Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Environmental and Economic Development Choices Split Canada's First Nations

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Environmental and Economic Development Choices Split Canada's First Nations

Article excerpt

Indigenous-industry balance hard to find

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CALGARY - A Vancouver-area First Nation's decision to support the Woodfibre LNG project may have come as a surprise to some, considering the nation's role in helping to derail the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion earlier this year.

The Squamish Nation community was one of a handful of First Nations that lined up to convince the Federal Court of Appeal in August to overturn National Energy Board approval of the controversial oil pipeline expansion from Edmonton to the West Coast, leaving its future in doubt.

But the nation's acceptance of the liquefied natural gas export project last month reinforces a simple truth, says historian Ken Coates: While Canada's first people may approach tough questions differently than non-native Canadians, their decisions are motivated by many of the same factors.

"These are complex issues and you're always going to have people on both sides," said the Macdonald-Laurier Institute's senior fellow in Aboriginal and northern Canadian issues and the author of several books and publications on Indigenous relations.

"These are communities that need real sustainable, substantial economic benefit, where Indigenous people have been locked out of the market economy for 150 years, since Confederation. They've been wanting in for a long period of time."

Woodfibre LNG gained trust through five years of consultations and by agreeing to abide by conditions under the nation's environmental and cultural assessment process (which operates separately from federal and provincial regimes), said Khelsilem, a spokesman for the Squamish Nation council, and one of its councillors who voted against the proposal in a close 8-6 vote.

In return for its support, the community is to receive annual and milestone payments totalling $226 million over the 40-year life of the project, and its companies will be in line to bid on up to $872 million in contracts.

Hundreds of jobs are expected to result for the nation's 4,000 members, nearly half of whom live off reserve in the Greater Vancouver area.

Khelsilem, who uses one name, said the product involved in each project -- Woodfibre LNG's relatively benign natural gas versus the "extreme risk" of diluted bitumen from the oilsands in the Trans Mountain pipeline -- was just one of several factors in the decision to back one and fight the other.

"I think that if governments want to work with First Nations to create economic development, there's ways to do it. And our nation like many other First Nations are saying, 'We want to do it, we want to do responsible economic development and there are ways for the government to work with us on that,'" he said.

But, he added: "Our future isn't in the resource extraction industries like a lot of other First Nations."

The court-enforced duty of the federal government to consult, and where appropriate, accommodate Indigenous wishes when it considers projects that might adversely impact potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights, makes their support key to both industry and environmentalists. …

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