What’s the rush?
That was the message from chiefs at the B.C. First Nations LNG Summit in Prince George this week. With the provincial government touting five liquefied natural gas plants possible for the Northwest in the coming years, and as pipeline proposals come rolling through First Nations territory, they are feeling under the gun.
“We’re really feeling the pressure, from not only the provincial government, but the proponents,” said Carrier Sekani Tribal Chief Terry Teegee. “Really, we should be dealing with the two levels of government.”
He added that First Nations have limited resources to examine these projects properly to determine whether they are in the band’s interest or not.
Grand Chief Edward John was a little more direct, using his band as an example.
“There’s a proposal for Trans Canada Pipeline to through adjacent to one of our villages,” he said. “Companies come in with a sense of urgency. We have to have a socioeconomic impact study done by the end of this month. The situation is this we have no resources in our communities, we have a company coming in with a pipeline who are expecting us to jump up and down at their beck and call.”
He said the band has no help from the provincial or federal government to deal with these things. In this case, Trans Canada Pipeline gave the band $75,000 to help pay for some of the work required.
“That’s welcomed by the community,” said John, “But a significant amount money is required to make the kind of decisions that are required.”
John says they are continually told that the demand is market driven and Canada has a small window of opportunity to get into the market.
“We haven’t seen anything from any source that says there’s that sense of urgency,” John said. “I’ve been to China five times, no thanks to either government … Somebody’s telling us there’s urgency here, and we don’t understand the source of that urgency, except somebody’s telling us it’s urgent. We have to slow this process down.”
Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Judy Wilson-Raybould said there is a bigger issue that needs to be solved first.
“First Nations have been engaged and thinking about these situations for a long time,” she said. “They have been fundamentally wanting to solve the land question in British Columbia. We’re not opposed to development, but not at any cost.”
She said First Nations want to find a balance between economic development and ensuring that the land will be protected and sustained.
“Our relationship has to go beyond the ribbon-cutting and the initial influx of money,” she said. “It has to be fundamentally more sustainable and comprehensive in terms of ensuring we’re in partnership with other governments and industry.”
Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad said he is currently working to developing a “strategic engagement agreement” with a group of First Nations within the Carrier Sekani to deal with the concerns.