Infamous ‘War in the Woods’ in 1990s offers lesson for the Coastal Gaslink pipeline debate – by Cody Battershill (Financial Post – January 28, 2020)

“We hear of growing frustration among Canada’s Indigenous communities, who are tired of managing systemic poverty. They’re ready to turn to managing wealth, and to obtaining a safe, secure and sustainable future for their community members, particularly their youth….As Canada continues on a path toward reconciliation with its Indigenous communities, it makes sense that economic reconciliation, including genuine participation in resource projects, be a key part of the discussion.”

If you talk to participants of B.C.’s infamous “War in the Woods” forestry land-use debates of the 1990s, you quickly learn that virtually no one enjoyed the experience, no matter which side they supported. All these years later, each side can claim a handful of victories and plenty of defeats.

According to many of the participants I’ve spoken with over the years, a few First Nations leaders found the anti-forestry campaigns especially hurtful as their communities were pulled in — and then fractured — in large part by external campaign forces.

Back then it was the Forest Action Network (FAN) and a number of other early enviro-combatants that led the anti-resources charge over B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest. FAN became adept at finding divisions within First Nations communities, identifying roles for dissatisfied hereditary leaders and then elevating them before international media, often to the detriment of elected councillors and the Indigenous community at large.

So the parallels jump off the page when you read about the politics of the proposed 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink, the pipeline that would connect northeast B.C. to a $16-billion liquefied natural gas terminal being built in Kitimat.

Every one of the 20 elected First Nation councils along the proposed route supports the project but — in an echo of the 1990s — activists are saying hereditary chiefs have the real authority, not democratically elected chiefs and councils, so Coastal GasLink should be blocked.

For the rest of this column: