an effort to persuade the federal government to support LNG projects in the province.
 
Cabinet is expected to make a decision on the environmental assessment of the $11.4-billion Petronas project by late June.
 
 While mayors from communities such as Fort St. John and Tumbler Ridge say LNG approvals are needed to prop up their sagging economies, First Nations say the Petronas project would threaten the Skeena River salmon run — Canada’s second largest wild salmon run — and would become one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the country.

One of the major reasons for the First Nations delegation was to tell government that claims of widespread First Nations support for the Petronas project are false, said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. 

“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,” Phillip said.
 
The company claims to have support from major First Nations in the area, but last year the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation comprehensively rejected a $1.14-billion benefits package from the Petronas-led consortium and have continued to oppose the project, which would see a gas plant and shipping terminal built on Lelu Island, adjacent to Flora Bank.
 
However, last month, John Helin, newly-elected Lax Kw’alaams mayor, wrote to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna indicating conditional support for the project.
 
Proponents are using the letter as an indication of the community’s support, but other First Nations leaders say the letter was not authorized by the band council and Helin had not consulted with hereditary leaders, the community or his own council.
 
“The B.C. government has been saying that we’ve changed our minds and support the project,” said former Lax Kw’alaams Mayor Garry Reece.
 
“That’s simply not true and John Helin had no business sending a letter to that effect without consulting his elected council, hereditary chiefs and our community. That letter does not represent the position of the Nine Allied Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams.”
 
The delegation brought a message from Simoyget Delgamuukw of the Gitxsan First Nation. Delgamuukw is one of Canada’s best-known hereditary leaders and was the plaintiff in the ground-breaking aboriginal rights court case that saw the Supreme Court of Canada rule in 1997 that aboriginal rights had not been extinguished in Canada.
 
“The Prime Minister and, especially, the Justice Minister should be under no illusions — we will fight this ill-considered and illegal project in the courts and on the land if need be and we will win,” said the message from Delgamuukw.
 
“Petronas and the province have spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Canadians and the federal government to approve a dangerous project. But they have been unable to buy our consent and they cannot purchase our legal system. Nor can they hide behind rogue elected band officials acting without proper authority.”
 
The project is linked with construction of an 800-kilometre pipeline that would cross dozens of First Nations territories and leaders from the entire Skeena River are standing in opposition because of impacts on the salmon harvest said Chief Na’Moks of the Office of Wet’suwet’en.
 
“We cannot allow this project to move forward and, even if the Government of Canada grants it approval, we will tie it up in the courts through legal challenges,” Na’Moks said.
 
Last month the First Nations position was bolstered by a group of 130 scientists who wrote to McKenna urging her to reject the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s draft report on the project saying the report was scientifically flawed.
 
“A worse location is unlikely to be found for PNW LNG with regards to potential risks for fish and fisheries,” says the letter.
 
While the First Nations were setting out their case and asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to follow up on his promise of a new relationship with First Nations, the group of five municipal mayors met with Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and senior bureaucrats.
 
The group was hosted by Bob Zimmer, Conservative MP for Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies who said in a news release that it is critical that the government hears about the strong support for B.C. LNG as it is vital to future growth of the northern B.C. economy.
 
“As we all know, our communities are struggling under the low price of energy and support for the LNG industry would provide a positive boost for our region,” Zimmer said.
 
But First Nations will not budge on their opposition to the Petronas project, emphasized Simoyget Yahaan, hereditary chief of the Gitwilgyoots Tribe of the Lax Kw’alaams people.
 
“Without our agreement, this project cannot and will not proceed,” he said.

Image: Heather Badenoch/Twitter.

Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist based in Victoria, British Columbia. Lavoie covered environment and First Nations stories for the…

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