Most of the media coverage of the federal government's approval of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project has been presented as a positive outcome for industry and government, and a negative one for First Nations. The simple truth is, not all First Nations are opposed to the project. In fact, many along the project's route are in favour, and here's why.
A total of 190 conditions have been set in order to enforce regulations on the proposed pipeline project, resulting in high standards which the proponent must meet in order for it to go ahead. In terms of environmental impacts, strict requirements have been set which will ensure any possible impact is identified and mitigated. Furthermore, the proponent is required to consult First Nations groups in both project development planning, as well as follow-up monitoring, to ensure the interests of impacted nations are protected.
It shows respect for our rights and concerns, and is a great example of how engaging with the proponent provides a vehicle for nations to make sure their voices are heard.
During the project's exploration phase, the proponent showed a commitment to developing productive working relationships with First Nations groups in the area, namely the Metlakatla, Kitselas, Gitxaala, Kitsumkalum and Lax Kw'alaams communities. These relationships provided the nations with autonomy in decision-making, and increased the well-being of their communities. It's these types of agreements that allow First Nations communities to provide job training and employment opportunities to their members, thereby helping to build and develop their social and cultural identity, on their terms.
When it comes to how the 190 conditions will lay the groundwork for continued positive relationships with First Nations in the area, they have been, and will continue to be, included in setting standards for environmental impact mitigation as well as ensuring the project does not intrude on culturally sensitive areas.
First Nations protesters gather while occupying Lelu Island near Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, on Aug. 24, 2016. Facing five major energy initiatives in B.C., Prime Minister Trudeau will choose which constituency to abandon. (Photo: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
First Nations will participate in the following areas, in both planning and monitoring capacities:
Air quality and greenhouse gas emissions
The proponent will include First Nations in these assessments, ensuring impacts are mitigated to their standards, not only to federal and provincial targets.
The proponent is required to develop a wetlands compensation plan that restores any areas that might be damaged by the project.
Freshwater fish impacts will be monitored to ensure a minimum risk of acidification and eutrophication in affected areas, including in the Wolf Creek system, the Hays Creek system, Alwyn Lake and two headwater lakes on Kaien Island.
There will be extensive modelling and testing to assess whether the initial estimates of impacts to marine life match the actual outcomes. This will be an ongoing process that also includes offsetting any loss of fish and habitat in the local environment. Monitoring will also take place in Chatham Sound.
The proponent and First Nations groups will develop a follow-up plan to assess the status of migratory birds and work to correct any irregularities the project may create.
Current land uses for cultural practices - Any heritage sites or structures that may exist in the project area will be relocated with First Nations oversight. This includes the relocation of traditionally used plants and trees.
Human health and noise levels
First Nations will work with the proponent to develop response protocols for any impacts on human health, as many communities rely on marine food that comes from areas the project will affect. Additionally, noise levels and light output will be monitored and minimized.
The proponent will also be required to establish protocols with First Nations to monitor the construction of the project. Not only will these nations set the standard for what is deemed acceptable impact mitigation, they will also be integral to the way problems are resolved if any arise.
The conditions provide a strong reference point for First Nations engagement and ensure that appropriate steps are taken by the proponent over the course of the project. Ultimately, it shows respect for our rights and concerns, and is a great example of how engaging with the proponent provides a vehicle for nations to make sure their voices are heard and that decisions benefit their interests.
Compliance with the conditions will ensure impacted communities will oversee and limit the impacts of the project -- placing First Nations directly in the driver's seat.
Crystal Smith, Board Member, First Nations LNG Alliance
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