Nadleh Whut’en First Nation has signed a project agreement with TransCanada for its natural gas pipeline project, joining 10 other aboriginal communities along its route across northern B.C.
At a celebratory dinner for the community on Feb. 17, Nadleh Whut’en Chief Martin Louie and President Rick Gateman of the company’s Coastal GasLink pipeline project announced the agreement to close to 80 community members at the Nadleh Whut’en hall.
“We have ties to our animals…to the rivers; as First Nations, everything has a spirit,” Louie said. “Today, values of our ancestors have changed…there’s a price for taking trees down, there’s a price for everything.
“Those are the changes we’ve grown to accept over the years, and at the same time, we still need to protect our land and animals, so that our younger ones that are following us can enjoy the same things we have.”
Opening with traditional First Nation songs from singers and drummers led by Louie, the event was also attended by Mayor Dwayne Lindstrom and CAO Rodney Holland from Fraser Lake, Mayor Gerry Thiessen from Vanderhoof, representatives of the Fraser Lake RCMP, as well as councillors of Nadleh Whut’en.
“The negotiations we have done is a long-lasting agreement that will benefit every member of our community,” Louie said. “Because the more we keep fighting the system…right now we need to start moving on down a certain path, and we need to involve everybody around us.
“It’s time to start working together as neighbours: Fraser Lake, Fort Fraser, Vanderhoof, Prince George.”
Passing 25 kilometres away from Nadleh Whut’en, the proposed 670-kilometre pipeline that starts near Dawson Creek in northeast B.C. and ends in Kitimat on the coast would employ over 2,500 people during its three- to four-year construction period, Gateman said.
“One of the key things in the agreement with Nadleh Whut’en, and other First Nations along the way, is that we don’t just want to share the economic benefits of the project,” he said. “We want to create capacity in the community through training and contract jobs to get this pipeline built.
“It is in our best interest as employers to employ local people first.”
Involving potential work camps in Lejac and by Vanderhoof’s airport, the project’s start date is contingent on the company’s Asian customers, who would make a final investment decision later this year, Gateman explained.
“It’s a legacy for the future,” he said. “We’ve structured this agreement so that First Nations along the way truly become our partners throughout time.
“As long as gas flows through this pipeline, there will be annual payments that benefits this community.”
To commemorate the signed agreement, TransCanada presented to Nadleh Whut’en a wooden sculpture carved by George Hemeon, the company’s aboriginal and local contracting manager, that depicts a First Nation creation story of a raven stealing light to be brought to earth.
“It’s about transformation,” Hemeon said. “I know we’re at the early stages of our relationship, but we all recognize a need for industry to change the way they’ve done business in the past.
“There’s a reciprocal part to this relationship that is both based on the interests and expectations of the community, but also those interests and business needs of our company as well.”
The carving’s black and red colouring represents the male and female in the community, Hemeon explained.
“The idea is that the raven is watching over the community and also the relationship that we have together at this point.”