Jul 152015

by Karl Frostkutz

news from Lax Kw’alaams…

Recently the Tsimshian community of Lax Kw’alaams (Port Simpson, north of Prince Rupert) made headlines by voting almost unanimously to reject a $1 billion offer from Petronas to develop an LNG facility on Lelu Island for the export of fracked gas from BC to asia.  That was widely applauded.  The development, in addition to enabling land and water destruction of Treaty 8 territories via fracking, would have destroyed vital salmon habitat in the Flora Banks, potentially crippling salmon stocks in the Skeena River, one of the most important salmon rivers in the world.

Of course any fracked gas development on the coast will be short lived, given the paucity of Canadian reserves next to the capacity of even one LNG facility.  John Hughes, a prominent Canadian geologist, has estimated that Canada has about 10 years of gas reserves, for its own uses, and much less if they invest in export.  What this means is that within 5 to 10 years, any gas pipeline that is built will be converted to the transport of tar sands oil, and all of the pipelines that are being laid are being built with this capacity for switching in mind.

I recently visited Lax Kw’alaams. In addition to a beautiful 4 day kayaking trip to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, I spent some time interviewing people in the community about the Petronas offer and potentials of oil and gas development.  When i first stopped at the band council, i found that the band council employees have been ordered not to talk with anyone about it.  The band council is still apparently  in negotiation with Petronas through lawyers.

I wandered around the community and asked questions of others.  It seems that there is a lot of tension around oil and gas development in the community, but what seems to be a majority opposed.  Some people are upset at the lack on transparency from the band council. Apparently the head of the band council, Gary Reece, is not only trying to develop a new LNG proposal with Petronas, but has already negotiated the building of tug boats by a chinese firm to facilitate oil and gas export facilities in the territory. While any project approval is supposed to have a community vote, there are fears that he may try to sign a deal independently, replicating patterns in other First Nations communities through out Canada, where the government finds whomever it can get to sign papers of agreement and then declares the process legitimate in disregard of existing or traditional legal structures.

On a separate note, Eagle Spirit has also been flying members of the Lax Kw’alaams community down to Vancouver to wine and dine them and sell them on a separate tar sands oil processing facility on their territory.  I found this surprising that there is a part of the community that wants oil development, given the potential devastation from such a project and the wide spread resistance to the idea up and down the coast.

This is not good news for the Skeena and the marine ecosystems in the region.

malcolmMalcolm Sampson, whom i talked with there in Lax Kw’alaams, is a long time fisherman and a local hereditary chief. He has found that the band council has been generally pushing for oil and gas development and ignoring important issues of environmental impacts. He will be running in the October election for head of band council on a ‘no oil and gas’ platform, out of concern for fish and traditional ways of life.

Jul 132015

I’m currently sitting in Terrace at the home of some friends, Molly and Malcolm and am about to head north with some other friends to Iskut, in the traditional territory of the Tahltan First Nation.  This weekend is the 10th anniversary celebration for the blockades they have been running against mining operations in their territories.  While the Red Chris Mine is under construction and they were unsuccessful in being able to stop it, they have had some great victories against Shell and Fortune Minerals and succeeded in stopping those mining operations.

Last week, I was at the 6th annual Unist’ot’en Action Camp, a gathering of First Nations and non-aboriginal activists for networking around direct action resistance and to support the Unist’ot’en in their blockade against oil and gas pipelines.  We finished construction of a two story healing and counselling center in their traditional territory (placed on a proposed pipeline route), heard from some great speakers, and had a wonderful bunch of days networking and exchanging stories.  I particularly enjoyed conversations with Oscar Dennis of the Tahltan (speaking with me about their long term strategies) as well as many conversations with Kathy, Kai, Miriam, and Judy, a group of older women who had recently completed a walk across the United States as a way to instigate local gatherings to talk about climate change… wow, what a wonderful, smart, and inspiring group of women!  I also really appreciated the leadership of Freda Huson and the Unist’ot’en elders, holding space for this important gathering and holding the line in their territories against the pipelines.

The province last week gave approval for the building of a pipeline through heir territory, and a construction yard has been quickly built in nearby Houston.  Meanwhile, the RCMP (Canadian police) have stepped up surveillance and harassment, setting up check points going into and out of Unist’ot’en territory and taking names and id of people passing in and out.  As i was being asked to escort out the First Nations activists to reduce the risks of racist profiling, i was reminded of how in doing check point observation in the West Bank, the presence of us outside observers allowed Palestinians to pass through the check point in an hour or two instead of 4 hours.

I’ll write more about Unist’oten later, but they could use more help, especially people there on the ground in the next weeks.  check out the website if you would like to get involved.