02/17/2014 06:54 EST | Updated 04/19/2014 05:59 EDT

First Nations Want LNG, But Only If It's Done Right

British Columbia has become a focal point in the global race to provide liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the Asian market. First Nations are a critical part of this new industry, as the gas wells, pipelines and terminals will be built in our traditional territory.

Although LNG is unprecedented in B.C., we are not opposed to development, as long as it's done in environmentally, financially and culturally sustainable ways for all involved. This is our foremost priority, as we have already seen a great deal of development that has done considerable damage to our environment. We don't want the land left stripped in 10 or 15 years, leaving our future generations with nothing.

This week, First Nations leaders are meeting in Fort St. John at the First Nations LNG Summit to find ways to balance all the information pouring in about LNG and to determine the path ahead. We are hoping to find a balance between protecting our traditional and cultural ways and moving forward with development, while making sure that people in our communities understand and can make informed decisions. It will be a serious challenge, especially in light of how resource development has taken place historically in our province.

We're in favor of a balanced approach to LNG, but when we look at B.C.'s record of resource development, we are very wary. With mining, logging and oil and gas we have often been left with a mess to fix once resource extraction is finished. There has been no sustainability in the government's approach to resource developments. If you look at our territory, the caribou are threatened and the fish are contaminated. We worry that the province only looks at the benefits of new industries like LNG without properly considering the impacts.

It is the cumulative impact that concerns us. The amount of development that has to happen to ensure LNG moves forward in B.C. is massive. One of our biggest concerns -- that is, all the Treaty 8 First Nations -- is that there's too much development happening already in other sectors, and that's before things start really ramping up for LNG production.

A full two-thirds of Treaty 8 territory is already taken up by other kinds of development. How much more can happen before things become unsustainable? The risks are huge for contamination and for transforming more land from pristine wilderness into industrial zones. We're a land-based people, and if the land is destroyed, what are we? These are some of the questions that we will be trying to answer at the First Nations LNG Summit this week.

LNG is this magical thing everyone talks about, but no one really understands what's involved. Lots of people are worried about pipelines, but that's just a single point impact for us. The pipelines start here in northeastern B.C., but we will also be on the frontier for wells and dealing with a growing population of labourers and all the things that come with that -- housing shortages, price increases, and more. Tim Hortons is already running out of coffee in Fort St. John, and try finding a hotel room. That's happening now. And the LNG industry is still in its infancy.

First Nations will have a voice in the new LNG industry and before things progress much further, they will have to sit down and talk to us so we can get things right. We're not opposed to moving ahead with LNG, but we need to slow down and have the conversation we've been trying to have for the last 20 years. We need assurance that LNG development is sustainable and brings long-term benefits for everyone involved -- including First Nations. Then, we will want to participate in a meaningful way through joint ventures and land stewardship, ensuring we balance environmental issues with treaty rights and title. No more broken promises.