Three First Nations signed LNG pipeline benefit agreements with the province the last two weeks, moving forward the process of building the Coastal GasLink pipeline south of the Bulkley Valley. The pipeline was issued an environmental assessment certificate this fall.
The Wet’suwet’en, Skin Tyee and Nee Tahi Buhn are the first three to sign agreements with the province. There are 20 First Nations along the route who need to sign agreements. Wet’suwet’en Chief Karen Ogen, who was the latest to sign the deal last week, said a separate industry benefit agreement has also been signed with Shell Canada, who will be using the TransCanada-built pipeline to bring liquified natural gas from northeast B.C. to an export facility in Kitimat. Ogen said the details of that deal cannot be released due to a confidentiality agreement.
The deal with the province will give the Wet’suwet’en $2.8 million over three stages: $464,000 upon signing the agreement, $1.16 million when pipeline construction begins, and $1.16 million when the pipeline is in service. Another $10 million over three years will be shared by First Nations along the route. How that money will be divided is expected to be figured out early in the new year.
The Skin Tyee First Nation will receive approximately $2.8 million from the province: $466,000 upon signing the agreement, $1.15 million when pipeline construction begins, and $1.15 million when the pipeline is in service. The Nee Tahi Buhn Indian Band will receive approximately $2.5 million: $420,000 upon signing the agreement, $1.05 million when construction begins, and $1.05 million when the pipeline is operating.
Chief Ogen said a meeting was scheduled for last night to explain the benefits to members of the Wet’suwet’en, including the share of the $10 million that would go towards economic development.
“As far as I’m concerned it’ss what’s more meaningful to our nation is meaningful job opportunities and training opportunities,” said Ogen, who gave the example of heavy equipment operation (HEO).
“Before pipelines came along, if any of our members wanted to take heavy equipment operator training, the tuition can range between $14,000 and $20,000. Our nation is small, we have 241 members, and our revenue that comes from Aboriginal and Northern Development is very minimal.
“So whatever funding pockets we received for education, that would probably eat up half of our budget to pay for somebody to take the HEO training,” said Ogen.
The chief said since the Pacific Trail Pipeline deal signed before she was elected, members have taken the training and gotten jobs with HEO, welding, and environmental monitoring.
“The opportunities are endless, it’s not just a money grab situation. We’re thinking long term,” said Ogen, who also stressed the importance of the environmental stewardship projects that are part of the deal.
“We are expecting the highest environmental standard. We’re not going to just nilly-willy sign on to any agreement that’s going to impact our territory in a devastating way… Our choice is today we maintain the status quo, continue to live off government funds and hand outs that are minimal from Indian and Northern Affairs, or we see it as an economic opportunity that’s going to employ our people with meaningful training under their belt that’s going to be long-lasting beyond the construction of the pipeline, and it’s going to empower and encourage our people to get into some form of training that’s going to sustain their livelihood,” said Ogen.
“We’re looking at liquified natural gas not only being a huge benefit and a legacy for the province of British Columbia, but also for First Nations. These types of agreement in particular, for the Wet’suwet’en, helps to provide that revenue stream that they could use to drive investment and to help build an economy,” said Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad.
“It’s really also a way that we as a province work respectively with First Nations to make sure that as resources are developed, and as the impact of the territories of First Nations they are really able to see the benefits that come from that kind of development.”
The First Nation will also be bidding on contracts according to the chief, including camp services, security, and clearing the route.
All three of the First Nation signatories are elected band councils from the Burns Lake area.
“They have asserted their territories and we work with the elected chief and councils,” said Rustad.
“We have seven hereditary chiefs, and we have four of them who have signed our protocol. The door’s still open to the three chiefs that want to work with us. There’s no hidden agenda, no motive other than to work together, to be accountable and transparent to both governing system and to our people,” said Ogen.
Hereditary Chief John Ridsdale (Namoks) said the chiefs of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, based in Smithers, banned construction of the planned pipelines on June 20, 2013.
“They’re signing on behalf of their small reserve, not the Wet’suwet’en chiefs nor our membership as a whole,” explained Ridsdale.
It is the location of the planned pipeline route that has Ridsdale and others strongly opposed.
“We’ll use every avenue at our disposal to prevent these proposed pipelines within the Morice watershed,” said Ridsdale.
Camps meant to block construction have been set up by aboriginal groups along the Coastal GasLink and Pacific Trail pipeline routes.
Ridsdale said ministers from the province have met with the hereditary chiefs, to no avail.
“We reiterated that fact to them many times. They keep coming back to us saying this is a business decision, and we say it’s not a business decision it’s an infringement decision on your behalf and for industry. Any work to be done on Wet’suwet’en territory, remember we do have 22,000 square kilometres, any work on that without informed consent is an infringement,” said Ridsdale, pointing to past court decisions that give B.C. First Nations a more defined say on development on their territory.
The project still requires various federal, provincial and local government permits to proceed.