Several First Nations groups are banding together to block early work by contractors for Petronas’ Lelu Island LNG terminal. Leaders of the Madii Lii resistance camp – situated atop several proposed pipeline routes in the Skeena Valley – are rallying behind hereditary chiefs of the Lax Kw’alaams Nation who have been occupying Lelu Island in opposition to survey work for Petronas’ controversial project.
“We are standing together with the Chiefs on Lelu Island in opposition to the same LNG project. Our Madii Lii territory is on the pipeline route, and their Lelu Island territory is on the terminal site. We have both said no,” said Gitxsan Hereditary Chief Luutkudziiwus (Charlie Wright) in a statement today.
“This project threatens the salmon that all Skeena River and North Coast people depend on, and we thank the Yahaan (Don Wesley) and other Tsimshian Chiefs for what they are doing for all of us.”
Hereditary chiefs hold the line
Hereditary leaders of the Lax Kw’alaams and their supporters – a group of approximately 45 in total – erected a camp on Lelu Island, in the Skeena estuary, about two weeks ago in order to halt seismic and survey work by Petronas’ contractors. The work reportedly stems from concerns raised by the Lax Kw’alaams’ elected leadership over the initially planned location of a causeway for ships visiting the terminal – which sat in the middle of vital, sensitive habitat for salmon and other marine life. The elected leaders granted permission to the contractors to survey the area for an alternate location for the causeway, but this has not sat well with a group of hereditary chiefs now leading the occupation.
They confronted the crew of the Quin Delta drill ship and a barge which moved into the area over the weekend.
According to The Vancouver Sun, “Some equipment was set up before First Nations went out to the ship and asked the workers to stop, said Joey Wesley, a Lax Kw’alaams First Nation member. The activity ceased, but the workers appeared to have trouble removing equipment from the ocean floor, including heavy concrete blocks with surface markers, he said. The ship and barge remained in their location on Sunday just off Lelu Island, said Wesley.”
Shocking Petronas audit raises fears in BC
Concerns have been compounded by recent revelations by The Sun of a damning audit of Petronas’ Malaysian offshore operations, which reveals systemic neglect of equipment and safety issues.
Moreover, while Petronas’ contractors are operating under permits from the BC government and the Prince Rupert Port Authority, the federal review for the project is ongoing, after facing multiple delays owing to unanswered questions from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
The Port Authority is nevertheless warning that it will take action against anyone who obstructs survey work for the Lelu Island project – which will likely only inflame an already tense situation.
Gitxsan to take legal action
The Gitxsan leaders of Madii Lii Camp are not only backing their Skeena brethren, but they have been occupying their own territory in staunch opposition to pipeline construction and are now promising legal action of their own. “We are taking the government to court over the lack of consultation, the inadequate baseline information presented, the weak and subjective impact assessment, the current cumulative effects from past development, and the massive infringement of our Aboriginal rights,” says Madii Lii spokesperson Richard Wright.
“People are now on the ground blocking the Petronas project from the coast to far inland.”
Is ‘reconciliation’ possible amid energy conflicts?
These actions are mirrored by the Unist’ot’en Camp in Wet’suwet’en territory to the south, which stands in the path of several planned Kitimat-bound gas pipelines and the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. Tensions there have also grown recently, with the spectre of an armed RCMP takedown of the camp.
Despite a recent meeting between the BC Liberal government and First Nations leaders, aimed at reconciling historical enmity between the two groups, Premier Christy Clark’s key economic vision of LNG development remains dogged by First Nations at every turn. In addition to the above conflicts, the Fort Nelson First Nation recently won a landmark victory at the Environmental Appeal Board, forcing the cancellation of a major water licence for fracking, while the Tsartlip First Nation poured cold water on the notion of a floating LNG terminal in Saanich Inlet.