How Northwest B.C. is Advancing Indigenous Reconciliation and Environmental Sustainability


How Northwest B.C. is Advancing Indigenous Reconciliation and Environmental Sustainability

Prince Rupert is a small city, of 14,000 people, in northwestern British Columbia located within the traditional territory of the Ts’mysen peoples. Prince Rupert is home to Canada’s third largest port, which moves over $60 billion of trade annually and is continuing to grow with $2 billion of development in progress. This critical piece of Canada’s supply chain places Prince Rupert and northwestern B.C. at the forefront of local, national, and global environmental issues.

Efforts to rapidly decarbonize our economy and support global energy transition are directly felt in northwest B.C. The region has been the focus of proposals and projects to export LNG, propane, methanol, wood pellets, and hydrogen. In connection with these proposals to reduce global carbon emissions, there are major efforts to minimize the carbon emissions associated with the developments, primarily through electrification and access to B.C.’s hydroelectric distribution grid.

Major planning and Indigenous engagement are required for new linear infrastructure to support these developments. Understanding the needs and perspectives of the Indigenous people whose territory will be impacted is essential. For example, a 2020 memorandum of understanding was required between Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs and the federal and provincial governments about future resource developments following a dispute regarding the $14.5 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline. BC Hydro is considering plans to construct new multi-billion-dollar electricity transmission lines to support industrial power users on the North Coast, including the $18 billion LNG Canada development, mine proposals, and the expansion of the Port of Prince Rupert. Current processes can take 10+ years to approve and construct major pipelines and transmission lines, making it challenging to meet market demands. New approaches are necessary to achieve global decarbonization objectives while also fulfilling Indigenous consultation and federal/ provincial environmental requirements.

Cumulative effects of proposed developments must also be considered. In January 2023, the Government of B.C. announced an implementation agreement with the Blueberry River First Nation, which includes joint planning and partnership with the First Nations for resource stewardship within the First Nations’ territory. The agreement is in response to the British Columbia Supreme Court ruling in Yahey where the Court determined that the industrial development permitted by the Government of B.C. within the First Nations’ territory unjustifiably infringed the ability for the First Nation to meaningfully exercise the rights granted to them under Treaty 8. The agreement includes restoration funding, new ecosystem-based management approaches, and additional information regarding which oil and gas projects in the area can proceed. While more work must be done, this agreement brings more predictability with respect to how land use decisions can proceed in partnership with affected Indigenous communities.

The Prince Rupert Port Authority (PRPA) is also working to balance supporting Canada’s trade agenda with environmental sustainability and reconciliation with Indigenous communities. PRPA ensures responsible development through its robust project review and authorization process, which provides proponents and Indigenous communities with clarity surrounding PRPA’s unique role as both a landlord and a regulator. Building values-based collaborative relationships with Indigenous communities and entrenching Indigenous economic participation in the growth of the Port has proved to be a recipe for success. The Port’s recent and future development has and will involve significant partnerships, and early and consistent engagement with affected Indigenous communities.

The healthy ecosystems and significant Indigenous population in northwest B.C. are constant reminders of our collective responsibility to ensure that contemplated projects in the region are leading examples of facilitating global energy transition, environmentally responsible development, and progressive relationships with Indigenous peoples. In my view, the Port’s approach to advance its strategic objectives, almost always in partnership with one or more local Indigenous communities, is a crucial model for Canada to achieve not only environmental sustainability, but over time, Indigenous reconciliation.