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British Columbia First Nations dig in on LNG projects


British Columbia First Nations, despite divisions within their own ranks, will not be swayed by government and industry pressure to clear the way for LNG projects, aboriginal leader Ed John told an LNG summit Thursday.

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He rejected a claim at the summit by Canada's Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver that if Canada fails to act immediately it will be cut out of the Asian LNG marketplace, saying that on five recent trips to Asia he did "not see anything from any source that tells me there is a sense of urgency."

But Japan's ambassador to Canada, Norihiro Okuda, told the summit Wednesday that time is a factor given the lack of LNG infrastructure in British Columbia.

He said Japanese government agencies and companies need to know soon how natural gas will be produced in northeastern British Columbia and delivered to liquefaction terminals on the Pacific Coast "so that they can make strategic long-term decisions ... they are pressed for time."

The debate at the summit in the northern British Columbia city of Prince George occurred ahead of Friday's scheduled formalizing in Vancouver of bilateral Canada-Japan co-operation on oil and natural gas development.

First Nations opposition has been largely responsible for putting Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline -- to export 525,000 b/d of oil sands bitumen to Asia and California -- two years behind schedule and slowing progress on Kinder Morgan's plans to triple capacity on its Trans Mountain system to 890,000 b/d.

Okuda, describing himself as a "novice" on First Nations issues, said the Japanese government is committed to learning more about aboriginal issues and was encouraged by the discussions that had taken place at the conference with "legitimate interlocutors."

John, chief treaty negotiator with the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, which organized the summit, said he wants to decelerate the push for LNG approvals to allow time to fully explore aboriginal environmental and economic concerns over gas development, pipelines, liquefaction terminals and tanker traffic in Pacific waters.

"For us, the land is absolutely critical," he said. "If somebody wants to build a pipeline across our land we need to have a thorough assessment of what that means."

Carrier Sekani Chief Terry Teegee said Thursday it is possible for the First Nations "to speak with one voice," but conceded some communities have refused to participate in the LNG process.

"It's up to them," he said. "They have every right to make an informed decision."

Teegee said his region is already dealing with five LNG projects, with the prospect of another eight being added to the list, and three pipeline routes.

He said the five most advanced projects, operated by BC LNG Co-operative, Chevron, Shell, Petronas and BG Group, involve plans to export a combined 48 million mt/year by late 2015.

"These projects are not a slam dunk," Teegee said, noting that First Nations across Canada have compiled more than 180 court victories in the past two years either halting or forcing modifications to resource projects.

The court actions are based on a 1997 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada requiring governments to consult with First Nations on any projects affecting territorial land.

British Columbia is also under pressure to settle treaty claims with 184 First Nations, about 50 of them currently in the negotiating process.

But when British Columbia Premier Christy Clark appointed new Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad in June she gave him a mandate to secure at least 10 non-treaty benefit agreements with First Nations over the next two years.

In her annual report released Tuesday, Sophie Pierre, chief commissioner of the B.C. Treaty Commission, was critical of the government's "movement away from long-term solutions in favor of short-term economic opportunities."

She also faulted the Canadian government for going "from pillar to post, reviewing, studying and analyzing issues rather than just getting on with the hard work of negotiations in good faith."

Rustad told the Prince George summit that getting agreement with every First Nations group on LNG is not a prerequisite for beginning development.

"Our hope is we'll be able to bring everyone onside ... and realize the economic benefits," he said. "But it's not a requirement."

Doug Donaldson, the New Democratic Party's aboriginal relations spokesman in the British Columbia legislature, said Clark's Liberal government is "creating uncertainty about whether the LNG projects will bring real benefits" by failing to show how they will train and create jobs for First Nations members.

He cited the case of the Gitanyow First Nation in north-central British Columbia, where two natural gas pipelines could traverse traditional lands.

The Gitanyow signed a reconciliation agreement with the British Columbia government two years ago defining what and where industrial development could occur, but were informed in May the land-use plan did not apply to pipelines, Donaldson said, arguing that "creates an atmosphere of distrust."

The summit coincided with a fact-finding visit to Canada by James Anaya, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, in response to complaints from First Nations about issues such as resource development.

He told reporters Wednesday his report will be "guided by what aboriginal people and the (Canadian) government signal are the issues needing most attention."

--Gary Park,
--Edited by Jason Lindquist,