Native leaders of a protest camp are lashing out at the Port of Prince Rupert by unveiling plans to build a cultural centre on Lelu Island, the site of a proposed LNG terminal.
Two Lax Kw'alaams First Nation hereditary leaders have written a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, complaining about the federal port's support for Pacific NorthWest LNG. The consortium, led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, is seeking to construct the $11.4-billion terminal to export liquefied natural gas to Asia.
The port is demanding that members of the Lax Kw'alaams who erected two buildings on Lelu Island now dismantle the structures, but the request is being ignored by demonstrators. Instead of complying with the port's order, protesters are vowing to expand their construction plans.
"Just last week, we reviewed exciting plans to build a cultural institution on Lelu Island," said the letter by tribal chief Donnie Wesley and house leader Ken Lawson. They are hereditary leaders of the Gitwilgyoots, one of nine allied tribes of the Lax Kw'alaams.
Demonstrators built a two-storey house last fall and constructed a cabin this spring on the island, located south of Prince Rupert.
The protest camp started last August, with critics warning that Pacific NorthWest LNG will harm Flora Bank, a sandy area next to Lelu Island. Mr. Wesley and Mr. Lawson are worried that if a suspension bridge and trestle-supported pier were to be built between the island and a dock for LNG tankers on Agnew Bank, the infrastructure would disrupt waves and ruin Flora Bank's eelgrass beds for juvenile salmon.
Lelu Island and Flora Bank are federal Crown properties, say port officials, who are administrators of both areas.
But the Lax Kw'alaams counter that both properties are part of their traditional territory in the Skeena River Estuary. The cultural centre on Lelu Island "will serve as a meeting place, cultural and education centre, children's activity centre, healing place and a base from which we will continue to gather food and other resources from our lands and waters," according to the letter copied to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Transport Minister Marc Garneau and NDP MP Nathan Cullen, who represents the Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency began its review of the energy project in April, 2013. The regulator is expected to issue a ruling by August in what has been a much-delayed process. Industry observers initially thought the assessment might take two years at most.
"From the outset, efforts to build this project have ignored the advice and the wishes of our people, have ignored independent science that confirm threats to wild salmon," Mr. Wesley and Mr. Lawson said in their letter, adding that climate change is another concern. "And now, peaceful community members are being threatened with legal action for building shelters for our people on our ancestral lands."
On Monday, the port asked the protesters to "cease and desist from any further construction activities." Captain Gary Paulson, the port's harbour master, warned that the port will seek a court order if the two buildings on Lelu Island aren't dismantled. "If you fail to comply with this requirement, you will be held responsible for any consequential harm," Capt. Paulson wrote.
Last month, the elected mayor of Lax Kw'alaams, John Helin, sent a letter to the environmental assessment agency to announce that the band council will support the LNG terminal subject to the creation of an environmental performance committee.
Mr. Wesley and Mr. Lawson disagree with Mr. Helin's stance, highlighting a growing internal rift among Lax Kw'alaams members.
Some hereditary chiefs have sided with the pro-LNG forces, pitting neighbour against neighbour. Mr. Wesley and Mr. Lawson, however, insist that they maintain overwhelming support. "At a community meeting this past Saturday, strong opposition to Pacific NorthWest LNG was again expressed by members of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation," they wrote.