Industry officials and government heavyweights were in Moricetown last week for a two-day conference on the Pacific Trail natural gas pipeline.Officials from Chevron, who have partnered with Apache on the project, made presentations, as did David de Wit, natural resources manager for the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, BC Liberal cabinet minister Rich Coleman, MLA and aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister John Rustad and Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson.
The proposed 487-km Pacific Trail pipeline will transport gas from Summit Lake, 55 kilometres north of Prince George to their Kitimat LNG site.
Rustad began with an apology and said the BC Liberals acknowledge they have made mistakes in the past when dealing with First Nations on development issues, and pledged to work hard to improve that.
“For too long, we haven’t taken the right approach and we haven’t brought First Nations’ issues, culture and concerns into the process,” Rustad said. “We’ve changed that. We’re going out and trying to make sure it’s a fundamental part of our conscience as we go forward and we’re going to continue to try to work with First Nations to do that.”
Coleman’s remarks assured those in attendance that allowing LNG development through Wet’suwet’en territory did not mean they were giving up their aboriginal rights and title.
“The first time I met with some of the chiefs and elders of the Wet’suwet’en I made one thing very clear,” Coleman said. “None of this is about a First Nations’ community extinguishing their rights and title. This is about a business relationship.
“We’re very respectful of the balance of the rights and title of people and we do not want to put that on the table as part of this discussion because we really don’t believe it should conflict.
“We have an opportunity in front of us in B.C. to set the stage for a brighter future for all of us. A stage where there are jobs, training opportunities and economic development. We can achieve this and change the future. We can only do that if we want to do it together.”
After his presentation, Coleman was asked by Moricetown community chief Barry Nikal about the likelihood of the natural gas pipeline being used to transport oil in the future.
“We’ll actually put legislation in place where that cannot happen,” Coleman said. “We’ve taken the position that natural gas pipelines are natural gas pipelines and they cannot be used [to transport oil].”
Former Ontario Premier Bob Rae, now acting as the chairman of the board of the First Nations Limited Partnership, also spoke about the benefits, immediate and long term, that can be realized by joining the FNLP.
The First Nations Limited Partnership Agreement is an understanding between Chevron, Apache and 15 First Nations’ bands whose traditional territory is along the proposed pipeline’s route. The Moricetown band is the lone holdout.
“[Signing the FNLP agreement] will benefit Moricetown directly, they’ll receive a payment right away and it will also benefit all of the other First Nations communities up and down the line who will get a payment when everybody joins in,” Rae said.
“Longer term, it means that Moricetown can participate in the joint ventures, it can participate in all the job training opportunities and it can participate in all the contracts and opportunities.”
Rae said he believes there is a way for the project to be built so everyone benefits and the environment can be looked after.
“I think it’s fair to say this is going to be a project which will take environmental protection to a new level because of the seriousness that everybody attaches to making sure it gets done in the right way,” he said. “There are provisions in the agreement that give each First Nation clear opportunities and responsibilities to enforce the environmental regulations and the agreements which the province has set.”
Donaldson made a presentation on the final day, where he reminded attendees to never feel like they have to give up their aboriginal rights and title.
“It’s a tremendous amount of pressure they’re under to make the proper decision,” Donaldson said. “The leverage they have, in my opinion, and the reason the ministers were at the forum, is aboriginal rights and title. Rights and title is the ace in the hole the Wet’suwet’en and other First Nations have to play to get a government to government relationship. And that’s what the courts have said, there needs to be a government to government relationship between the province of B.C. and First Nations.
“Once you get that established, then you can start talking about economic interests on the traditional territories and all the business activities that are planned.
“Going with the one-off, project by project deals isn’t going to get you to reconciliation. It flies in the face of the all the work that was done in the Gisdaywa/ Delgamuukw decision.”