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First Nation rejects $1 billion offer for LNG port

Michael T Fenn

May 21, 2015

Members of the Lax Kw’alaams band in the Skeena River region have unanimously rejected a $1 billion proposal by Pacific Northwest LNG to build a LNG port on at the mouth of the Skeena River, which threatens sensitive salmon runs and an eel grass estuary vital to the regions ecology.

“This is not a money issue: this is environmental and cultural,” said the band. “It was a proud moment for our people. We stood our ground,” said band member Donnie Wesley.

Capitalism vs indigenous rights

The offer promised $1.15 billion over 40 years (the equivalent of $319,000 per person), and the transfer of 2,200 hectares of crown land (estimated at $108 million). The plan includes several port terminals along the Northwest coast of BC, that will receive via pipelines the bulk of all BC sources of LNG from Northern BC. The Prince Rupert site on Lelu Island being the most strategic as construction costs for the facility are far more viable than alternative sites and is the shortest route to Asian markets (China and India).

But the plan would turn Lelu Island into an industrial site, and bar access to Lax Kw’alaams members to its traditional plants and medicines. It would also threaten salmon runs and an eel grass estuary. As the band’s press release stated, “The Skeena River is the second largest salmon producing river in BC. The significance of the Skeena River estuary to area First Nations cannot be overstated. Lax Kw’alaams is bound by the traditional law of all Tsimshian and up-river communities to protect the fisheries resource—including the salmon and all other species—for future generations. This is a first line of defense in respect to the aboriginal food fishery, a fishery which has sustained coastal and upriver first nations through the millennia…Only Lax Kw’alaams have a valid claim to aboriginal title in the relevant area—their consent is required for this project to proceed.”

The Province might ignore the decision by arguing it is on “Crown land,” which would also ignore last year’s Tsilhqot’in legal victory—affirming that First Nations have “the exclusive right to decide how the land is used.”

LNG: not green, not sustainable

The recent vote throws another serious wrench into the BC Liberals’ “economic plan” to become a world powerhouse in LNG export. Despite the Liberals’ claim to doing the planet a favour by cultivating the “cleanest of fossil fuels” to power global capitalism and economic growth, the reality is that anything short of a complete elimination of all fossil fuels (almost 80 per cent reduction of fossil fuel consumption by 2050 and 100 per cent by end of century) will push humanity over the cliff of ecological cataclysm. A not so generous bestowment to humanity by the LNG industry and BC liberals after all.

The Liberals claim huge economic benefits for these ports and the industry: billions in investment and tax revenues, generating more than $100,000; 39,000 construction jobs annually over a nine year period and approximately 75,000 once plants are operationally by 2021. But LNG depends on controversial royalty tax rate cuts to make them “viable” (profitable) to private investors, and the promise of good jobs is a mirage. While the labour leadership has supported LNG, there are increasing demands for a just transition for workers to climate jobs, and a growing climate justice making these demands.

What is obvious at the local level for First Nations trying to block colonial “extractivism” from plundering and destroying their land, is also true for the entire planet and its inhabitants. Capitalism threatens humanity’s very survival. Time to join first Nations in their fight, as it is ours as well, and to demand climate job alternatives. This can be part of a movement towards building a rational economic system that provides for human needs rather than the profit margins of corporations and capitalism.  

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