by Shannon Lough – The Northern View
The federal government is facing another lawsuit filed by a northern First Nation dissatisfied with the consultation process during the environmental assessment of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project.
Hereditary chiefs from the Gitxsan Nation travelled to Vancouver on Tuesday in full regalia, alongside with other northern First Nations groups, to announce another legal challenge that is asking the federal court to do a judicial review of the approval due to a lack of consultation. President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs Stewart Phillip also appeared at the Tuesday press conference.
The specific Gitxsan chiefs are joining members of the Gitwilgyoots and Gitanyow, who took legal action on Oct. 27, 2016 to overturn the federal government’s September approval of the $11-billion liquefied natural gas terminal based on Lelu Island. SkeenaWild Conservation Trust also filed a judicial review.
Gitxsan hereditary chiefs Charlie Wright (Luutkudziiwus house group) and Yvonne Lattie (Gwininitxw house group) filed the review Tuesday morning. They say that their lands near Hazelton have been put in jeopardy with very low salmon levels up-river from the North Coast (where Lelu Island is situated).
Northern First Nations who oppose the project tout concern for damage to salmon habitat around Lelu Island.
“We have a message for the Pacific NorthWest LNG project’s investors in Asia. Sell your stock. The Canadian government’s decision to approve this project did not respect our fishing rights protected under the Canadian constitution. We were not consulted,” stated Lattie Tuesday from Vancouver.
Wright added that the terminal is not welcome for fishing communities all across the northwest.
“This LNG project will be stopped. We don’t give a damn about [B.C. Premier] Christy Clark’s re-election, [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau’s deal-making, or Petronas’ hopes to sell fracked gas. That terminal is bad news for our salmon up the Skeena River. Some things are worth more than money,” said Wright.
The Gitxsan hereditary chiefs said they were offered inadequate funding for their technical input, something the government offers affected First Nations during the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s (CEAA) process, or were told they weren’t directly affected in the way they claimed.
The chiefs claim that the salmon mature after adapting to the Pacific Ocean, and return to the Skeena River watershed where “Gitxsan have fished since time immemorial.”
In a press release, the chiefs stated that their data shows declining salmon stocks have dropped almost 90 per cent compared to what the counts were in the 1960s, leading to very little commercial fishing in the area. Data has been collected since 1999. The Gitxsan leaders said that the fragile salmon stocks are relied upon for sustenance and ceremonial usage.
In response to the first legal challenges in October, CEAA stated that Aboriginal groups participated in the environmental assessment working group during the project’s review and Pacific NorthWest LNG has said it has met with First Nations in the region since 2012.