Originally published in the Island Tides on October 6, 2016
Over the past year, I have written extensively about the Malahat LNG proposal at Bamberton in the Saanich Inlet. The proponent, Steelhead LNG, is in the news again with an announcement that Seven Generations Energy, a gas extraction company in northwestern Alberta, has purchased a “significant minority” share in Steelhead’s operation.
Steelhead LNG’s approach to Indigenous relationships has been unacceptable. Despite their rhetoric, their approach has been an utter failure. We are moving into a new era in British Columbia and Canada, one which requires more actions than words. So far Steelhead has been all talk.
In an interview about the new partnership on CBC’s Early Edition with Rick Cluff, Steelhead LNG CEO Nigel Kuzemko was asked about his company’s engagement with First Nations, specifically with their partners Malahat and Huu-ay-aht First Nations on Vancouver Island.
Mr. Kuzemko once again claimed that they are going above and beyond their requirements by law. He noted that even though Steelhead does not technically need to engage First Nations until his project application has been submitted to the Provincial government, his company has been engaging the Malahat and Huu-ay-aht First Nations for two years. Following that he stated that a majority of the First Nations they have talked to have been supportive.
It is important to point out that the Malahat and Huu-ay-aht are Steelhead’s business partners. Developing partnership agreements in secrecy with business partners hardly counts as meaningful First Nation consultation, plus it’s hardly surprising that business partners would be supportive of their project.
The fact that Mr. Kuzemko fails to mention that the four W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations on the Saanich Peninsula publicly stated their unequivocal opposition to the Malahat LNG proposal at a press conference this past spring, highlights Steelhead’s approach to selective engagement.
Granted he did qualify that a “majority” of First Nations on the pipeline route and surrounding area were supportive, identifying that his company lacks complete support, although how he determines a “majority” is highly questionable. He also leaves the listener with the impression that his company is doing a good job fostering and building these critical relationships.
Empty words and nothing could be further from the truth. His company has shown a complete lack of understanding of the complex relationships that exist in the Saanich Inlet.
Patting himself on the back for going above and beyond the requirements of the regulatory process, by engaging his business partners two years before he has to, would lead the public to believe that Steelhead is at the forefront of the new era of reconciliation and relationship building.
In fact, Steelhead LNG has continually minimized and ignored the significant Aboriginal and treaty rights of the other W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations in the area. Even after all the months that have passed, Mr. Kuzemko still fails to acknowledge their rights and their opposition and has not been forthright with the public about it.
His willingness to gloss over these critically important facts is cause for concern with many other aspects of this project. How many other critically important facts are being left out of the public discussion? How many other corners are they willing to cut to get their so-called “low-cost” gas to market?
Steelhead LNG’s latest partnership announcement made headlines in all the oil and gas publications, just as they had hoped. But, their First Nations engagement is going to have to be more meaningful than partnering with a company with a name like “Seven Generations”. To start they need to not ‘forget’ to mention important facts like the outright opposition of the four W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations on the Saanich Peninsula if they want any credibility as a company who takes First Nations engagement and rights seriously.