Nov 11, 2015 - Defending Wild Salmon: 1st Nations Call on Prime Minister to Reject Proposed Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal

Last spring, the Lax Kw’alaams First Nations unanimously voted to oppose the proposed Pacific Northwest [PNW] Liquid Natural Gas [LGN] terminal. The LGN terminal was to be built near Lelu Island and the adjacent Flora Bank, and is located entirely in the traditional territory of the Allied Tsimshian Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams.

PNW, in exchange for the land swap, offered the tribe $1 billion in cash to be paid out over 40 years, roughly $320,000 per tribal citizen, to which tribal citizens said no.

“They’re offering us benefits if we vote Yes. But we already have a lot of benefits around us—we have coho, spring and sockeye salmon. We have halibut, crab and eulachon. Those are our benefits.” ~Lianne Spence (Lax Kw’alaams)

Now, the Lax Kw’alaams First Nations have been joined be over 70 indigenous leaders, scientists, environmental organizations and other groups in asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reject a project whose test drilling is under way.

On November 9, Lax Kw’alaams Hereditary Chief Yahaan (Donald Wesley) wrote a letter to new Prime Minister Trudeau asking that the LNG project, the Pacific Northwest LNG plant, be halted.

“PNW LNG is poised to cause irreparable damage to the second-largest wild salmon run in Canada, and potential catastrophe for the fisheries economy thousands of people depend on.” ~ Lax Kw’alaams Hereditary Chief Yahaan

Full text of Chief Yahaan’s letter:

Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2;
November 9, 2015

RE: Pacific Northwest LNG facility proposed for Lelu Island and Flora Banks

Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

My name is Yahaan and I am the hereditary chief of the Gitwilgyoots, meaning “people of the kelp.” We are members of the Tsimshian Nation, a group of nine allied tribes of Lax Kw’alaams living along the lower Skeena River and on the north coast of British Columbia.

This letter is in pressing regard to your commitments to renew Canada’s relationship with First Nations and protecting northern BC’s irreplaceable marine resources. Unfortunately, under the leadership of former Prime Minister Harper and Premier Clark, a situation was allowed to fester that has now reached emergency proportions.

The urgent issue is the pending approval of the Pacific Northwest LNG project proposed for Lelu Island, which is part of our traditional territory in the estuary of the Skeena River. This project could cause irreversible damage to Flora Bank, which is an extensive eelgrass bed next to Lelu Island that is the most critical habitat in the Skeena for juvenile salmon, shellfish and other marine resources. PNW LNG is poised to cause irreparable damage to the second largest wild salmon run in Canada, and potential catastrophe for the fisheries economy thousands of people depend on.

Despite research conducted as far back as the 1970’s by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that clearly showed this location should never be industrially developed, the Prince Rupert Port Authority, a federal agency without provincial or local oversight, advised PETRONAS and their partners to site a massive LNG facility there. Our community, as well as all other First Nations communities that rely on Skeena salmon, were not consulted in this decision. The idea that First Nations will only be consulted after major decisions have been made about development that profoundly affects our rights, title, and interests is contrary to your commitment to reframing Canada’s relationship with First Nations, and your commitment to the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights. Lelu Island is not an acceptable location for the PNW LNG project, and our community does not grant permission for it to proceed.

Many of our people earn their living from commercial fishing. The Skeena river supports one of the world’s largest and most intact wild salmon runs. It is the backbone of a dozen First Nations’ cultures, and a central pillar of the northern economy, bringing in excess of $100 million every year to the region from commercial and sport fishing. As such, these are not just First Nations’ issues but ones that affect all British Columbians, especially those who rely upon healthy and abundant fish stocks.

Recent research conducted by the Skeena Fisheries Commission, Simon Fraser University, SedTrend Analysis, and others, has confirmed the importance of the Lelu Island/Flora Bank area. That research showed that 88% of all Skeena salmon, approximately 330 million out-migrating smolts per year, rely on Flora Bank for shelter, food and protection as they adjust from fresh water to salt water. Sedimentology reveals that the proposed jetty pilings, bridge supports, dredging, and LNG tanker traffic could disrupt the balance of complex river and tidal currents that hold the relic sediments of Flora Bank in place, eventually degrading and destroying this critically important habitat by erosion or deposition.

This is not the first time we have said no to LNG at this site. In 1977, we rejected Dome Petroleum’s plan to build an LNG facility on Lelu Island for the same reasons. Our decision then was echoed by the 1975 North Coast Environmental Assessment Team, which clearly stated this site was unacceptable for any industrial development because of the unacceptable risk to fisheries.

You have demonstrated a sensitivity and understanding of the economic and cultural importance of northern BC fishery resources, especially through your clear opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway project. The PNW LNG project similarly affects our region. If built, it could have disastrous consequences for coastal communities and Canada’s second largest wild salmon watershed.

Our nation has spoken clearly on this issue. In early May, following presentations by Petronas and independent science teams in three different locations, our community unanimously rejected an unprecedented offer of $1.15 billion from Petronas to buy our support for their project. This is the measure of our commitment to defending the wild salmon of the Skeena. If you lose the fish, you lose the people.

Our voices are now being ignored. Soon after our vote, Petronas announced a conditional Final Investment Decision in the project. Failing to buy our consent, they began to act as if our consent was irrelevant. On July 14, the BC Government followed suit and approved the project in the Legislature.

When we heard in late August that the Prince Rupert Port Authority gave permission to PNW LNG to begin test drilling on and around Flora Bank, our people decided to take a stand on the ground. On August 26, myself and a group of our people and supporters moved onto Lelu Island, and have been living there since, turning away surveyors and drillers who have already damaged eelgrass on Flora Bank and removed culturally modified trees from the island. Chiefs from the nine allied tribes, as well as the elected Lax Kw’alaams Band Council, stand together in continuing to assert that Flora Bank is off-limits to development. The actions of the contractors working for PNW LNG have not received community consent. Tensions are escalating.

Prime Minister Trudeau, you have an opportunity and a responsibility to address this issue and bring resolution to this escalating conflict. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) approval is the final major permit this project needs before it can proceed under Canadian and BC law. This approval is expected any day now from your government. You pledged to Canadians that you would revamp and strengthen the CEAA process, build a new relationship with First Nations, and protect BC marine resources via increasing the extent of both marine protected areas and funding for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. During your campaign, you stated that even though governments grant permits, only communities can grant permission. If you stand by these commitments, you will not allow the Pacific Northwest LNG project to be approved by CEAA, and you will direct the current geotechnical work on Flora Bank to cease.

You have an incredible opportunity here to start your term in government by sending a clear message that you are serious about the promises you made on the campaign trail. We ask that you respect the decision of our nation to say no to this project. We ask that you to work with First Nations to find projects that are truly responsible and sustainable, and that do not threaten the very resources and landscapes that define us all. We call on you to stand with us and the communities along the Skeena River to protect wild salmon for the sake of all future generations.


Sm’ooyget Yahaan (Donald Wesley), Lax Kw’alaams, Tsimshian First Nation

Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
Honourable Hunter Tootoo, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice
Honourable Christy Clark, Premier of British Columbia

We, the undersigned, stand with Chief Yahaan in rejecting PNW LNG on Lelu Island/Flora Bank:

Garry Reece, Mayor (Chief Councillor)/Mayoral Candidate 2015, Lax Kw’alaams Band Council
Carl Sampson Jr. (Elected Councilor)/Mayoral Candidate 2015, Lax Kw’alaams Band Council
Robert Moares (Economic Development Officer)/Mayoral Candidate 2015, Lax Kw’alaams Band Council
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President, Union of BC Indian Chiefs
Chief Na’Moks (John Ridsdale), Office of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs
Chief Liz Logan, Fort Nelson First Nation
Chief Nathan Parenteau, Saulteau First Nations
Chief Malii (Glen Williams), President and Chief Negotiator, Gitanyow First Nation
Robert Chamberlin, Chief Councillor, Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation
Chief Luutkudziiwus (Charlie Wright), Gitxsan Nation
Chief Gwininitixw (Yvonne Lattie), Gitxsan Nation
Chief Spookw (Norm Stephens), Gitxsan Nation
Chief Marj McRae, Gitanmaax Band Council
Chief Bob Barnes, Kispiox Band Council
Chief Tony Sampare, Glen Vowell Band Council
Murray Smith, President, Kaien Island Friendship House Elders
Caleb Behn, Executive Director, Keepers of the Water
First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance
Urban Gitxsan Society
Toghestiy, Likhts’amisyu Stronghold.
Roy Henry Vickers, C.M., O.B.C., DLitt.
Dr. David Suzuki, PhD, Co-founder of David Suzuki Foundation
Dr. Wade Davis, BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, UBC
Dr. Barb Faggetter, Oceanographer, R.P.Bio.
Dr. Alexandra Morton, Independent Biologist, R.P.Bio
Naomi Klein, Author and Syndicated Columnist
Andrew Weaver, MLA Oak Bay-Gordon Head, Deputy Leader BC Green Party
North West Community College Students Union, Local 66, Canadian Federation of Students – British Columbia
Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition
Skeena Wild Conservation Trust
North West Watch
Douglas Channel Watch
Troy Peters, Chair, Northern Branch, Steelhead Society of BC
Friends of Port Edward
R.A.V.E.N. Legal Trust (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs)
Living Oceans Society
Wild Salmon Caravan
The Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance
Oscar’s Source for Adventure, Smithers
Aquabatics Paddle Sports, Smithers
Bear Claw Lodge, Kispiox River
Jamie Hahn, Khutzeymateen Wilderness Lodge Ltd.
Jim Allen, Owner, Kispiox Fishing Company
Yvon Choinard, Owner/Founder, Patagonia Inc.
Sea Kayaking Guides Association of BC
Dave Evans Melissa Moure, Owners, Bulkley Rivers Lodge
Gene Allen, retired Rodeo Stock Contractor
Kispiox Valley Community Center Association
Wilderness Committee
Council of Canadians
West Coast Environmental Law Centre
Sierra Club BC
My Sea to Sky
Canadian Youth Climate Coalition
Idle No More
Downstream: Reimagining Water
Saanich Inlet Network
Lead Now
Sum of US
Beyond Boarding
The Water Wealth Project
Tanker Free BC
BC-Yukon KAIROS (Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives)
Streams of Justice
Wildlife Defense League
Institute of the Humanities – Simon Fraser University
Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG)
No One Is Illegal Vancouver – unceded Coast Salish territories
Simon Fraser University Public Interest Research Group (SFUPIRG)
Kwantlen Public Interest Research Group (KPIRG)
Defenders of the Land
No More Silence
Rising Tide Coast Salish Territories
Rising Tide Seatlle
Rising Tide Portland
Rising Tide North America
Fraser RiverKeeper
Russian RiverKeeper
Columbia RiverKeeper
Living Rivers
Colorado Riverkeeper

Last Real Indians