VICTORIA - The head of the Nisga'a Nation said his people are embracing the possibility of a liquefied natural gas industry by permitting energy companies to run a pipeline through the nation's territory in northwestern British Columbia, with the hope for more investment to come.
The Nisga'a and B.C. Liberal government signed a benefit sharing agreement Thursday that will see the nation receive about $6 million from the province for a proposed natural gas pipeline that would pass through 97 kilometres of its treaty lands.
Nisga'a Nation President Mitchell Stevens said at a news conference at the legislature that his people want much more than the proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Pipeline project. The Nisga'a have already chosen four potential LNG export terminal sites on their lands which could be served by the proposed pipeline, he said.
"We're not interested in a pipe that comes from the northeast and brings the resources to the coast," said Stevens. "What we are interested in is a pipe that gives us an opportunity to provide for an economic base for Nisga'a citizens."
The agreement is the first of what the Liberal government says will be several benefit-sharing deals with First Nations that include skills training and environmental projects.
It is linked to LNG development plans proposed by state-owned Malaysian energy company Petronas with plans to build an LNG export terminal at Lelu Island near Prince Rupert.
Calgary's TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP), has signed on to build the natural gas pipeline from northeast B.C.'s gas fields, through Nisga'a territory, to the proposed export terminal.
Petronas says the proposed development, not including the pipeline, is worth more than $10 billion, but it has yet to decide whether to proceed.
Stevens said Nisga'a elders, chiefs and elected representatives voted to support the agreement, which includes removing more than 63 hectares of land from the Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Park to accommodate the pipeline.
"The opportunity to be an active player in the LNG industry is the kind of opportunity for which our elders struggled for over a century," he said, referring to the Nisga'a's lengthy and successful quest to negotiate a land-claims treaty. "Our elders have told us now is the time to be bold and move forward."
Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad said the benefits agreement with the Nisga'a is part of the government's approach to forming economic partnerships with First Nations.
"The signing of this agreement is a significant step for both of us and for the Nisga'a Nation, but also for First Nations across the north in terms of the LNG opportunity," said Rustad.
Legislation has been introduced to permit the Nisga'a to levy and collect property tax from non-Nisga'a citizens and companies and their installations, including LNG pipelines, on their treaty lands.
The Nisga'a are not the only B.C. First Nation to support LNG development on treaty lands and traditional territories.
The Kitimat-area Haisla Nation are supporters of LNG projects in their area and Vancouver Island's Huu-ay-aht First Nations signed a development agreement to build a proposed LNG plant on treaty land located near Bamfield on Vancouver Island.
But Stevens said the LNG proposals still hinge on companies deciding to proceed with their plans.
"We can do all this work, but if Petronas does not take a positive final investment decision, it's all for nothing," he said.