PETRONAS is now a partner in the LNG Canada Kitimat project which involves building an export terminal intended to get natural gas from the North Montney fields to market in Asia. The Coastal Gaslink Pipeline connecting Dawson Creek to Kitimat is an essential part of the overall scheme. Gas from PETRONAS’ own North Montney fields to be delivered via the North Montney Mainline to join the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline at Dawson Creek. While there has been extensive first nations buy-in into the project, including from the elected Wet’suwet’en band council, the hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation, who claim responsibility for off-reserve affairs and for the stewardship of the larger territory through which the pipeline must pass have voiced serious objections. The Wet’suwet’en have established an Unist’ot’en checkpoint at in 2009 and have steadily developed the Unist’ot’en healing camp over the years. More recently and a second check point was established at neighbouring Gidimt’en to resist the passage of the pipeline.
So what is the significance of the blockade given the injunction and the overwhelming momentum of the provincial/ national /corporate resource agenda? Much of the land of British Columbia was settled without treaties being reached with the respective First Nations. In a decision of the Supreme Court in Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia (1997), it was held that that Aboriginal title to land can be established if an Indigenous nation could prove exclusive occupation when the Crown asserted sovereignty. Delgamuukw did not however settle the Wet’suwet’en land claim and as such, it will require another trial to resolve the matter. According to law professor Kent McNeil, as reported in Houston Today, it is in this light that the hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en are “asserting their title on the ground and they’re saying you can’t do this without consent because it passes through our territory.”
According to the Tyee, on January 7th, in pursuance of a court injunction against the two checkpoints (not the healing camp as it is not in the way of the pipeline), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) tactical unit breeched and dismantled the Gidimt’en checkpoint, arresting 14 protesters. According to The Interior News, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have negotiated with the RCMP to allow Costal Gaslink workers passage through the Unist’ot’en checkpoint for the duration of the injunction which lasts till May 1st 2019. As with PETRONAS’ previously aborted solo project on Lelu Island, their current joint venture in British Columbia’s LNG sector faces the vicissitudes of Canadian Law and politics in the context of our colonial legacy. If it is established that the Wet’suwet’en have Aboriginal title, then, according to Kent McNeil, the Provincial and Federal governments would need their consent before approving resource activities on this land. Even if such a finding of title is not arrived at, as with the previous PETRONAS project, indigenous resistance and the due process may cause enough delay for the joint venture LNG Canada project to run into the ever imminent ‘unfavourable conditions’ in the ever volatile market.