Home And Native Land – by Cooper Langford (Financial Post Magazine – April 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

In many respects, the city of Kitimat is an iconic Canadian community. Situated in a wide, flat valley at the head of the Douglas Channel in northwestern B.C., it has, for the past 60 years, been home to one of the world’s great hydroelectric and aluminum smelting projects. A technological marvel when it was built by the Aluminum Company of Canada during the industrial boom that followed the Second World War, the project brought the modern world to a resource-rich wilderness and became the foundation of a prosperous frontier city.

More recent history, however, has been less kind to the Kitimat region. Technological advances mean the smelter, now owned by global mining giant Rio Tinto, no longer employs as many people as it once did. The businesses — methane, ammonia and paper — that followed it into the deep reaches of the province are no more. Kitimat is a community looking to re-stake its claim on the future. And there is a new prospect on the horizon: Calgary-based Enbridge has identified the community as the terminus for its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project to ship bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the Pacific coast and, potentially, new markets in Asia.

Northern Gateway — if it goes ahead — will be a groundbreaking project in its own right, a 21st century statement of Canada’s role as a global energy supplier. But getting to that point is far from certain. Whatever technological and business innovation it may represent, the pipeline has become the centre of an iconic debate. When the federal panel reviewing Northern Gateway opened its hearings this past January in Kitimat Village, home to the local Haisla First Nation, among the first voices it heard were from local hereditary chiefs who, one by one, rose to speak in opposition to the project. “If there is a spill, all that we enjoy from the land and the sea will be destroyed,” said Chief Clifford Smith, echoing a widely held sentiment. “Let us put our strength together and stand as one, and say ‘no’ to Enbridge.”

The chiefs were not alone in their views. Enbridge is facing similar opposition from First Nation communities all along the proposed 1,170-kilometre pipeline route. And tempting though it may be to view the protests and threats of lawsuit through the narrative of aboriginal opposition to resource projects, that would be wrong. That lens no longer applies to the investment and economic development processes across most of Canada. Countrywide, aboriginal communities have been taking ever-more substantial leadership roles in business development and maturing as serious economic players. Investment and partnership have been cornerstones of progress.

For proof, look no further than a few kilometres further down the Douglas Channel where the Haisla First Nation is actively involved in two other energy projects on their home territory. The first — and largest — is a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project led by Apache Canada Ltd., a subsidiary of the Houston-based global energy powerhouse Apache Corp. It will see the construction of aliquefaction plant, storage facility and marine on-loading facility that will ship some five million metric tonnes of LNG annually on startup, which is expected in 2015. The band has already benefited to the tune of $50 million by selling their option for an equity stake in the project. Further employment and business provisions in the agreement between the Haisla and Apache Canada, as well as lease payments for use of traditional lands, will ensure benefits accrue for many years to come.

Even more intriguing is the Haisla’s second project: a smaller LNG project that it is building in a 50-50 joint venture with Houston-based LNG Partners. Working under the name BC LNG Partnership, the joint venture received an export licence from the National Energy Board in February and shipments should begin in the not-too-distant future.

As myth-busting stories about aboriginal attitudes toward business go, the Haisla’s participation in LNG developments in northwestern B.C. is pretty good. After all, the demonstrated investment and cooperation hardly smack of anti-business attitudes. The stories might even generate more widespread coverage but for a simple fact: they are not especially unique.

In southwestern British Columbia, for example, the economic development arm of the Osoyoos Indian Band has been building a line of recreational businesses based on its traditional territory in one of Canada’s most unique desert regions. Among its holdings are a golf course, a resort and spa and an international award-winning winery.

In the Far North, the Yellowknives Dene have created a portfolio of companies around aviation, contract mining services, logistics and environmental services, focused in part on the territory’s diamond mining industry. Meanwhile, in Labrador, the Inuit-owned Nunatsiavut Group of companies is active in transportation with a 51% stake in Air Labrador Ltd. and a wholly owned shipping company, NGC Nunatsiavut Marine Transport, as well as other sectors such as construction and logistics.

For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post website: http://www.nationalpost.com/related/topics/Home+Native+Land/6434765/story.html