Steven HeywoodBlack Press
First Nations Chiefs on the east side of the Saanich Inlet are opposing the proposed Malahat LNG project and are calling on their neighbours to stand with them.
The Chiefs of the Tsawout, Pauquachin, Tseycum and Tsartlip First Nations stood at an overlook at the Tsawout community Tuesday morning. With the site of the proposed floating liquified natural gas terminal in the background, the Chiefs decried what they called a lack of consultation by the proponent, Steelhead LNG, and the granting in October last year of an export license to the company by the National Energy Board.
Steelhead LNG has proposed an LNG terminal and liquefaction plant on the west side of the inlet at Bamberton, as well as an underwater gas pipeline. The company had announced an agreement with the Malahat First Nation in August 2015.
Tsawout Chief Don Tom said there are no conditions under which his community would support the project, as it directly impacts on their fishing and hunting rights and spiritual connection to the inlet.
“No,” he said, “this would not benefit us in any way and undo all of the rehabilitation work that has gone on in the Sannich Inlet.”
Tom said local First Nations are trying to protect their way of life, recognized under treaty. That requires, he continued, government at all levels and proponents like Steelhead LNG to consult with them.
“Under our law, when people come in to our territory and disrupt those laws and rights, it’s our obligation to correct them.”
In a statement, Steelhead LNG wrote the project is still in its early stages and “environmental stewardship of the proposed project is our number one priority.”
The company also stated they are “fully committed to evaluating (the project) in a way that is respectful, transparent and science-based.” Steelhead LNG added they will continue to engage with the WSANEC communities and other potential affected First Nations, to address concerns.
The Chiefs, in a media release, also put the Province of B.C. “on notice that they do not have jurisdiction to interfere with the continuity of our treaty rights and will incur liability and put any LNG project at significant risk of cancellation should they choose to provide permits and authorizations to the proponents without our consent.”
Tom added proponents of any projects, if they disregard the community, would be “invited to leave.”
“We are here to say if Steelhead LNG continues as it has been, it is unwelcome to do business in this territory,” Tom said.
The B.C. Ministry of Natural Gas Development, in a statement, said the project would be “subject to rigorous environmental reviews and permitting processes before it could be built.” As well, they wrote that any provincial assessment must include consultation and engagement with First Nations who may be impacted.
Harvey Underwood, Chief of the Tsawout First Nation, and Rebecca Davis, Chief of the Pauquachin, added their support to Tom and the opposition to Malahat LNG.
Tsartlip Edler Tom Sampson said the courts have upheld First Nations treaty rights and the communities along the Saanich Inlet “are not going to give it away.”
“We are the legal owners of this land … and LNG will never come here,” he said.
Sampson advocated for people, young and old, to stand up to prevent the project.
Tom said the WSANEC First Nations are looking into legal and political options.
“We will request a meeting with the Prime Minister when he’s here on the Island on March 11 to 13,” he said. “We will discuss the Crowns obligations and duty to First Nations.”
Tom added he welcomes neighbouring municipalities, if they stand against Malahat LNG, to contribute to a legal war chest.