Sunday, December 07, 2008

Lax Kw'alaams Chief has thoughts on treaty issues and Enbrige plans

John Helin, the elected Chief councilor of Lax Kw'alaams has provided some insight into how two items of interest to his people are being examined by his government.

With treaty negotiations bogging down in the always controversial topic of fisheries issues and Enbridge energy making plans for a pipeline in the region, the chief councillor found many items of concern on both of the current topics and how they will impact on Lax Kw'alaams.

The two issues were addressed in seperate Daily News articles on Thursday and Friday.

Helin shares concern at treaty talk impediments
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Page two

Lax Kw'alaams elected Chief councilor John Helin is not surprised at all by the recent report by the BC Treaty Commission that treaty negotiation with North Coast First Nations has hit a huge stumbling block called the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Helin mentioned that Lax Kw'alaams had just been through a court case with DFO for access to ocean resources with the opportunity to sell those resources.

He said the reason that was done was because Lax Kw'alaams has been in a treaty process since the early 80s and does not feel that real progress is being made - mainly because of the reticence by the federal government to treat the First Nations tribe fairly.

"We don't have one interim agreement with (the DFO) and for thousands of years our people have lived off the sea and everything else that comes from the sea. We don't have access and we can't make a viable living with the way things are going," said Helin.

A couple of months ago, Lax Kw'alaams hereditary Chief Buddy Helin commented that Port Simpson had an unemployment rate of 85 per cent in the village.

"With unemployment comes all the social problems and how we deal with that. There are very limited resources at our disposal," said Helin. "One of the biggest things for us as a local government is to create employment and one of the quickest and simplest means to do that is that fish plant. It employs a lot of our members and with employment comes self esteem and everything else," said Helin.

There have been no tripartite negations between Lax Kw'alaams, the government of B.C. and the federal government since 2005.

"It is a real struggle for everything we gain - if we gain. At least with the provincial government they are signing agreements with us," said Helin.

Last month, Lax Kw'alaams, along with Metlakatla, signed an agreement with the provincial government to return 4,775 hectares of land to both bands after 40 years of negotiations.
But Helin was precise with his words that consultation and negotiation styles from the past will not continue.

"It's not sending you a letter or giving you a phone call saying this is why we are doing this. That's not consultation.

"To us, that's not good enough," said Helin.

There is a fleet of 60 to 70 gillnet boats docked in Port Simpson and a fish plant that was open this year but struggled to be financially viable.

Helin said that this has forced the people of Lax Kw'alaams to diversify, moving in to hake and crab fisheries.

There also might some other opportunities opening up for the community that could employ more people in the community, though Helin did not say at this time what kind of opportunities might be available.
Chief taking a long look at pipeline
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Friday, December 05, 2008
Page Five

Lax Kw'alaams elected Chief John Helin expressed cautious concern about Enbridge Inc.'s plan to build its Northern Gateway pipeline though Northern B.C. to Kitimat.

While the project would dip southward before it reaches Prince Rupert, it will partially go through Lax Kw'alaams territory, meaning the First Nation band is expecting to be consulted.
Helin said Enbridge had approached the band about the project and he said he was waiting to hear more.

"We understand the proposed route and we have some concerns around tanker traffic and where it is going to go," said Helin of the conversation he and Lax Kw'alaams council had with Enbridge officials. "We just have to see how that is going to go."

The proposed project consists of two pipelines going east-west with Alberta tar sands oil and west-east with condensate. Enbridge expects to pump 525,000 barrels of oil and 193,000 barrels of condensate each day.

Helin added that Enbridge representatives have insisted that it will be the safest project of this type in the world but he said the band has not said 'yes' or 'no' at this point.

For North Coast residents, the environmental concerns that have been raised centre around the oil tankers moving through the province's northern shores - a scary proposition for some.

If a condensate tanker were to spill in Hecate Strait, according to Bruce Hill of the Headwaters Institute, it would kill any species within contact. The good news is that it would evaporate fairly quickly.

As for the oil, they are still cleaning up the mess Exxon Valdez left in 1989.

In an effort to subdue those fears, Enbridge has taken to touring the northern-half of B.C. to give their side of the story and, as the company's representatives claim, to receive feedback on their plans and mold their plans into what northerners want to see.

As part of that wooing, the Calgary-based pipeline operator has added an extra incentive to First Nations communities in the North by offering them a collective 10 per cent stake in the project. There are also potentially 4,000 temporary jobs at stake, which for a community like Lax Kw'alaams suffering from sever unemployment could mean jobs.

Helin said economics were an important consideration and part of the reason why he could not just turn his back on Enbridge even though his community has serious environmental concerns about the proposed project.

"I think any opportunity like that we would be very interested in," said Helin.
But he added that Lax Kw'alaams leadership was very concerned about the salmon in the region and conservation efforts for the environment.

"We have to be comfortable in the fact that nothing is going to happen to harm the environment."

Enbridge's vice president of communications and aboriginal affairs Roger Harris said that Enbridge has already got almost 20 First Nation communities to sign on to the agreement. Harris said that agreement does not mean they approve the project, it just means they are working on the design aspect.

The challenge for Enbridge is that its proposed pipeline runs through 60 First Nations communities, many of which are still dealing with land claims and treaty rights and still undecided. Navigating through different politics will be just as important as planning the line itself.
Opposition to the proposed project among First Nations communities along the projected line run from expectations needing to be met to outright refusal.

There are tribes, such as the Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council whose territory is just west of Prince George, who have said they will not approve the pipeline until there is an independent First Nations-led Environmental Assessment. And there are tribes like Haida Nation who have said that they would not sign an agreement with Enbridge and that they were opposed to any oil tanker traffic in Hecate Strait.

"There is absolutely no doubt that there are communities that have problems with the federal government's environmental process," said Harris, who is the former BC Liberal MLA for the Skeena riding and who has been at odds with the Haida Nation in the past over forestry on Haida Gwaii.

He recognized there was opposition to oil tankers but said Enbridge would continue to try to work with all First Nations communities during the lifeline of the project.

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