BY KAREN OGEN, Chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation
Source: Vancouver Sun
I am a strong believer that in today’s British Columbia — in an economy that has long rested on a foundation of resource development — environmentalism must mean more than just saying no.
I believe environmentalism must mean working hard to establish a higher standard. It needs to be about determining what is important, and never relinquishing those values or principles. It must also mean having hard conversations about the projects we are willing to accept, those we are not and the real reasons why.
Our people signed in December a $2.8-million agreement with the province to support the Coastal Gas Link LNG pipeline. As part of this, we have also negotiated access to $30 million in training and education funds.
We signed that agreement for two reasons.
First, and most important, we are confident the project will meet our standards for environmental protection. Wet’suwet’en people have been engaged in the resource economy for a long time through forestry activities. In my people’s territory, forestry has had more negative impact than a natural gas pipeline ever will. That is not something I say lightly. It is a conclusion based on a careful analysis of the facts.
To help ensure our land is protected, the agreement includes key provisions such as $30 million for an Environmental Stewardship Initiative under which Wet’suwet’en people will conduct important environmental work in partnership with the provincial and federal governments.
The second reason we signed that agreement is because it will mean important revenues and opportunities for our people. It will help to ensure we can stand on our own two feet. For the first time in my memory, our community will have more good-paying jobs than it has people.
Despite our careful approach, we have been attacked by critics within our community and beyond. Public supporters have been hard to find, even though there are many First Nations signing economic agreements with government and industry throughout the province.
I have long believed it is short sighted to turn down projects such as this before understanding the true risks and benefits, that is just an easy way to avoid dealing with complex issues. I also know it is a certain path toward a life of continued poverty.
There is no doubt sustainability means protecting our environment. But sustainability also means ensuring our people have access to real opportunities and a decent standard of life.
That’s not just my approach. It’s one that other First Nations are following as they seek to balance the sustainability of their people and that of the environment.