Last week, the Lax Kw’alaams band in northern British Columbia rejected an offer from Petroliam Nasional Bhd., which offered $1.15 billion compensation to the community in exchange for building a liquefied natural gas export hub on ancestral lands. During the third and final community meeting on Tuesday May 12th in Vancouver, First Nation members refused to give their consent to the Pacific NorthWest LNG project. The project would have seen a terminal facility constructed on Lelu Island at the head of the Skeena River, just south of Prince Rupert for those geographically challenged souls trying to locate this apparently multi-billion dollar section of British Columbia. Who knew expensive BC real estate existed outside of Vancouver?
The First Nations cited some strange traditional knowledge called science in their opposition to the proposal. They claimed that the project would damage the habitat of the Skeena River salmon, which they apparently have something called a constitutional right permitting them to fish. The more you learn about these peoples, the weirder their cultural beliefs system gets. The Lax Kw’alaams are, for some reason, prioritizing values over money. In a statement on Wednesday, the group said “this is not a money issue: this is environmental and cultural.” It’s not like they’re talking small, useless money that isn’t worth as much as feelings. They’re talking about over a billion dollars. That’s right, “billion” with a “B.”
Malaysian oil company Petronas backed the project, which includes refrigeration units to cool gas to the point of condensation so that it can be transported via ship in liquid form. China Petrochemical Corp., Japan Petroleum Exploration Co., Indian Oil Corp., and Brunei National Petroleum Co. serve as co-financiers.
A massive majority of the 3,700 people voting prioritized their environment over the money. Surrey based Lax Kw’alaams member Cherryl Rose Spence said that only two of the 100 plus members at a meeting in Vancouver on Tuesday stood up to support the project. Somewhere around a campfire eating organic s’mores and singing “kumbaya,” David Suzuki and Stéphane Dion must be shedding tears of happiness.
A Supreme Court of Canada decision from July of last year granted increased control over development on First Nations lands to those who have traditionally inhabited said lands. This allowed the Lax Kw’alaams to have legal ability to pass up on what would amount to roughly $319,000 for each member of the band in favour of protecting nature.
The stubborn insensitivity of the Native population has put the multi-billion dollar project in danger, and continues a frightening trend of First Nations destroying one of this country’s greatest traditions and an essential part of Canadian heritage and history: massive environmental exploitation.
The rejection was seen as a small roadblock by British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, who, demonstrating her lack of the values-over-money-delusion shared by those who rejected the deal, quipped that the naïve First Nation would eventually be corrupted by some sum of money and negotiate a settlement. Premier Clark has a provincial debt to fix and is banking on LNG development as the province’s economic saviour. The rejection could also have a negative impact on the many other proposals for West Coast to Asia gas exporting by companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, who undoubtedly represent the highest of Canadian ideals.
The situation in Northwestern BC raises questions about this country’s identity. How “glorious and free” is our land if it isn’t free to be developed into pipelines that send gas to China? How much more glorious would life be with $319,000 more in your pocket? Crystal clear, fishing-rich lakes are okay, but wouldn’t riding a 310 Horsepower Kawasaki Ultra 310LX Jet Ski with an awesome stereo and a top speed over 100km/hr on a lake slightly less crystal clear be way more glorious? With $319,000, the $16,000 (US) Jet Ski is suddenly affordable. As Bill Hicks once said, “money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy a jet ski, and you never see an unhappy person riding a jet ski.”
The only way to make sense of this situation is to assume that the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation are using buzzwords like “environment” and “culture” to try and squeeze more money out of the corporations in desperate need of their lands. Perhaps they have finally mastered the way of the greedy white man. Good for them.