VANCOUVER - Participating in three liquefied natural-gas projects will help a First Nation on British Columbia's North Coast buy back its traditional territory and improve the lives of members, says its chief councillor.
The Haisla occupy territory near the community of Kitimat, B.C., and at the head of Douglas Channel, a strategic site for tankers that will move LNG to Asia and the United States. The First Nation is involved directly or indirectly in three LNG proposals.
On Tuesday, band members gave Joe Oliver, the federal natural resources minister, a one-hour boat tour of some of the proposed sites and met with him afterwards.
Chief Coun. Ellis Ross said in an interview the companies involved in the projects, with the support of the Crown, are giving his First Nation the ability to acquire land without a treaty.
"I think the fundamental issue for First Nations in our area, at least for Haisla, fundamentally is still the land issue," he said.
"There's a lot of window dressing on what the issues are. It could be anything from social benefits, welfare, education, health, money, but I think for the Haisla, what we've got to do, is you know, OK, let's go back to the land issues first. Maybe that drives what the answer is to the rest of the issues. I fully believe that."
The band of about 1,700 members is without a treaty, and according to the BC Treaty Commission, it is at the fourth of six stages in the process.
While the Haisla oppose the Northern Gateway oil pipeline, the band has been actively courted by LNG producers.
Ross said the three proposed terminals are the Kitimat LNG facility proposed by Chevron and Apache, the BC LNG proposal and the Shell Kitimat LNG Terminal.
He said the Kitimat LNG facility is located on reserve land. The BC LNG facility is on fee-simple land acquired by the band, which holds 50 per cent of a partnership in the project with Houston-based LNG partners.
The Shell Kitimat LNG Terminal is not on band land but within its traditional territory, and the Haisla is working out its level of involvement with the company, Ross said.
Ross said his band also took Oliver to see sites related to other proposed economic developments not related to LNG.
"He requested the meeting with us," said Ross. "So we just made arrangements."
Oliver said Kitimat provides Canada and the world with a deep-sea route through Douglas Channel to the Asia-Pacific region, and the Haisla and all Canadians stand to benefit from the proposed projects.
"The community is located in a strategically important area, which can become a hub for natural-gas liquification and transport ... and they're aware of this," he said.
Oliver said the federal government has an obligation to meet with and talk to communities and find out their concerns and goals.
"What we're all looking for, I think, are ways to maximize, you know, the benefits to aboriginal communities ... so that they can see those benefits, and be supportive where appropriate and where of course there has been a positive-regulatory review done."
B.C. Premier Christy Clark has said the LNG industry represents an economic opportunity worth an estimated $1 trillion and the potential to create 100,000 jobs.