Karen Ogen-Toews
Credit: Brandon Thompson

CEO of the First Nations LNG Alliance, Karen Ogen-Toews

Karen Ogen-Toews, former chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and CEO of the First Nations LNG Alliance, takes a balanced approach to working with her community and the LNG industry

As the CEO of the First Nations LNG Alliance, Karen Ogen-Toews has a single objective in mind: to improve the living conditions and economy of her community and of First Nations in B.C. in general.

Admittedly it’s not an easy task, because she and the Alliance are trying to convince communities that opportunities abound in the nascent liquefied natural gas industry. “I’ve lost friends in the process,” she says. “But we’re making progress in dispelling the myths and propaganda surrounding LNG.”

The purpose of the Alliance is to increase positive LNG dialogue in First Nations communities; communicate First Nations messages directly to First Nations audiences; communicate balanced LNG information; and provide a venue for pro-development nations to interact, share knowledge, and discuss environmental issues and priorities.

Formed in 2016, the five-member board consists of representatives from First Nations whose communities are being impacted by LNG projects, positioning them well to provide guidance on the information requirements First Nations people need and want.

To date, the Alliance has developed a great social media following on Twitter and Facebook, and sends out a weekly newsletter containing news, events, and success stories about LNG and resource development from a First Nations perspective. Plans are also underway to meet directly with First Nations communities across B.C. 

A social worker by profession and a former chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in Burns Lake, Ogen-Toews believes a lot of negative opinion about resource industries develops in the halls of academe. “I was a university student and know first-hand how easy it is to say no to everything,” she says. “But saying no doesn’t fix our houses or improve our health care.”

Complicating the Alliance’s objective is the hatred expressed by many environmental groups for pipelines in general. “That began in earnest in the 1990s, and if you say `pipeline’ to many First Nation members today, it’s an automatic negative.

“The fact is, if responsibly developed and managed, LNG will take us out of poverty – especially in the north where mining, and oil and gas opportunities have declined.”

As for the familiar argument that LNG will provide only temporary work to First Nations, Ogen-Toews replies, “Yes, but that work will allow young people to receive training, their welding and other tickets, and a solid foot in the door for other jobs. We can’t afford to pass this up.”

The good news is that Ogen-Toews and like-minded colleagues are making headway: recently, Huu-ay-aht First Nations citizens voted 70 per cent in favour of developing and co-managing (in an equity share agreement) a liquefied natural gas facility with Steelhead LNG in Vancouver Island’s Sarita Bay, on traditional Huu-ay-aht territory. This is the first B.C. Nation to approve the co-management development of a liquefied natural gas facility.

Ogen-Toews is also busy preparing an official declaration of First Nations support for LNG, which she hopes to present to various levels of government and the media this summer. “The hard work is paying off,” she says. “All we’re doing is presenting the facts and taking a balanced approach to the issue, and people are responding.

“They realize it’s possible to protect the environment and at the same time nurture industry and take care of social issues.”