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The $36-billion Pacific Northwest plant is slated for Lelu Island at the mouth of the Skeena River.

cific Northwest LNG

Two B.C. First Nations leaders fighting a proposal to export liquefied natural gas from Lelu Island say Ottawa needs to recognize the hereditary rights of the Allied Tsimshian Tribes of Lax Kw'alaams.

Donnie Wesley and Ken Lawson say Pacific NorthWest LNG's plan to build an $11.4-billion terminal on Lelu Island poses a threat to juvenile salmon habitat. The two men are hereditary leaders of the Gitwilgyoots, one of nine allied tribes of the Lax Kw'alaams in northwestern British Columbia.

"This area sustains not only our food resources but is the heart of Tsimshian culture and society," they said in a letter this month to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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"For us, this is not a matter of jobs and money, but goes to the very survival of our grandchildren, great grandchildren and those yet unborn. That is what we must consider and that is our law."

Mr. Wesley signed the letter in his position as chief of the Gitwilgyoots tribe and Mr. Lawson as house leader.

They lead a group of indigenous people who have occupied Lelu Island in rotating shifts since last August.

The Port of Prince Rupert wrote to the two men in April, asking them to remove the protest camp on the island, which is located next to Flora Bank – a sandy area containing eelgrass that nurtures juvenile salmon in the Skeena River estuary.

The federal port said a two-storey house and a cabin are on federal Crown land on Lelu Island and those two unauthorized structures that were built by protesters must be dismantled.

Howard Green is the aboriginal group's interim president.

"We intend to pursue all available options to protect our aboriginal rights and titles in our territories, including the Prince Rupert harbour area, and adjacent waters," says the letter sent to Mr. Trudeau and five federal cabinet ministers.

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The letter is the latest salvo fired by critics of Pacific NorthWest LNG, a consortium led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas.

The issue of aboriginal rights over Lelu Island and Flora Bank has degenerated into a messy power struggle since John Helin won election last November as the new mayor of Lax Kw'alaams. Mr. Helin said in March that the band council will support the LNG terminal subject to the creation of an environmental performance committee, in contrast to former mayor Garry Reece's opposition to Pacific NorthWest LNG.

A separate group of hereditary chiefs – the Nine Tribes of Lax Kw'alaams – declared its official support last month for Pacific NorthWest LNG. The pro-LNG hereditary chiefs have questioned Mr. Wesley's authority, saying he heads a small group of radicals that includes non-native demonstrators. Backers of the Nine Tribes say they understand Mr. Wesley's frustrations but want the protesters to leave Lelu Island.

Industry experts say that with low LNG prices in export markets in Asia and a worldwide glut of the fuel, only three or four of the 20 LNG proposals in British Columbia appear economically viable.

Three B.C. proposals have already received federal and provincial environment certificates: the LNG Canada project in Kitimat, led by Royal Dutch Shell; the Woodside-Chevron joint venture called Kitimat LNG; and Woodfibre LNG's project near Squamish. Six others are undergoing regulatory reviews.

In a presentation at the Canada LNG Export conference last month in Vancouver, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency noted there are four proposals being examined by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office: Grassy Point LNG, WCC LNG, Aurora LNG (each have sites near Prince Rupert) and WesPac Tilbury LNG, which hopes to export from Delta, located south of Vancouver.

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Since April, 2013, the federal regulator has been examining Pacific NorthWest LNG's plan to build an export terminal. CEAA is spearheading the review of one other LNG proposal – Shell's Prince Rupert LNG project slated for Ridley Island.

Of the 11 remaining proposals, three are targeted for Vancouver Island, while the remaining eight sites are envisaged for northern British Columbia.

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