Indigenous

First Nations voices in support of Coastal GasLink project silenced by fear, says LNG Canada official

A senior corporate official with the joint venture behind an LNG terminal project that would eventually ship natural gas from the Coastal GasLink pipeline says First Nations people who support the project are being silenced by "bullying and intimidation."

Haisla leader says she has been called a 'colonizer' for supporting natural gas project

First Nations people drum and sing at the intersection of Main and Hastings in Vancouver on Jan. 12, 2019 to oppose the Coastal GasLink project in northern B.C. (Chad Pawson/CBC)

A senior corporate official with the joint venture behind an LNG terminal project that would eventually ship natural gas from the Coastal GasLink pipeline says First Nations people who support the project are being silenced by "bullying and intimidation."

Susannah Pierce, director of corporate affairs for LNG Canada, the joint venture behind a planned LNG export terminal in Kitimat, B.C., said fear is keeping many First Nations people who are benefiting from the energy project from voicing their support. 

Pierce penned an email to her friends and colleagues last Friday voicing her frustration with the tone of debate around the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline that is facing opposition from the Wet'suwet'en nation's hereditary leadership. The email was posted on LNG Canada's website on Monday. 

In the email, Pierce said she was "shocked" by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination's call last month to stop three major projects in Canada, including Coastal GasLink, until they get full buy-in from affected First Nations. 

"At the same time as the comments of the committee chairperson became known, I continued to hear about First Nations' members who fear speaking up in support of CGL as they are concerned about further retribution, bullying and intimidation," wrote Pierce.

Susannah Pierce, director of corporate affairs for LNG Canada, the joint venture behind a planned LNG export terminal in Kitimat, B.C., said fear is keeping many First Nations people who are benefiting from the energy project from voicing their support. (Alastair Bird)

LNG Canada is a $40-billion joint venture to export natural gas from a terminal in Kitimat. Five companies from five countries created LNG Canada: Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsubishi Corp., Petronas. PetroChina Co. and Korean Gas Corp.

TC Energy Corp began the $6.2 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline project to connect to the LNG Canada terminal. 

Tensions are again rising in northern British Columbia in the face of a court injunction against any continued physical obstruction of work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline. RCMP enforcement of an interim injunction last January at a fortified Wet'suwet'en checkpoint led to 14 arrests and there are growing fears of a repeat police operation. 

"What I am worried about is people being afraid to speak of the things they want because of the bullying and intimidation online," said Pierce, in an interview with CBC News. 

Pierce said she wrote the email as a way to express personal support for First Nations people who back the project but fear speaking out.  

"There are people on the other side of that Internet and there are people … working in the field and there are people who are trying to make a living," said Pierce. 

"I want people to feel I understand that. I know what they are going through. I know that puts me out there. I am also trying to say I will stand there with you .... I am here to support you and you are not alone."

Haisla politician called 'apple'

Crystal Smith, the elected chief councillor for the Haisla nation, whose territory includes the site for the LNG Canada terminal, said she's been barraged by personal attacks through social media calling her a "colonizer" and for supporting the oppression of her people. 

Smith, whose nation has agreements with LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink, said the personal attacks began in force following the RCMP action in neighbouring Wet'suwet'en nation territory last year. 

"I see personal comments directed at myself, referred to as a colonizer and supporting suppressors of our people," said Smith. 

"Our nation has received a huge backlash in the last year in terms of our support of the project and being referred to as a sell-out."

Crystal Smith, the elected chief councillor for the Haisla nation, said she’s been barraged by personal attacks through social media calling her a 'colonizer' and for supporting the oppression of her people. (Haisla.ca)

Smith said she's also received gutter-level attacks accusing her of "having affairs with CEO's of companies."

Smith shared one message with CBC News she received over Facebook messenger last January.

"You're an apple and a sellout," said the message, referring to the slur where someone is accused of being Indigenous on the outside and white on the inside. 

"This is colonization. You are stepping away from reconciliation and turning it to assimilation."

Smith said her nation struggled with the decision to support the natural gas project and it created tensions within the community and within families. In the end, she said the nation decided that it was in their best interest to support it. 

"I truly feel passionate and I truly feel that what we are doing is the right thing as a nation," said Smith. 

"For too many centuries our First Nation communities haven't had a solution as to how we are going to end the poverty and the suicide rates, not having hope for the future and staying with the status quo," she said. 

"Whether you are elected or hereditary, we have a responsibility to our people to improve the quality of life for our members, regardless of where they reside...and I believe the solution is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our people."

Government blamed for creating tension

Karla Tait, who is director of clinical services at a healing centre at the Unist'ot'en camp which is part of the Wet'suwet'en nation opposition to the project, said it's the government that is creating the tensions. 

"It's also evident the province is fuelling and sponsoring what I would call factions to make it seem like there is disagreement among the rightful title holders on these lands," said Tait.

Freda Huson (left) at the entrance to the Unist'ot'en camp and healing centre with a supporter, speaks to a member of the RCMP Division Liaison Team last January. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

Tait said the issue is not about economic development.

"This is a rights and title issue and if rights and title are respected here, it's going to benefit all First Nations."

Freda Huson, who is a spokesperson for the Unist'ot'en camp, said the issue is also about the authority of hereditary chiefs. 

Huson said the federal and provincial governments, along with the pipeline company, are the ones who have created the divide within the Wet'suwet'en nation by ignoring the authority of hereditary chiefs. 

"Where are the documents that the hereditary chiefs gave up their responsibility for their lands to band councils? Do they have that? Does it show our hereditary chiefs signed a treaty giving that responsibility to the province or the federal government," said Huson in an interview with CBC News.

"These are the two entities that created the divide. We are not fighting our own people."

 

with a file from Canadian Press