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Four First Nations in northern British Columbia are banding together to support energy exports as they work to attract economic investment in the region despite opposition from other Indigenous groups.

The elected leaders of the Haisla, Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla and Nisga’a signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on balancing their desire for economic growth with backing climate action.

Three of the four leaders unveiled the accord on Wednesday while in Vancouver attending the World Indigenous Business Forum. They presented their pro-resource views amid opposition from other First Nations, including a campaign led by eight Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who have been vocal in fighting against energy exports from the West Coast.

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Haisla Chief Councillor Crystal Smith, Lax Kw’alaams Mayor John Helin and Nisga’a President Eva Clayton are among the nearly 500 delegates attending the forum, which is being held this week to encourage greater participation by First Nations in the economy, including resource development.

Metlakatla Chief Councillor Harold Leighton couldn’t attend Wednesday’s news conference, but he recently signed the memo and asked Mr. Helin to speak on his behalf as the Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla are both Coast Tsimshian members.

“We’re making this effort to not just get economic benefits but look after the environment as best we can,” Mr. Helin said in an interview. He said improvements could include shifting toward greater use of hydroelectricity where possible at drilling operations in northeast B.C.

Environmental groups say it is crucial for British Columbia to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within the province’s boundaries. But the four Indigenous leaders from B.C.'s northwest coast say they are taking a broader view that takes into account how exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) would displace coal-fired power plants in Asia and therefore help reduce air pollution overseas.

“This will include displacement of coal-fired generation in the most polluting jurisdictions with gas products from B.C.,” according to the nine-page memo signed by the four Indigenous leaders.

They say they are striving to help “shape effective clean-growth climate policies that can alleviate poverty while significantly reducing GHG emissions on a global scale.”

The leaders are also backing the federal government’s plan to use a section in the Paris climate agreement that would allow Canada to gain emission credits for exporting LNG to Asia.

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“Environmental groups have raised concerns about LNG development impacts on the climate,” the leaders said in their memo, titled the First Nations Collaborative Climate Initiative.

They pledge to engage with environmentalists “to discuss the opportunities associated with fuel switching and how best to reduce their concerns that LNG will exacerbate climate change rather than helping to mitigate it.”

Of the four First Nations, the elected Haisla band council is the only group so far to have signed a benefits agreement with an LNG project under construction. That’s because LNG Canada, led by Royal Dutch Shell PLC, is building an $18-billion export terminal on an industrial site located on the Haisla’s traditional territory in Kitimat, B.C.

The Shell-led project is the only LNG export terminal under construction so far in Canada.

The Haisla are also pursuing their own small-scale project called Cedar LNG. “We’ve submitted our environmental assessment documents to provincial and federal regulatory bodies. We’re making the progress that is needed in the beginning stages,” Ms. Smith said in an interview.

The elected Lax Kw’alaams band council originally opposed Pacific NorthWest LNG’s B.C. project planned for Lelu Island in the Port of Prince Rupert. The Lax Kw’alaams later supported Pacific NorthWest LNG, but the consortium led by Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas cancelled the venture in 2017.

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The Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla, which signed benefits agreements with the Petronas-led consortium, are hoping that another LNG project might be viable in their traditional territory.

The Nisga’a envisage eventually starting their own LNG project or participating in an energy consortium. “That’s on the backburner right now, but we can’t be sitting by the wayside. Moving forward, LNG would be displacing coal,” Ms. Clayton said.

Greg Kist, chief executive officer of Rockies LNG Partners, attended Wednesday’s news conference. The Rockies LNG consortium represents nine natural gas producers in Alberta and British Columbia that are seeking to export LNG to Asia.

“I see this announcement as a first step in laying the groundwork. It’s a positive step towards dealing with emissions,” Mr. Kist said, cautioning that his group is still in its early stages of planning. “Understand that it’s Indigenous territory. If they want to attract development, we’re interested in participating in that.”

Critics such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have warned that LNG could displace renewable energy in Asia.

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