For the Lax Kw’alaams, cultural identity is priceless compared to LNG – by Brent Jang (Globe and Mail – May 16, 2015)

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LAX KW’ALAAMS, B.C. — Aboriginal artist Lianna Spence will treasure this feast long after the 100 friends and relatives finish their plates filled with B.C. seafood.

It is a special occasion for this late-afternoon potluck lunch at the elders’ lodge in Lax Kw’alaams. On a long table are an array of delicacies, including dried salmon and halibut, smoked black cod, boiled Dungeness crab and fried eulachon – small fish that many natives enjoy eating whole, from head to tail.

It is a day to laugh and cry as residents share memories to celebrate the life of Ms. Spence’s great-grandmother, Vera, who raised her in Lax Kw’alaams, a remote B.C. community accessible by boat or float plane. Ms. Spence, 32, spent months carving and painting an elaborate totem pole in honour of Vera, who died in 2006 at the age of 87.

During this long day full of emotion, Ms. Spence takes time to talk about a subject that has dominated the Lax Kw’alaams people’s thoughts over the past couple of weeks – Pacific NorthWest LNG’s $1-billion cash offer to the 3,600-member band, or the equivalent of almost $320,000 a person.

The fear among the Lax Kw’alaams is that construction of the massive LNG project will harm juvenile salmon habitat in Flora Bank, a sandy reef-like area next to Lelu Island in the estuary of the Skeena River. Flora Bank, which is part of the traditional territory of the Lax Kw’alaams, has become intertwined with the people’s cultural and economic identity. For a great many of the band members, the risks to juvenile salmon far outweigh the potential benefits from building an LNG export terminal on Lelu Island, located 50 kilometres south of Lax Kw’alaams.

“They’re offering us benefits if we vote Yes. But we already have a lot of benefits around us – we have coho, spring and sockeye salmon. We have halibut, crab and eulachon. Those are our benefits,” says Ms. Spence, who was one of hundreds of eligible Lax Kw’alaams voters who recently spurned the LNG joint venture led by Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas.

“Lax Kw’alaams people depend on the seafood that they get for free,” says Ms. Spence, who lives in nearby Prince Rupert with her 12-year-old daughter Kiera. “I eat mostly seafood. I have two deep freezers and they’re loaded with seafood.”

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