A councillor from Saik’uz First Nation will be sharing her perspective with collaborative forums at one of B.C.’s most prestigious awards.
Jackie Thomas has been heavily involved for the past number of years with the Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI) which has been selected a finalist for the Premier’s Award under the partnership category.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” said Thomas. “I think it bodes well for the future honestly to work with First Nations and do what is best for resource development in our territories, and B.C. leading the way for Canada.”
Thomas recalled how in 2014 there were concerns brewing by First Nation communities about the many LNG pipelines being proposed for development and the environmental impacts they could bring.
“During the environmental assessment every community brought up cumulative impacts, and it was a dispute with the B.C. Government under Christy Clark,” she said.
“But we eventually got the government to agree and they set aside money to work on this and take a look, and what they found is there are a lot of cumulative impacts mostly from forestry and forest development.”
ESI is a collaboration between the B.C. government, industry and 30 northern First Nations including Saik’uz located close to Vanderhoof. It aims to address First Nations’ long-standing concerns with stewardship of the land and cumulative impacts associated with natural resource and infrastructure projects through establishing environmental legacies, and generating high-quality, accessible and trusted environmental information.
In 2015, the B.C. Government provided $30-million in funding to the ESI as part of the province’s First Nations’ liquid natural gas (LNG) benefits framework.
“It doesn’t stop,” Thomas said of the ESI which is divided into four regions-North Coast, Omineca, North East and Skeena.
“We worked with B.C to develop scientific information on the area of our region’s priorities. For Omineca it was fish, moose, and biodiversity.”
As an LNG pipeline, which is already under construction by Coastal GasLink, is set to cut through 30 kilometres of their traditional territory, Thomas said they will continue to work on immediate measures to ensure there will be wildlife, fish and biodiversity in the Omineca region.
“We will be doing land use planning next year, and we’ll see how that goes with COVID,” Thomas said.
“But that’s our plan — that we will have sustainable resource management and have everybody realize before we go over the brink of extinction for species.”
The Premier’s Awards will take place virtually in November. Prior to the provincial awards the B.C. government is anticipated to launch three to four interviews, which Thomas is a part of, on YouTube to tell the story of the collaborative forums.
During an inaugural ESI technical conference held last November in Vancouver, Thomas helped answer questions from the audience and discuss opportunities for more collaboration moving forward on ESI.
She spoke about the costs of negligent stewardship practices, and the impacts they have had on Saik’uz people and land.
“If we do get the award, we’re going to use that to work federally on making sure that we can get ESI in all of the provinces,” Thomas said.
“I don’t dream small,” she added with a laugh.