Haisla part ways with Coastal First Nations over liquefied natural gas plants

KITIMAT, B.C. – The Haisla First Nation has parted ways with an aboriginal advocacy group, saying its interests no longer align with Coastal First Nations.

A Haisla chief said his members left the coalition of about a dozen bands from the north and central coast of B.C. over the group’s opposition to some of the liquefied natural gas plants to be built in Kitimat.

The two sides are also at odds over the Haisla nation’s decision to meet recently with Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.

“What we’re working on is a way to create $40-million worth of revenue coming out of these projects that could be shared amongst the northwest First Nations,” Ellis Ross, chief councillor of the Haisla, said Thursday.

“We thought that we were on the same page.”

But Ross said his members were taken aback when the neighbouring Gitga’at, another member of the coalition, and the Coastal First Nations came out in recent weeks with concerns about air pollution from two LNG plants in which the Haisla have partnered with Apache Canada Ltd.

“They’re not really opposing them. They’re opposing how the projects get powered up,” he said.

But the fact that they went public without a discussion led the Haisla to vote last month to leave the coalition.

That decision is in no way an indication that the Haisla has changed its position on the Northern Gateway project, he said, though he has met recently with federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and discussed the project.

“I’d much rather speak to Joe Oliver, Adrian Dix or Nathan Cullen or Premier Clark, than talk to some staff member out of Prince George,” Ross said. “If we’re going to talk about First Nations being nations, then we’ve got to start talking to the nation’s leaders.”

The Haisla remain “absolutely” opposed to the proposed pipeline that would bring diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to a tanker port in Kitimat, he said.

“There’s a lot of spinning go on, and I don’t think First Nations, as well as Haisla, appreciate those type of comments,” Ross said.

Art Sterritt of Coastal First Nations called the departure of the Haisla “disappointing.”

He also suggested a split over the Haisla leader’s decision to “be buddying up to Joe Oliver, who has been the person who has destroyed the environmental laws in order to pave the way for Northern Gateway, who has gutted the joint review process so it no longer can make a decision … who has characterized us all as funded by foreign radicals…”

Sterritt said Coastal First Nations don’t have a position one way or another on the LNG plants in Kitimat.

“We could support it if it was done in a way that minimizes pollution,” Sterritt said.

But some projects propose using gas-powered technologies for the gas liquefaction process, which would result in increased carbon dioxide emissions that will affect First Nations all along the coast.

Coastal First Nations wrote to Premier Christy Clark about the issue a few weeks ago, he said.

“The Haisla were very upset about it.”

— By Dene Moore in Vancouver