British Columbia

Lelu Island LNG project divides First Nations as protest continues

While many First Nations have given at least tentative support to Petronas' LNG project on Lelu Island, Lax Kw'alaams says the territory is theirs, and they will not support it.

While some First Nations tentatively support project, Lax Kw'alaams has been protesting site for 70 days

Lelu Island, near Prince Rupert, B.C., is the proposed site of the Pacific Northwest LNG project, backed by the Malaysian energy company Petronas. (Robin Rowland/Canadian Press)

Petronas' controversial Pacific Northwest LNG project on Lelu Island has several North Coast First Nations at an impasse.

For the past 70 days, members of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation have camped on the liquefied natural gas site to prevent further research, but leaders of the Metlakatla, Kitsumkalum, Kitselas and Gitxaala First Nations want the research work to continue.

Clifford White, chief councillor of the Gitxaala First Nation, told Daybreak North host Russell Bowers that the work is part of "due diligence" to make sure that the environment is protected, should the project go forward.

"We want to make sure nothing gets contaminated or in the way natural habitat, whether it's salmon or shellfish or eelgrass," he said.

"We want to make sure everything is done according to environmental standards, and more than just environmental standards, above environmental standards."

White says he respects his fellow First Nations' right to protest in whatever way they see fit, and it's up to Canada and B.C. to negotiate with all First Nations to make sure their concerns are addressed.

He says that, while his First Nation has not officially supported the Lelu Island project, if environmental protections and monitoring are adequate, "we don't see a problem with it moving forward."

'Offer of a billion dollars'

Lax Kw'alaams Hereditary Chief Donald Wesley says it doesn't matter whether other First Nations want the project to go forward or not.

Wesley says Lelu Island is his First Nation's traditional territory, and their opposition means the project can't go ahead.

"Our rights and title have not been looked at, we've never been consulted on the activities that are taking place … The only consultation we've seen is when Petronas came to our village with their offer of a billion dollars," he said.

Wesley says that while the work is ostensibly being done to ensure environmental protection, workers have been observed drilling many large holes into what he considers the most sensitive salmon-bearing part of Lelu Island and Flora Bank, which are located at the mouth of the Skeena River.

He says his First Nation has reached out to the Prime Minister's Office to have the project stopped, and wouldn't comment on how long his people would stay on Lelu Island to try to stop the work.

Wesley also said there's no way his First Nation would consent to this project.

"They couldn't have put [this project] in a worse possible place. It's right at the mouth of the second biggest salmon-bearing river in British Columbia. Do we really want to give that up?"

In a statement, Pacific NorthWest LNG spokesperson Spencer Sproule defended both his company's consultation efforts and the nature of the work Lelu Island.

"Pacific NorthWest LNG has been undertaking a three year, science based environmental assessment that has included substantial and constructive consultation with area First Nations," he said.

"We are confident that the independent [Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency] process will find that our project can and will be built to the highest environmental standards without causing significant impacts to wild salmon."

To hear the interview with Clifford White, chief councillor of the Gitxaala First Nation, click the audio labelled: First Nations on North Coast divided over Lelu Island LNG

With files from Liam Britten