It’s becoming more common to pick up a newspaper or see a news article online speaking about job opportunities that could be available for First Nations in BC as a result of LNG development — but it wasn’t always that way.
There was a time when the Kitselas First Nation said no to all natural resource development projects that would require use of our traditional territories. We regarded ourselves as wards of the state and stewards of the land, and rather than attempting to manage the proposed projects and discuss economic opportunities, we chose to not engage. As a result, our nation experienced an 80 per cent unemployment rate. This was a hard time for our people as it was difficult to find jobs that were local and reflected the skills our people possessed.
After some time, we started asking ourselves: what would happen if we said yes to even one of these projects? Our biggest concerns were educating our members on the facts behind LNG and our terms and agreements not being upheld. There was so much misinformation being shared online we wanted to ensure our people received an unbiased perspective on LNG before making a decision, so we brought in a third party expert. When we began the process, only one third of our people were in favour of considering these projects, and after hearing the facts, two thirds of our people were on board. We then realized we could protect ourselves if we put our conditions in a legally binding agreement that had to be honoured. It was at that point, we finally said yes to starting conversations with 20-some proponents.
As work began with industry partners, including local mills in Terrace, we realized the benefits extended far beyond our people. Not only were our members working, but as a result, we made many good partnerships and helped keep local industries going. This allowed the economy of the communities around us to also prosper.
Shortly thereafter, the Pacific Trails Pipeline (PTP) came along and Kitselas received a direct award contract to do right-of-way clearing of 110 kilometers of timber from the start of where the project impacted our lands to the Haisla Nation’s territory. From there, Haisla let us continue the remaining 62 kilometers to where the LNG facility would be in Kitimat. We made $48 million in gross revenue during that project over approximately two years.
This had a huge impact on our community. We were at 80 per cent unemployment before the project, and within months of our involvement, that number dropped to 40 and then zero. At one point, we had 180 people in our community working together.
Our partnership with the PTP brought a lot of pride to our people. As money started coming in, many of them were able to pay rent, put food in the fridge and purchase their first vehicles. It increased their confidence and helped them see that as a result of the education and skills they had gained, they could go out and find other employment after the project was completed. All of this happened in just two short years.
The B.C. government is also doing its part. Introduced earlier this year, B.C.’s Aboriginal Skills Training Development Fund aligns with B.C.’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint and will provide up to $10 million annually over the next three years for Aboriginal skills training. It’s these type of programs that make a huge impact on the day-to-day lives of our people and provide opportunities which otherwise wouldn’t exist in our area.
The Kitselas people who were employed by PTP would now say they are pipeliners. Making the choice to work with industry transformed our nation and the Kitselas people are now facing a much more stable future with the possibility of continued economic growth. Working with industry was the right choice for our nation, and we know it has benefitted many surrounding nations as well.
We still believe we are the stewards of our land, and we do not say yes to all partnerships. However, we believe the way forward for our nation is to present our conditions and engage with industry in a meaningful and sustainable way. Through increased job opportunities for our people the future of the Kitselas Nation will be protected. Not only will our people have land to live on, we will have the skills to provide for our children and the generations to come.
— Joe Bevan is the Elected Chief Councillor of Kitselas First Nation, located in Terrace, B.C. and founding member of the First Nations LNG Alliance.