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    From the editor: Between truth and reconciliation [Gas in Transition]


An emerging dispute between two First Nations in the northern reaches of BC shines a bright light on just how far we’ve come on indigenous relationships. [Image credit: Nisga'a Lisims Government]

by: Dale Lunan

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From the editor: Between truth and reconciliation [Gas in Transition]

For much of the past century, indigenous communities in Canada have often been left sitting on the sidelines as corporate giants swooped into their traditional territories, taking the economic benefits afforded by resource development – mainly oil and gas and forestry – while leaving their hosts with nothing.

Over the same period, the federal government implemented policies aimed at forcefully integrating indigenous peoples into Canadian society, most egregiously with a network of residential schools that took children from their families – the infamous “Sixties Scoop” is one such example – and stripped them of their traditional language and culture.

In the early 2000s, however, a trilogy of court proceedings changed the way indigenous communities were treated in the resource development process, imposing on governments and developers a duty to consult with First Nations and ensure their traditional rights were addressed.

At about the same time, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to create a record of the residential schools system and address how best to compensate those affected.

And internationally, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the UN in 2007, dramatically changing – for those who support it – how corporations and indigenous peoples interact on, among other things, resource development.

Showing the way

The LNG Canada consortium, led by Shell and including Malaysia’s Petronas, Japan’s Mitsubishi, PetroChina and Korea Gas, set a high bar in implementing the ideals of UNDRIP and the court-imposed duty to consult with indigenous communities. The consortium brought the Haisla Nation, on whose traditional territories its 14mn tonnes/year liquefaction project is being built, into the project in its very early stages, consulting on a wide spectrum of matters and ensuring employment and business development opportunities would be available to the nation.

At the same time, TC Energy signed benefits agreements with all 20 First Nations impacted by the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipline, which will deliver feed gas to LNG Canada. And 16 of those First Nations are now poised to take an equity interest in the pipeline, once it begins operating later this year.

LNG Canada also paved the way for what has become the benchmark of economic reconciliation efforts – Haisla Nation’s 50% ownership, with Pembina Pipelines, in the Cedar LNG project, 3.1mn tonnes/year a floating liquefaction terminal that will be located virtually next door to the LNG Canada terminal.

Recently, however, the resource development aspirations of other First Nations in BC have stumbled, not for want of reconciliation efforts, but because of disputes between two of the more than 200 First Nations that call BC their traditional territory.

Nisga’a Nation in 2000 became the first BC First Nation with a modern treaty that gives the nation the constitutional right to self-government and economic control over nearly 2,000 km2 of Nisaga’a Treaty lands in northern BC and wildlife harvesting rights in the 16,101-kmNass Wildlife Area.

In 2021, it brought forward plans for Ksi Lisims LNG, a 12mn tonnes/year floating LNG facility on treaty lands at Wil Milit, on Pearse Island, which borders Alaska.

That project is now in the midst of a joint environmental review by the federal and provincial governments, with the participation of the Nisga’a Lisims Government (NLG).

First Nations disconnect

But now a neighbouring First Nation, the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation, appears to be proposing its own LNG project on what it claims is its traditional territory near Anyox, BC, an abandoned mining town within the boundaries of the Nass Wildlife Area.

Word of the proposed project first came to light in a column published by the National Post over the signature of Chris Sankey, a senior fellow at the MacDonald Laurier Institute and a former elected councillor of the Lax Kw’alaams.

Sankey offered few details of this emerging project, other than it is being advanced by the Granby Group, apparently a Vancouver-based corporation with interests in a couple of electricity contractors. No further information about the Granby Group or its proposed project have been found in the usual places, nor has Sankey or anyone at the Granby Group seen fit to reply to repeated requests for further information about the LNG project.

What Sankey did write about – and which has caught the eye of the Nisga’a Lisims Government – is that the Granby Group has been working with the Lax Kw’alaams and the neighbouring Metlakatla First Nation to advance the project, ostensibly with the support of other First Nations in the area.

“The leadership of those two communities will also forge relationships with neighbouring nations to promote shared opportunities and to respect the cultural protocols of those nations,” Sankey writes. “It is important to build a consensus in communities across coastal BC, and to have meaningful participation from all the indigenous communities that depend on the coast for their livelihoods and cultural resilience.”

And it is here where the rubber of Sankey’s claims that the Granby Group, the Lax Kw’alaams and the Metlakatla are forging relationships with other First Nations fails to meet the road of the NLG’s own reality.

“NLG wishes to clarify…that NLG is not aware of any actual project being proposed at that site and the article was written by Mr Sankey and published in the National Post without NLG’s knowledge or input,” the NLG said in a statement to its citizens. 

The site chosen for this phantom project, the NLG writes, is not within the asserted traditional territories of either the Lax Kw’alaams or the Metlakatla, but is rather within the Nass Wildlife Area, where the Nisga’a Nation holds treaty rights under the Nisga’a Final Agreement.

“NLG reiterates that it has not been approached by the Granby Group and has not been notified by any provincial regulator of a potential project at that site,” the NLG concludes. “NLG wishes to assure Nisga’a citizens that the Nisga’a Nation has no knowledge of the proposed project and that the proposed project will not proceed at a site within the Nass Wildlife Area without the Nisga’a Nation’s consent.”

What is most surprising about this whole affair is the disconnect between a few First Nations that have been at the forefront of responsible, engaged resource developments in BC.

Much of the rest of Turtle Island have gotten on board with the aims of UNDRIP, the Supreme Court rulings on duty to consult and the many other forces impacting resource developments on the traditional territories of Canada’s First Nations. Perhaps it’s time for these First Nations themselves to take these ideals to heart.