First Nations front and centre delivering messages of hope at CGLNG Conference and Exhibition

First Nations leaders were front and centre at the Canada Gas and LNG Conference and Exhibition (CGLNG) this week. Indigenous people made it clear what LNG development means to their communities as well as all of B.C., writes Don Hauka

First Nations leaders were front and centre at the Canada Gas and LNG Conference and Exhibition (CGLNG) this week as Indigenous People made it clear what LNG development means to their communities as well as all of B.C.

“LNG offers us an opportunity to move from managing poverty to managing prosperity,” said Karen Ogen-Toews, CEO, First Nations LNG Alliance and former chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

“There are opportunities for everyone.”

Ogen-Toews was one of many First Nations leaders at the conference held in the traditional territories of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. CGLNG brings together 75 speakers, 200 exhibitors, over 300 delegates and 5000+ visitors to Canada’s only dedicated event for the gas and LNG industries.

Packed panel audiences heard from many leaders like Ogen-Toews that projects like LNG Canada mean the difference between hope and despair, poverty and prosperity, in Indigenous communities.

Crystal Smith, Chief Councillor, Haisla First Nation, grew emotional when she described the change the decision to move forward with the massive LNG project has made in her community.

“The vibe in Kitamat is absolutely amazing – to have one of the single biggest business investment decisions made in Haisla Territory is amazing,” Smith told the delegates and guests.

“You can see the change in the attitude of our high school students. They’re more optimistic, they feel they have more opportunities. You can see the change in the mindset of the younger generation because now they know they have opportunities available for them and that’s just with one project.”

The three-day conference covers the opportunities, challenges and solutions facing the industry, especially in the wake of LNG Canada’s Final Investment Decision and the implications for other projects hoping to move forward.

First Nations speakers like Archie Patrick, Chief of the Stellaten Nation west of Prince George said Indigenous Communities support the project because it was comprehensive and addressed First Nations’ concerns.

“Coastal Gaslink set the standard for dealing with Indigenous Peoples, and you can quote me on that,” said Patrick. “The sky is literally the limit because now our people are in the boardrooms as well as on the front line.”

First Nations speakers also urged non-Indigenous British Columbia to understand that all Canadians benefit from LNG development, not just a handful of northeast B.C. communities.

“Canada is growing up. Now we’re going to be selling our product to the world, not just one market (the U.S.),” said Ogen-Toews.

“And if we play our cards right, remember, this is just one project.”

While the enormous opportunities and benefits LNG development promises B.C. and the rest of Canada were made clear, it was also clear the industry faces challenges. One of the biggest is getting the message of those benefits out in the face of a vocal opposition.

Stewart Muir of Resource Works said LNG development supporters have to work together to change the narrative and the key to that is individuals from a vast cross-section of society telling their personal stories.

“It has to be done on a community basis,” said Muir. “Media is changing, but one thing that doesn’t change is the integrity of individuals.”

Overall, a sense of optimism prevailed at the conference. That optimistic note was struck from the very beginning during the keynote address by Bryan Cox, President and CEO of the BC LNG Alliance.

Cox told a packed exhibition ballroom in the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre that LNG presents “a generational opportunity for real change, especially in the partnership with Indigenous communities.

“For the first time First Nations have an opportunity to build a new industry from the ground up, creating a prosperous, sustainable industry in our province that will pay for social programs, health care and other services, sharing the prosperity,” Cox said.

The difference that LNG development can make to B.C. and Canada – and what it will take to realize that promise – was perhaps best summed up by Smith during the panel discussion “First Nations: Getting to FID and what comes next?” in her response to a question from moderator Lisa Mueller, founder of Nation2Nation.

“Give a person a job and you change their life,” said Smith.

“The real work is just beginning. It’s going to take more collaboration between government, industry and First Nations to ensure long-term success. Collaboration is key to creating that long-term vision.”

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