Thursday, July 31, 2014
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Premier snubs Treaty 8

Clark's visit to Peace Region likely won't include meet with tribal chief about LNG concerns

Jonny Wakefield

Alaska Highway News

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is making a stop in the Peace in a couple of weeks, but that isn’t welcome news for Liz Logan.

The Treaty 8 chief says her tribal association feels slighted by the premier's decision not to meet with aboriginal groups on her trip.

According to several sources, Clark will make a brief stop in the Peace on June 20 – one day before a potential meeting that Logan requested with the premier to discuss concerns around liquefied natural gas development.

While an itinerary for the visit is not set in stone, a representative from the South Peace Liberal riding association told the Alaska Highway News that the premier would be in Dawson Creek for two hours. Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier also confirmed Clark’s “hard-hat” visit over the weekend.

Clark, along with an entourage of government minister and MLAs including Bernier, is expected to attend a community meeting and inspect natural gas facilities, as well as make a few policy announcements.

Representatives for Clark could not be reached for comment by press time.

In May, Logan delivered a request for a meeting to Clark at a liquefied natural gas conference in Vancouver.

The request outlined First Nations issues with proposed natural gas projects in the Peace, and asked the premier for a meeting on June 21 – the anniversary of the signing of Treaty 8 and National Aboriginal Day. (Treaty 8 represents five First Nations in the B.C. Peace.)

According to Logan, the premier "indicated she would look at her calendar and get back to us."

Treaty 8 has since put in a formal request for a meeting.

Logan's letter to the premier, which was signed by seven First Nations chiefs, concluded that the government's aborted attempt earlier this spring to relax permitting processes for certain natural gas projects "speaks to the degree of the lack of consultation and the inadequate working relationship with First Nations who are directly impacted by such decisions."

First Nations approval is vital to the success of B.C.'s fledgling natural gas industry, as governments are legally required to consult First Nations on issues that affect tribal lands.

Logan said the premier's decision not to meet with First Nations despite being in the region is another government misstep on aboriginal issues.

In April, provincial bureaucrats were "drummed out" of a LNG summit with Fort Nelson First Nations over a move to revise environmental assessments on sweet natural gas plants. The Environment ministry has since rescinded that decision, and Clark personally met with Fort Nelson Chief Sharleen Gale to smooth things over.

Then in May, a freedom of information request from the Globe and Mail revealed angry emails between Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm and Minister Bill Bennett about the head of the agriculture land reserve.

Bennett was tasked with a full review of government programs, including the land reserve, and Pimm's emails included reference to giving "Indians more money." The MLA has since apologized for the remark, but numerous First Nations groups continue to call for an official apology from government.

Logan said Treaty 8 members are not opposed to development outright, pointing out that many First Nations people work in oil and gas. "But there's so much development right now even before any major projects happen," said Logan. "We want this government to start doing things sustainably, and we need to start looking at more regional environmental assessments."

She added there were several outstanding land issues between the province and Treaty 8. "So we need to sit down and talk about a number of things," she said.

This time around, though, a meeting does not seem likely. Shaely Wilbur, a Dawson Creek city councillor and a member of the local riding association, said groups often approach her organization for face time with the premier.

"Sometimes that's possible," she said. "In this case it's not. It's a very tight schedule."

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