First Nations leaders from northern British Columbia took a strong stance at the United Nations on Thursday in opposition to plans to build a liquefied natural gas project in their ancestral lands. They called upon member nations of the world body to support their demand that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government reject the proposed Pacific Northwest LNG project being advanced by Malaysia’s state oil company, Petronas.
Algmxaa, Murray Smith, a House Leader of the Gitwilgyoots Tribe – one of the Nine Allied Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams that has expressed deep concerns about the threat posed to wild salmon habitat by Pacific Northwest’s $36-billion fossil fuel project proposed for the mouth of the Skeena River, was joined at the United Nations by Li’dytsm’Lax’nee’ga Neexl, Christine Smith-Martin, of the same tribe; by Na’ Moks, John Ridsdale, a Hereditary Chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and spokesperson for the Office of the Wet’suwet’en; and by HapWilxsa, Kirby Muldoe, of the up-river Gitxsan First Nation.
Their appearance at the UN came just two days after the Canadian government was at the 15th session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, where Canada pledged to abide fully with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
“Right now, in our ancestral lands, everything the Trudeau government has pledged to get right with Canada’s Indigenous peoples is in danger of going very, very wrong,” Ridsdale said. “It is 2016, and Petronas is the wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“We will not sell our salmon future for any price,” said Smith.
“We are not against development, but we are against this dangerous, irresponsible, foreign-owned and illegal intrusion into our sacred homelands,” Smith said. “We stand against this project for all the peoples of this world. We don’t want money, we want justice. We invite you to join our battle, to add your voices to our struggle to protect the only home we have ever had.”
“We are not here to pick a fight,” Smith-Martin said. “We are here to respectfully entreat our government to do the right thing – and we want the world to bear witness to our concerns. The Prime Minister talks of building a nation-to-nation relationship. Well, our nation is again telling Canada that it cannot build this project, and we are telling the world that we will continue to fight this project. It simply will not get built in the Sacred Tidewaters of our Salmon Nation.”
The Canadian government is currently considering an amended proposal from Pacific Northwest LNG as part of a federal environmental assessment that has been harshly criticized by salmon and climate scientists, and by Aboriginal legal scholars who believe the process does not meet the standard of “free, prior and informed consent” required by UNDRIP.
The Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition said the project directly threatens eelgrass habitat at the mouth of the Skeena, the second-biggest salmon river in Canada. The Hazelton organization also said it, “promises to become the single largest point source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in Canada, directly undermining Trudeau’s commitments – signed at the UN less than three weeks ago – to become a world climate change leader.”
“To us, what happens in the Skeena right now is a litmus test for our new government,” Muldoe said. “Our food security is at risk. So is our culture. We are the natural stewards of the Skeena, and we will not allow it to be desecrated by an offshore oil company, period.”
“What we are hearing at the UN is that many other hereditary Canadian First Nations leaders share our concern that the Trudeau government is confused about where decision-making authority lies when it comes to our lands and waters. Our band councils are not nations. If the Government of Canada wants a nation-to-nation relationship, then that begins and ends with our ancestral, hereditary leadership. And in the case of Petronas, that begins by putting an end to this project without further delay,” said Smith-Martin.