Christy Clark confronted by Aboriginal leaders torn over LNG plans
Treaty 8 Chiefs want economic opportunities from LNG, but worry about "Tar Sands scale" industrialization harming their land, water and wildlife.
It was an uncomfortable moment.
Treaty 8 Chiefs travelled to the Premier’s LNG summit in Vancouver this past week hoping to present Clark with a scathing letter that describes the mere "token consultation" the province has had with them over LNG.
The Cree-Dene leaders are both afraid and interested in B.C.'s multi-billion-dollar gas plans for their remote northeast territories. So they sought to invite the Premier to their homeland for a June 21st event celebrating the 100th anniversary of their treaty with the Crown, as an opportunity to re-open the dialogue.
But the attempt didn't go down that well.
For the previous hour, Christy Clark was on stage with the President of Shell Oil boasting to some 1,500 delegates about the unprecedented opportunities for natural gas development in B.C. But with the chiefs in the front row listening, she scarcely mentioned the Treaty 8 lands so critical to her LNG dreams.
“If you live on top of a sea of energy, for heaven’s sake, you should benefit from when that energy is extracted from your land,” Clark told the marquee industry crowd.
Premier Christy Clark and Shell Oil President Marvin Odum at LNG Summit Vancouver - Mychaylo Prystupa
Union of BC Indian Chiefs’ Grand Chief Stewart Phillip found the talk hard to stomach.
“It was incredibly difficult for our leaders, the Treaty 8 leaders, to listen to Premier Clark when she stated that her government was ‘deeply engaged’ with First Nations people of the province, and that is absolutely not the case.”
And following Clark’s industry talk, the northeast chiefs’ hoped for encounter with the Premier was evaporating.
“Will you go to the side over here in the corner?” Treaty 8 Tribal Association Chief Liz Logan recalls being asked by the Premier’s chief of staff.
“They didn’t want to do anything publicly. They thought we were going to do something. It was silly.”
So an impromptu walkover took place. Premier Clark smiled awkwardly. Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad looked sheepish. Unhappy photos were snapped.
“She made it uncomfortable. Like we wanted to do it in a different way. And they made such a big deal about it. It could have been a good thing,” said Logan.
The Premier's office did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, and her lieutenant could not confirm if she would go to the June 21st event.
"I can't speak for the Premier's schedule. She's usually booked months in advance," Minister Rustad told reporters Friday.
"But what I do appreciate about the request is that they do want to engage, and work with us on the issues that they have," he added.
So goes the fractured relationship between the province and the Treaty 8 chiefs. Their letter to the Premier makes this point sourly:
"We experience this indifference from your government on a regular basis. Shamefully, it has become the hallmark of our relationship."
Existing gas plants in Treaty 8 lands - Chief Liz Logan photo
The northeast First Nations have lived with oil and gas for 60 years, and understand the economic opportunities that could flow from LNG. But they also worry just how much more the region can take.
Site C Dam and LNG together would cause massive disruption of the land, air and water. Their polling shows 50% of their members are uncertain about LNG in particular, and 20% are vehemently opposed.
Fears of Tar-Sands-scale industrialization
Many are worried the north will see a rapid Alberta-style industrialization, much like the Tar Sands.
“That’s what we’re afraid of. If LNG goes through, they’re predicting upwards of 50,000 to 60,000 new frack wells… and all the associated infrastructure that goes with it: roads, pipelines, seismic, drilling. It’s scary,” said Tribal Chief Logan.
“We’re not opposed to creating a good economy for everybody, but there has to be some type of sustainable development. We can’t drink the water up there any more.”
“There’s more and more moose, rabbit and beaver organs that we’re finding that have [puss-like] abscesses on them. Sometimes we open an animal and it smells almost rotten.”
Moose liver with unusual white abscesses near gas plants in Treaty 8 lands - Tribal 8 Association photo.