Tahltan territory extends from the Coast Mountains in the west to the lower region of Yukon’s boreal forest in the north, the Cassiar Mountain range in the east and the Skeena Rivers in the south. All in all, the territory is massive – 93,500 square miles or 11.4% of British Columbia’s land mass. This territory includes some of the most resource rich land in the province – and some of the most scenic, including the iconic Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena, Stikine and Nass Rivers.
The Tahltan traditionally capitalized on their location which allowed for them to practice an elaborate trading economy as middle men between coastal tribes and those living north and east of Stikine country. They have long been defenders of their territory and traditional economy, and count among their achievements the fact that they kept the Hudson’s Bay Company out of their territory for 40 years in order to protect their own trading economy. This pride and protection of territory and economy was formalized by the Declaration of the Tahltan Tribe, 1910.
The pride and protection of territory and economy is still very much part of doing business with the Tahltan. They have ownership position in all development within their territory which ensures new developments provide revenue, training and jobs. All partnerships formed respect the Tahltan way of life, and protects their lands, waters, forest, game, fish and other resources for future generations of Tahltan people.
Since before time, the Tahltan people have been governed by a system organized through a matrilineal clan system. The matrilineal system continues today to provide the basis of Tahltan law and governance. The Tahltan, in accordance with the Indian Act, additionally have the elected form of government.
The Tahltan Nation is divided into two clans, the Crow (Tsesk’iya) and the Wolf (Ch’ioyone). Each clan is further divided into several family groups. Every person born into a family group can trace their ancestry back to one woman. There are ten major families in the Tahltan Nation; each of the ten family groups selects a family member to represent them in the Tahltan Central Council (TCC).
There are three Tahltan communities today: Iskut (Luwe Chon), Dease Lake (Talh’ah) and Telegraph Creek (Tlegohin). Prior to the construction of Highway 37 in 1972, the Tahltan territory was pretty much without roads; Iskut was not connected by road to Highway 37 until 1994.
The Tahltan Central Council, Dah Ki Mi – “Our House”, represents approximately 6,000 people, 1,600 of whom live in the three communities.
AltaGas is an energy infrastructure business with a focus on natural gas, power and regulated utilities. The Company creates value by acquiring, growing and optimizing its energy infrastructure, including a focus on clean energy sources. A leading North American energy infrastructure company, AltaGas has a 20-year history of delivering safe and reliable service
The company has a strong focus on Indigenous and Native American relations and its related Policy states “Our Aboriginal and Native American Relations Policy directs how we develop mutually beneficial relations with Indigenous communities affected by our operations. It provides direction and a means to clarify how the company will interact with Indigenous communities. It also sets standards for employees and contractors to interact with Indigenous representatives, and ensures a consistent approach for all projects. AltaGas’ policy identifies guiding principles for Indigenous Relations in order to achieve these goals.” (source: AltaGas website)
Three Impact Benefit Agreements (IBAs) between the Tahltan Central Council, the Tahltan Band, the Iskut Band and AltaGas were signed for the Northwest Projects. The Forrest Kerr IBA was signed in 2010; with Volcano Creek and McLymont Creek IBAs signed in 2011. The agreement establishes ownership, management and profit sharing, while taking into consideration the protection of the environment as a renewable energy project. The key to addressing the environmental aspects of the IBAs was the Tahltan Resource Environmental Assessment Team (T.H.R.E.A.T). As part of the IBAs, an Environmental Performance Committee was established with equal representation from AltaGas and the Tahltans to monitor the projects during construction and operation. As a result, the Tahltans have had direct involvement in the environmental assessments, permits and ongoing monitoring of the projects.
Located approximately 1,000 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, the Northwest Projects consist of three run-of-river hydroelectric facilities that will generate 277 megawatts (MW) of clean electricity; Forrest Kerr 195 MW, Volcano Creek 16 and MW McLymont Creek 66 MW.
Construction of the Forrest Kerr facility is now complete with the remaining start-up activities focusing on commissioning the powerhouse systems and high voltage switchyard, and tying in to the Northwest Transmission Line (NTL). Construction and stringing of the NTL is now complete, and commissioning is underway. AltaGas expects to be generating power in July.
At the Volcano Creek project, construction continues to pace two years ahead of schedule and the project remains on track to be in service shortly after Forrest Kerr. At the 66 MW McLymont Creek project, construction of the powerhouse foundation is advancing ahead of schedule and excavation of the 2,800 meter power tunnel is approximately 70 percent complete. The project is expected to be in service on schedule in mid-2015.
The Northwest Projects are located solely within Tahltan Nation traditional territory and are ideally located to maximize the use of the available renewable energy source, while minimizing the impact of the surrounding environment. The three projects have an estimated cost of $1 billion, making them one of the largest infrastructure developments in Northern British Columbia. Once completed, the projects will provide enough electricity for approximately 95,000 homes in British Columbia. In addition to helping the province meet its clean energy needs in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, the projects will also act as an energy source for regional development. By offsetting the use of electricity generated from fossil fuels, the projects will provide a clean energy source that will help meet Canada’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The projects will deliver electricity to the terminus point of the 287-KV Northwest Transmission Line, near Bob Quinn, BC, being constructed by BC Hydro.
In addition to revenue sharing with AltaGas, the TCC will receive revenue via a share of water rentals and land rents charged by the Province for licenses issued to AltaGas Renewable Energy Inc. for the life of the projects. Both revenue-sharing agreements with the Province are the result of the First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund, which promotes First Nations participation in the clean-energy sector. All power produced will be sold to BC Hydro for distribution to the province’s power grid.
The initial phase of informing the Tahltan people about the proposed projects was a fairly intense process. The TCC held open house information sessions on the project proposal in the communities. Nation members living in other communities outside the territory and in urban settings were also engaged. Robert McPhee, lead negotiator on the TCC Negotiation team (which also included an Elder), credits the exhaustive community consultation process as being key to the leadership receiving a mandate to pursue the projects.
Negotiations with AltaGas proceeded well as the company understands that consultation and engagement with First Nation partners is a critical part of doing business. AltaGas recognized the Indigenous rights of the Tahltan at the very beginning of the relationship and that set a positive tone for the negotiations.
“Open and consistent communication is instrumental in developing a positive relationship with the community, says Dan Woznow, Vice President, Energy Exports at AltaGas. “We are proud of our partnership with the Tahltan First Nation. In addition to holding informational Open Houses, AltaGas is active in the community supporting initiatives such as:
- The annual Dease Lake Job Fair
- Providing funding for the Dease Lake Ice Arena and the Iskut Ice Arena Zamboni
- The AltaGas New Graduate Development Program. A ten year program, one Tahltan new grad per year for the next seven years will be accepted into the AltaGas New Graduate Progam
- Volcano Creek and McLymont Creek Scholarships and Bursaries
- Annual Open House and BBQ
- Northwest Projects quarterly newsletter distributed to the Dease Lake, Iskut and Telegraph Creek communities
- Information updates on the Tahltan Central Council website.
Benefits to the Tahltan Central Council
- Revenue stream
- Use of Tahltan Business and Joint Venture Companies
- Jobs and training near home community
- Significant experience and knowledge gained on how to engage community members
- Recognition as a respected partner with corporate sector
Benefits to AltaGas Ltd
- Recognition as a respected partner with First Nations
- Access to resources
- Access to a stable workforce in a remote setting
- Access to local businesses and experienced joint venture companies
Lessons Learned from the Tahltan Nation:
What best piece of advice can you give corporations that want to form partnerships with First Nations on resource projects?
- Consult early and consult often
- Be prepared to provide capacity funding – First Nations will require technical support to have an equal conversation
- Let the First Nation lead or help shape the engagement process. They will know best how to talk to their people and identify their interests
- Have an open heart and open mind. Listen hard to the communities. Communities are often interested in economic development but it has to be done in the right way
- Communities are interested in companies that want to form long-term relationships with them
What best piece of advice can you give to First Nation communities that may be interested in developing similar partnerships on resource projects?
- Engage your community at the grassroots level
- Communicate with your people early and communicate often
- Relationships take work – if you have established a good partnership with the company it will stand up to the hard conversations that will inevitably happen
- An agreement is just the beginning. Implementation of your agreement is hard – pay a lot of attention to implementation as you form your agreement
- Build a team that will provide the best possible advice on all components of an agreement from the environmental to the financial
How long was the agreement it in the making?
Discussions began in 2008 when AltaGas acquired the projects. The first IBA for Forrest Kerr was signed in May 2010 with McLymont Creek and Volcano Creek IBA’s being signed in September 2011
What challenges were encountered and how were they mitigated?
Lack of understanding with respect to how run-of-river hydro projects work and their minimal impacts. Using 3D physical models, computer models the web and traditional paper means the community was engaged at levels to gain a better understanding.
Normal opposition to development. The fact the projects a very long term (multi-generational) fit into the long term plans of the Tahltan to have developments that can support their children’s children.
- What are the underlying components of your successful partnerships with the Tahltan Nation? Establish a relationship of mutual respect. Education, cultural awareness and understanding form the foundation
- Establishing joint priorities
- Open and consistent communication with the community
- Community involvement
What strengths does the Tahltan Nation bring to the partnership?
Access to the lands and understanding of the community, their long-term thinking and values
What strengths does AltaGas bring to the partnership?
The ability to identify good projects, develop and construct them while considering and addressing the impacts these developments may have on local communities. Funding and experience.
What are the benefits to the Tahltan Nation?
- Job creation, contracting jobs, training and education, revenue stream (down the road)?
What are the benefits to AltaGas?
- Project certainty
- Using local people and businesses to construct and operate these remote facilities to the extent possible.
- The locals understanding of weather patterns, construction requirements and logistics
- Track record of sound relationship building and a commitment to community
What does the future look like for the partnership between the Tahltan Nation and AltaGas?
The future looks bright this is the start of a long-term relationship that will last for generations to come benefiting the Tahltan, AltaGas, the Province of BC and all Canadians going forward.
Lessons Learned from AltaGas:
What best piece of advice can you give corporations that want to form business partnerships with First Nations?
- Start early and work together on the design, environmental planning and execution of the projects
- Take steps to protect cultural and heritage resources
- Gather background information
- Consult with the community
- Assemble a negotiating team
- Develop a framework for negotiations and establish the key objectives that both parties are trying to achieve
- Finalize and implement the agreement
- Community ratification, Council and Board approvals
- Form an implementation committee with equal representation
- Set-up regular meetings
- Communicate your progress to the community