Lax Kw’alaams vote shows environment tops LNG cash

A Lax Kw’alaams band member explains the community meetings and the rejection of the billion dollar vote

By Lisa Girbav

My name is Lisa Girbav and I am a Lax Kw’alaams band member. My mother is Jennifer Sampson and my father is Kevin Girbav. My grandparents on my mother’s side are Reginald Sampson and Pauline Sampson (nee Gosnell). 

I attended the Lax Kw’alaams community meetings held in Prince Rupert on May 6 and 7, 2015 that discussed the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Line and the Pacific NorthWest LNG facility proposed for Lelu Island.

The Lax Kw’alaams band was offered an approximately $1 billion dollar benefit package spread out over 40 years to sign onto these mega projects.

The aim of the informational meetings, which were organized by the Lax Kw’alaams band, were to inform the Lax Kw’alaams community of the impacts and benefits involved with these projects.

The council was also seeking guidance from the community on how to proceed with these projects.

The first night consisted of an independent environmental assessment that was contracted by the Lax Kw’alaams band for the area around Lelu Island and Flora Bank.

The team of upwards of six specialists in marine biology, geology and oceanography gave the Lax Kw’alaams community an evidence-based presentation of the environmental risks associated with the proposed projects.

Between the sediment trend analysis of Flora Bank and the high biodiversity and productivity of the Skeena estuary, these researchers systematically showed how delicately balanced Flora Bank is in its natural state.

The conclusion that was reached on that first night between community members and researchers was that if Flora Bank is compromised, we risk compromising the entire marine food web of the northwest coast.

The second community meeting was structured drastically different. The proponents of the mega LNG projects seemed to approach the meeting as if it were a corporate sales pitch, rather than an informative discussion with the community.

They spoke slowly. When questioned on the environmental risks, the proponents had one biologist on hand.

There was concern from the community that the proponents had not conducted their environmental assessment in a sound manner, based on the proponents’ research methodologies that were discussed the night previous.

An issue that was raised was that the report heavily relied on decades old Department of Fisheries and Oceans data, rather than current data and conditions.

At the end of the second meeting, the community unanimously voted against the project proposals and the $1 billion dollar benefits package.

A criticism that was raised by the community was that the process leading up to the vote did not involve ongoing community consultation.

Industry and government have the duty to adequately consult and meaningfully accommodate First Nations people who have been systematically dispossessed from their lands.

It seems these parties have succeeded in preventing earlier discussions with the entire community through the use of non-disclosure agreements, which limits the consultation process to the elected council and their lawyers.

Free, prior and informed consent to a project that can affect the entire northwest does not come from two community meetings across 48 hours with a vote at the end of the night.

The Lax Kw’alaams community wants information free of coercion, intimidation and manipulation; not a sales pitch with a billion dollar price tag.

First Nations are not “anti-industry.”

We want to benefit from development just as Western society has.

And our community would stand to benefit from this deal; a billion dollars could pay for much needed social services.

Our community, much like many other First Nations communities, is underfunded compared to urban settlements with high instances of suicide, substance abuse and poverty.

However, our collective motivation for this vote stems from the fundamental belief that our environment, our culture, and our livelihoods are dependent on the health of this territory, and we want to make sure that these resources are here for generations to come.

Money is not worth the risk of losing the ability to fish, hunt, and harvest traditional foods, not only for our own community, but also for those unborn and for the thousands of people who live in the Skeena watershed.

At the end of the day, you can’t eat money.

Lisa Girbav is a student at the University of Victoria studying political science, environmental studies, and Indigenous studies. She works in broadcasting and communications and has a background in provincial politics.