The rift that LNG is causing in the Moricetown community and the Wet’suwet’en Nation grew wider when arguments for and against allowing pipeline projects on traditional land collided with force at a community meeting in Moricetown last Thursday.
A heated discussion lasting more than three hours failed to provide any clearcut answers for the Moricetown Band, which was still in discussions over whether to sign three financial benefits agreements at the time of print on Monday.
With millions of dollars in payments pending their support, the band called the meeting at the Moricetown Multiplex to give the community a detailed explanation of the deals being considered.
In a statement released the day before, Moricetown Chief Barry Nikal had already expressed his support for allowing LNG development in exchange for financial benefits.
Those benefits were outlined in detail at the meeting in a presentation by Lowell Johnson, a consultant negotiating on behalf of the band.
With an audience of hundreds, Johnson explained the three agreements individually, starting with the First Nations Group Limited Partnership (FNLP).
An agreement between Chevron and Apache and 15 aboriginal groups who have already signed, the FNLP provides immediate and long-term financial rewards in exchange for support of the proposed Pacific Trails Pipeline from Summit Lake to Kitimat.
The second deal, a provincial government benefits agreement, pertains to TransCanada’s Coastal Gaslink Pipeline and consists of a combination of employment and environmental funds and legacy payments.
The third proposal is a participation agreement with the provincial government, also relating to the Coastal Gaslink project, which provides financial rewards to the Moricetown band for agreeing to support consultation.
If it signs the document, the band agrees not to take court action or proceedings on the basis that the province failed to consult or infringe on band rights while negotiating.
The band must also agree not to support or participate in action that impedes the pipeline proponent’s activities, and to work with the province to resolve conflict if such action is taken by any member of the band.
Johnson told the crowd of hundreds the total direct benefits, both short and long-term, for signing the three agreements totalled $131 million.
He said the agreements would also bring in an estimated 67 million from employment, contracts and carbon management income.
At the conclusion of Johnson’s presentation, Wet’suwet’en Chief John Ridsdale (Namoks) was among the first to speak.
He questioned the commitment of the government, saying Minister of Natural Gas Development Rich Coleman had gone back on a promise made at the same Moricetown hall last year to introduce legislation to prevent LNG pipelines being converted to carry oil.
Instead, he said the government introduced a regulation he believed could be easily reversed.
“If you believe in what they’re saying what else are they going to pull on you?” he said.
“The money that they put up there, that’s very small.
“That’s 35 years we’re talking about, are any of us going to be here in 35 years?”
He said the next generation would live through the outcome of any deals, and questioned if there would be any natural resources for them to access.
But calls for jobs and an end to poverty and social disfunction in Moricetown were as loud and impassioned as those made against the deals.
Band councillor Duane Mitchell defended the band’s desire to bring prosperity to the community.
He said their decision would not be made lightly.
“It’s not easy on us.
“I gotta go to work, work’s not on my mind, this is on my mind.
“You guys are on my mind.
“We’ve got to take care of you guys.
“Whatever the decision is, yes or no, we will still take care of this reserve the best we’ve got.”