What is the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation?
Lax Kw’alaams First Nation, a small community in northern British Columbia has received a lot of media attention over the last couple of months. And rightfully so! This community rejected a billion dollar LNG deal from Petronas and recently announced that they’ll seek aboriginal title on land slated to hold Petronas’ $36 billion LNG project.
The effects of this decision should not be understated. The Supreme Court of Canada Tsilhqot’in decision states that once aboriginal title has been established, any potential or existing project needs to gain the consent of the First Nation that holds title. In other words, even if Petronas and the province of British Columbia go ahead with the construction of the Pacific Northwest LNG facility, there’s a very real possibility that the project will be halted or shut down if Lax Kw’alaams First Nation receives aboriginal title on the site.
Despite the increased media attention on Lax Kw’alaams’ policy statements we haven’t seen a lot of coverage on the community itself. What is Lax Kw’alaams’ financial situation? Governance structure? Community demographics?
The community of Lax Kw’alaams is located not far from the city of Prince Rupert. As of August 2015, there were 3,737 members of the community. However, 81 per cent of the members live off-reserve in Vancouver, Prince Rupert and other urban centres. Only 17 per cent of members live on the Lax Kw’alaams reserve, and two per cent of members live in other First Nation communities.
The community is governed through a custom code election, which allows the community to set their own election laws. Lax Kw’alaams has been very transparent with their election laws by posting their custom election code online—not a practice employed by other custom code bands. Chief Gary Reece was elected in 2011 along with 12 other councillors. However, they are all up for re-election on November 23. Chief Reece earned a $122,500 salary in 2014, which decreased to $110,720 this year.
In 2013/14 the community received $17,146,051 in federal government transfers and $790,570 from the province. In contrast, the community generated $38,164,190 in own-source revenue. In other words, 68 per cent of its annual revenue was generated through the community’s business transactions. The majority of this revenue was generated through natural resource deals. In fact, more than $34 million was generated through resource deals, logging and forestry ventures, representing 91 per cent of the revenue generated by the community in fiscal year.
In 2014/15 the community received $23,191,955 in federal government transfers and $3,849,000 from the province. In contrast, the community generated $31,004,574 in own-source revenue, including 87 per cent from natural resource transactions totaling more than $27 million. In 2014/15, 53 per cent of Lax Kw’alaams’ funding was generated through the community’s business transactions, which decreased by 15 per cent from 2013/14.
In summation, Lax Kw’alaams is a community with a diverse population, with the majority of its members living off-reserve; they generate more own-source revenue than government transfers, and the community is in an election year. These factors may play into the chief and council’s decision to claim title on the site of the Petronas LNG facility.
Moreover, if the community’s claim to title is successful, they may have the ability to shut down the project that has already gained the support of the local municipality, First Nations such as Kitselas First Nation, and the provincial government.
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