It's always been a hot topic: LNG in Canada and B.C. but one First Nations organization says there is a lot of misinformation when it comes to Indigenous support during a Prince George panel visit today (March. 14).
The First Nation LNG Alliance Society is a merging collective of First Nations that are associated with Coastal GasLink while also promoting the positives that could come out of such a project.
The Coastal GasLink project is roughly 670 km of pipeline that would deliver natural gas from the Dawson Creek area to a proposed LNG Canada facility located near Kitimat, B.C.
"We now have the opportunity to deliver our natural resources to tidewater which has been a challenge of B.C. and Canada in the past," former chief of McLeod Indian Band Derk Orr says. "In order to do that, it helps provide us with more dollars for our communities to build hospitals, community development and a number of areas."
Karen Ogen, CEO of the First Nation LNG Alliance Society says her main focus has always been on improving lives of Indigenous peoples in communities.
"To promote LNG, it's a tough job," she says. "In my mind, having been in social work for so many years, we just want a better quality of life for our people and how do we do that?"
"The elected chiefs, I just want to commend them," she continued. "The chiefs and councils for each of the communities, that's a tough job. There are so many needs of the community, you have to address those issues and then begin negotiations with the government and industry."
Derek Orr, former chief of the McLeod Lake Indian Band, introduces the panellists at our #LNG information session and job fair in Prince George today. He opened by telling young people in the audience: ‘There are opportunities for you now.’ #LNGinBC #bcpoli pic.twitter.com/9jOQzOpTD9— FN LNG Alliance (@FNLNGAlliance) March 14, 2019
"As leadership, when you step up to the plate, it's to serve the people," she says. "It's not the other way around. We are making history whether it's a controversial issue. I've had to do a lot of learning from social work to being a politician and learning about LNG and what it means to our community."
She adds one of the main reasons the alliance was formed in the first place was to help fight misconceptions that some may believe are the truth. She said she wants community members to know both sides of the argument.
"I think that's really important," she says. "Seek to understand and to be understood. That is important. That's one of the reasons we formed this alliance and we still to this day, we are probably one of the most misunderstood organizations. We work for our people."
Ogen says Indigenous peoples must come first. When it comes to Coastal GasLink, she says they are being told there will be more jobs than there are people. This is why they are holding job fairs.
Chief Crystal Smith of the Haisla First Nation also addressed the frustration of seeing misinformation on social media regarding First Nations stances on LNG and the Coastal GasLink project.
"Since January actually, the challenges have stepped up to another level in terms of adversity that we as a nation have seen and faced personally," Smith says. "For myself, seeing a lot of the negative comments on Facebook where there is a lot of misinformation that is being sensationalized across the province in terms of these (LNG) projects and the impacts. I think a huge missing context in all of that conversation is our aboriginal participation. What I mean by aboriginal participation is that, you've got 20 communities along the pipeline that have signed benefit agreements, have signed on in support of this project and then you've got another additional two to three along the tanker."
Smith says no permits for the LNG Canada project went before a regulatory body without their participation even saying one permit application took 86 meetings over a three to four year period.
"We worked through the issues of those permit applications," she says. "They had the input from our specialists and they had the input from our cultural aspect on what those permit applications would have in our territory. I take a look at the comments that have been made of selling our environment out, that we're rooting it for a dollar figure, it's difficult to read those because there are a lot of important facts that haven't been put out to the province, to the world in terms of our participation in this project."
Chief Archie Patrick of Stellat'en First Nation echoed a similar message about misconstrued messages in the public, saying attacks against them are hurtful when referred to as "being sellouts.'"
"They are an insult to my people," he says.
Chief Archie Patrick of the Stellat’en Nation: Attacks on #Indigenous supporters of LNG as ‘sellouts’ are not only hurtful, ‘they are an insult to my people.’ This at our #LNG employment session in Prince George today. LNGinBC #bcpoli pic.twitter.com/kcdjYODMKF— FN LNG Alliance (@FNLNGAlliance) March 14, 2019
"We've seen individual benefits in terms of training opportunities," Jasmine Thomas, Councillor of Saik'uz First Nation, adds. "But we've also seen opportunities for our community businesses."