Burns Lake area chief calls on premier for consultation

Step in the right direction, says First Nation chief, but more slated.

After waiting five months for a response to a written request for consultation over natural gas pipeline proposals with Premier Christy Clark, Wet’suwet’en First Nation (WFN) Chief Karen Ogen took to social media to get her message out.

Premier Christy Clark was in Prince George for a resource forum last week. At the same time, Ogen released statements calling on the premier to pull up a chair for meaningful First Nation consultation on issues surrounding natural gas proposals involving pipelines through her peoples traditional territories.

“First Nations should be involved right from the get-go and not as an afterthought,” Ogen said.  “We had been waiting for five months for a response. So we stood up to say, you have to address our request.”

Ogen wants to see extended to First Nations the same kind of  accommodation extended to energy proponents.

“While Wet’suwet’en has been forced to wait for Crown consultation to begin, government and industry have been meeting behind closed doors to finalize high level decisions, fiscal arrangements and strategic plans for the new liquid natural gas export industry,” Ogen said.

Media picked up on the WFN press releases, asking Clark to explain the seeming contradiction between her assurances of First Nation consultation on natural gas and Ogen’s complaint that consultation hadn’t been forthcoming.

“First Nations have waited far too long to be a part of our economy, and we want to make sure they are included and benefitting from economic development,” Clark said. “So, that’s part of what we are trying to do in the engagement across the north, but we still have more to do.”

Nechako Lakes MLA and Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, John Rustad met with Ogen on Jan. 23, 2014. While Ogen acknowledged it was a step in the right direction, she still hasn’t personally heard from Clark.

“We’re hoping to negotiate, not litigate,” Ogen said. “She’s acknowledged our message and had minister Rustad meet with us…We’re going to have ongoing dialogue and discussion.”

While WFN, located just west of Burns Lake, is ready to discuss economic partnership with the province over natural gas ‘royalty, taxation and regulatory legislation,’ not all Wet’suwet’en share her willingness to negotiate.

The Office of the Wet’suwet’en (OW), which represents clans of the traditional Wet’suwet’en hereditary structure and whose traditional territories encompass WFN reserve lands, does not share Ogen’s willingness to discuss pipeline proposals.

The OW has adamantly denied the possibility of approval for any pipeline proposal, whether natural gas or oil, through their traditional territories – all 22,000 square kilometres of them.

“I respect their decision and what they choose for their members,” Ogen said. “But I oversee the 241 Wet’suwet’en here. I’m responsible for our members and our nation, so I work on our behalf.”

Wet’suwet’en First Nation is just west of Burns Lake.