Defiant northern Chief galvanizes BC First Nations against Premier's LNG plans
The “Fort Nelson incident” has united First Nations against speedy approvals of a $78 billion industry – potentially “destabilizing” the Premier's entire strategy.
The actions of a young, tough-talking First Nations leader in northeast B.C. last week, that sparked the embarrassing reversal of a cabinet decision to fast-track natural gas plants, appears to be rallying province-wide Aboriginal opposition to Liquified Natural Gas plans.
On April 16, 33-year-old Fort Nelson Chief Sharleen Gale held up an eagle feather at an LNG industry summit in her territory as she emotionally ordered B.C. government officials to exit the conference, to the sound of Dene drummers.
“My elders said, you treat people kind, you treat people with respect… even when they are stabbing you in the back. So I respectfully ask government to please remove yourselves from the room,” stated Gale at the time.
The so-called “Fort Nelson incident” has spurred 28 First Nations bands and political organizations -- including the First Nations Summit -- to sign a Declaration to put B.C.’s LNG Strategy “on hold.”
Speaking a week later, Gale states the moment was a difficult, but necessary step. The former 13-year employee of Spectra Energy said she is not against oil and gas development, but worries about huge LNG impacts to the air and watershed, as well as hunting and fishing.
“I’m new at this, right? But I know what’s right, and I know what’s wrong. I don’t think the way the government is pushing this through is going to work for anybody,” Gale told the Vancouver Observer Tuesday.
“So I think that [the B.C. government] is facing a major legal and political destabilization to its LNG strategy,” she added.
The video-captured incident, uploaded to YouTube, is now being seized by First Nations leaders across B.C. to tell Premier Christy Clark to slow down her LNG plans and respect Aboriginal land and environmental concerns, or risk seeing her entire LNG economic strategy – worth $78 billion – go up in smoke.
Many of these First Nations leaders toured Fort Nelson by helicopter with the Chief, including National Chief Shawn Atleo, as part of last week's LNG summit. But by the end of the summit, the "love in" for LNG was gone.
Fort Nelson Chief Sharleen Gale giving AFN national chief, Haida Nation president, and other VIPs an aerial tour of Horn River Basin - where thousands of frack pads could go in B.C.'s northeast. Twitter.
“This is the end of the love in on LNG," said Coastal First Nation director Art Sterritt on Tuesday.
"Everyone was trying to make it work, but when everyone took off the rose-coloured glasses, you realized everyone was getting a raw deal,” he added.
Problem is, delays could be costly. B.C. is in a footrace with the U.S. and Australia to export natural gas to Asia. Whoever wins could deny others. Billions in B.C. LNG investments are at stake.
Critical to the hoped for LNG boom is Fort Nelson. The First Nation, in BC's northeast corner, sits on top of the largest gas deposit in the province. Two of the largest LNG coastal export facilities in Prince Rupert and Kitimat would also draw gas from this remote area.
Chief Gale has demanded a one-on-one meeting with Premier Clark, citing what she calls the failure of three B.C. cabinet ministers – Rustad, Polak and Coleman -- to deal with her honestly.