Skeena MLA Ellis Ross spoke to a familiar theme for him as part of the Monday morning return to business for the BC Legislature, the MLA noting of the path ahead as he sees things towards creating the conditions for success on Reconciliation and advancement for Indigenous people.
Speaking in the early stages of the Monday session, the MLA called on some of his experiences in Kitamaat and how his Band and many others have sought to change their situations through economic development.
Today I'm here to talk about economic reconciliation. We often hear and we often talk about it, but for too long, there's been no action behind the word "reconciliation," especially in the 21st century.
Real reconciliation means lifting people up, the most disadvantaged people in Canadian society for the last 50, 100 years — lifting them up out of poverty and putting them on a path to recovery in all its forms. As an Aboriginal member, then as a leader and now as an MLA, I've seen and continue to see the cycle continue too many times — talking about hope, talking about programs but not really giving the tools to succeed.
And this happens all across B.C. and all across Canada.
Our families are told to be bold, and then the dreams are stifled by indifference or mixed messages. Nothing to resolve the social issues that First Nations are facing.
Many Aboriginal leaders, over the decade, set out to change that in a tangible way, but very few had the foundation of Aboriginal rights and title case law — specifically, the Haida court case that came out and the duty to consult in 2004.
That year is significant. Because at that time, First Nations had a willing partner in the then government, one that was committed to action.
Ending in 2017, that government had signed over 450 agreements with First Nations, from revenue-sharing to environment protocols to just simply engagement in protocols."
As part of his review of the recent past, Mr. Ross explored the early stages of LNG for the Haisla and the challenges that he and his leadership on the Band Council had in moving that project forward, including as he notes the work of those from afar.
With some politicians in the Northwest among those he notes who tried to stop projects and vilified the elected representatives of those communities.
"There were too many doubters from 2004 to 2017 when we set out on our journey of inclusion in the economy. It started out in 2006, when we signed our first-ever forest and range agreement and then renewed it five years later — our first step into the economy and our first step in developing a partnership with the then government of B.C.
It was really LNG that put us on the road to success and independence, not only at the elected chief and council level but where it really mattered, at the individual level, for those that had never had a real opportunity in life and were now exposed to the opportunity that a lot of Canadians had enjoyed before.
But at the same time, there were protesters from afar who didn't like the idea and tried to stop us even before it began. Local politicians got into the act, attending rallies that vilified what we were trying to do, vilified democratically elected First Nations leaders and even signed anti-LNG declarations without even thinking of talking to the communities or even the people who were stuck in the cycle of poverty and the violence of poverty.
Even when the outside politicians and organizations came into our communities to find discontent and played that out for their own agendas, knowing full well it would tear our communities apart right down to the family dinner table, we persevered. We stuck with it.
When we as leaders, First Nations leaders, got threatened and called derogatory names like sellouts or apples, we stuck with it.
We continued to battle the political agendas, the backlash, the misinformation with facts, but it was hard. It was difficult. It was one of the darkest times of our lives as First Nations leaders because of the sensationalism. The politicians, the slick messaging, the TV spokespeople were more likely to be believed than our own leadership, which was democratically elected and was expected to deliver the truth."
The discussion expanded during the course of the fifteen minutes to explore other energy projects, how the opportunities of just a few years ago are now gone at a cost to British Columbia and Canada.
The cost of projects like Kitimat LNG failing is huge. Beyond the loss of jobs and capital, Canada and the world will suffer environmentally. Every year that we delay making LNG available for developing markets is another year that these growing markets remain reliant on GHG-intensive coal power, energy that is polluting our air and driving us further from our global climate goals.
Meanwhile, Nisga'a's hydro-powered Ksi Lisims LNG will be at net zero within three years of start-up. Cedar LNG, a proposal led by Haisla Nation, will offer one of the lowest–carbon intensity LNG facilities in the world.
We know that these projects can lift Aboriginal communities out of poverty and out of the cycles. We know that this economic reconciliation can mean more dollars to support our provincial economy. We've got to get away from the talking, and we've got to do more walking, more action. This is what reconciliation really means in terms of economics."
To close his commentary for the morning, the Skeena MLA observation observed how in the way he views it, development can be reconciled with reconciliation.
"As usual, it's talk. Not one mention of the multi-billion-dollar projects that are happening in Kitimat — one that succeeded and one that failed.
A $30 billion Chevron KLNG project left town. That project was on reserve. That was going to provide jobs, taxes and rent to our First Nation. It's gone.
Not one mention of Trans Mountain, the oil project that's coming through from Alberta to the shores of Vancouver. First Nations are actually actively trying to pursue equity agreements with the government of Canada. Not one mention.
I understand that every First Nation is diverse in terms of economic goals, but their goals are the same in terms of the end game: they're trying to get to a better place in the 21st century.
And it's not politically correct to talk about LNG. We can even talk about First Nations in the context of being stewards — an old term.
I'd like to bring a news flash to the Legislature. I have not met one British Columbian, First Nations or not, that says: "I don't care about the environment."
It's not just a First Nations issue in terms of the environment; it's a global issue ...
Reconciliation is the foundation of so many things happening here in B.C.
It can uplift so many people, Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals alike. But there's a bigger picture here. We can't stay out of this game. It's called global warming. It's not called B.C. warming. It's not called Canada warming. It's called global warming.
First Nations want to be a part of it. In fact, Eva Clayton, with her $55 billion LNG project, says the Nisga'a Nation has always been concerned about climate change and embraced the appeal of LNG as a replacement to coal and oil combustion in Asia.
This is where the conversation has been with First Nations for the last 15 years. This is where the Legislature has got to go, this is where B.C. has got to go, and this is where Canada has got to go."
You can review the full overview of the discussion from the Legislature Hansard Record, as well as through the video archive from the Monday session, starting at just before 10:20 AM
For more notes on the work of the Skeena MLA at the Legislature, see our archive page here.