Three months after participating in a GoFundMe campaign to challenge the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, the Lax Kw’alaams Indian Band has officially taken the provincial and federal governments to court.
The civil claim was filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia on March 22, according to court documents obtained by the Northern View.
In the documents, the Nine Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams, represented by its mayor John Helin, claim Aboriginal title and rights over a section of land north of Prince Rupert including Dundas Island, Grassy Point, Lax Kw’alaams, the Nasoga Gulf, the Khutzeymateen Inlet and the Nass River.
The claim states that in pursuing the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, otherwise known as Bill C-48, the federal government “discriminates against the plaintiffs by prohibiting the development of land in the claim area, being an area that has one of the best deep-water ports and safest waterways in Canada.”
The suit also takes aim at the province, claiming that the Great Bear Rainforest policy and legislation was created “without consent and over the objections” of the band.
The claim is the latest chapter in an ongoing battle between the provincial and federal governments and First Nations groups over potential development of the northwest coast to export oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG).
While the provincial and federal governments cite environmental concerns as their primary reasons for restricting the use of the area, opponents of the legislation say it prevents First Nations from benefiting from natural resources they claim the right to control.
Specifically, the claim references an energy corridor from Bruderheim, Alberta to Grassy Point, near Lax Kw’alaams. This corridor — otherwise known as the Eagle Spirit project — is a $16 billion First Nations-backed project led by Calvin Helin, the brother of John Helin.
If passed, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act would ban tankers carrying more than 12,500 metric tonnes of crude oil from stopping or unloading at ports or marine installations along British Columbia’s North Coast.
“The said action by Canada was therefore taken deliberately to thwart this plan and the ability of the plaintiffs to create economic support for their community based on the development of an oil export facility,” the claim states.
In January, leaders representing 30 First Nations communities from Alberta to Northwest B.C. called the Chief’s Council launched a GoFundMe campaign to fundraise for the legal challenge. To date, the campaign has raised $37,378.
A month later, a group of hereditary chiefs from Lax Kw’alaams declared their support of the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, stating that they did not agree with the with the Chief’s Council.
“We do not support the oil tanker band and want to make it clear that Eagle Spirit has never consulted the rightful title holders of Grassy Point, and we’ve never given permission for any project to be built on their territories,” said Sm’oogit Galksic, Andrew Tait of the Gits’iis tribe.
John Helin could not be reached for comment on this story by deadline.