Placing the well-being of the Earth above monetary interests, the Lax Kw’alaams First Nations tribe in British Columbia has rejected a $1 billion offer and voted against a proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal.
In the third and definitive vote on the Pacific Northwest (PNW) LNG project last Tuesday, tribal members unanimously opposed the project, which would be located entirely within Lax Kw’alaams traditional territory on Lelu Island and the adjacent Flora Bank and required tribal consent before going forward.
"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 tribal member
"Our elders remind us that money is like so much dust that is quickly blown away in the wind," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip told the Globe and Mail, "but the land is forever."
In a press statement (pdf) following the vote, the tribe describes the potential threat to fisheries and the refusal by the government and PNW to impose sufficient environmental safeguards on the project, adding that there has been "indifference to the point of negligence or willful blindness, or both."
In exchange for their approval, PNW had offered the 3,600-member tribe a land swap as well as $1 billion in cash to be delivered over 40 years—which in total would have amounted to a payout of roughly $320,000 for each member. The project is also backed by Malaysia’s state-owned energy giant, Petronas.
"The traditional way of life of the Lax Kw’alaams people and, most importantly, the delicate marine ecosystem that upholds, and has upheld their culture for thousands of years, is not for sale," Chief Philip continued. The Skeena River, where Lelu Island is situated, is the second largest salmon producing river in the province.
The Lax Kw’alaams say they are bound by traditional law to protect the traditional fishing grounds for future generations. "This is a first line of defense in respect to the aboriginal food fishery, a fishery which has sustained coastal and upriver first nations through the millennia," the statement reads.
Aboriginal artist Lianne Spence, who was among those who voted against the deal, agreed that the monetary compensation could not compete with the natural resources. "They’re offering us benefits if we vote Yes," Spence said. "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."
The tribe says they will still work with PNW to find a solution and says they are "open to development," just not development in Flora Bank.
Lax Kw’alaams Mayor Gary Reece said that he hopes the community's rejection of an offer in excess of a billion dollars "sends an unequivocal message this is not a money issue: this is environmental and cultural."