ENERGY & THE ENVIRONMENT – Three Indigenous women who are leading the future of Canadian LNG

by Deborah Jaremko

Three female Indigenous leaders in British Columbia are leading the future of Canadian LNG. 

Eva Clayton is president of the Nisga’a Nation, a joint venture partner in the proposed Ksi Lisims LNG project. Karen Ogen, former elected chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, is CEO of the First Nations LNG Alliance. And Crystal Smith is elected chief of the Haisla Nation, majority owner of the proposed Cedar LNG project, which is in the final stages of preparing for the green light to proceed.  

Crystal Smith, chief councillor of the Haisla Nation, Karen Ogen, CEO of the First Nations LNG Alliance, and Eva Clayton, president of the Nisga’a Nation.

“By being owners in these projects, we can meaningfully contribute to a cleaner and more just world,” said Smith, who was first elected chief of the coastal nation in 2017, during the B.C. Natural Resources Forum earlier this year.  

“From an Indigenous perspective, we’re continuously taught to take care of our environment, to take care of our land, and to take only what is required. To think in a global context, I truly believe that in supporting the LNG industry, we are in fact doing that.” 

The global liquefied natural gas industry is rising in importance as emerging economies in Asia look to move away from coal-fired power and European nations reduce reliance on Russia.

In 2023, LNG demand reached a record 404 million tonnes, according to Shell’s latest industry outlook. Over the next two decades it is expected to rise by nearly 70 per cent, reaching 685 million tonnes by 2040.  

Eva Clayton, back left, President of the Nisga’a Lisims Government (joint venture owner of the proposed Ksi Lisims LNG project), Crystal Smith, back right, Haisla Nation Chief Councillor (joint venture owner of proposed Cedar LNG project), and Karen Ogen, front right, CEO of the First Nations LNG Alliance pose for a photograph on the HaiSea Wamis zero-emission tugboat outside the LNG2023 conference, in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, July 10, 2023. CP Images photo

Canada’s first LNG export terminal – located on Haisla territory – is nearing completion and preparing for startup next year.  

Smith said the nation has seen great benefits from its support of the LNG Canada project, but owning Cedar LNG with partner Pembina Pipeline Corporation takes the opportunity to a new level. 

“We have a bigger vision that provides better education, better health care, better justice, and a better future for our people,” she said.  

“We can train our people with the skills needed to secure well-paying, family supporting jobs on Cedar LNG and other projects. We can build critical community infrastructure like our new health center and our youth center in Haisla territory.” 

Smith said LNG is helping fund programs that reconnect Haisla people with their culture and language, “a language that virtually disappeared with my generation.”  

“We are reigniting our potential through culture and language. And that is perhaps the most powerful thing of all. When I think of my daughter speaking Haisla with my grandchildren, that is what drives me each and every day.” 

To the north in the Nass Valley, near B.C.’s border with Alaska, Clayton said the Nisga’a Nation is also using its partnerships in LNG to reconnect with language and culture.  

The community owns Ksi Lisims along with Rockies LNG (a coalition of Canadian natural gas producers) and Texas-based developer Western LNG.

Construction of the LNG Canada export terminal is now more than 90 percent complete. Photo courtesy LNG Canada

“The cultural benefits for the Nisga’a Nation will only be more enhanced as we move forward with the project,” said Clayton, who was first elected president of the community in 2016. 

“There are ongoing programs that are in place so that our people and our young people will continue to speak the language. What I’ve noticed is that many of our elders that have been teaching this language are aging out. And so now we see a new generation of young people coming up to speak the language and teach language.” 

In B.C.’s central interior, the Wet’suwet’en Nation is facing a loss of culture and language, Ogen said. It’s a situation that can be helped with the economic opportunities of LNG. 

“We’re at a place in our community since the pandemic where we have maybe one or two fluent speakers left. That’s really not good news,” said Ogen, who served as chief from 2010 to 2016.  

“We want to be able to promote our language in our community and continue promoting our culture in our community because we have very few people in my generation that have traditional names.” 

Partnering in development projects like the recently completed Coastal GasLink pipeline (which will supply natural gas to the LNG Canada terminal as well as Cedar LNG) helps communities with access to clean drinking water, housing, health, wellness and education, Ogen said.  

She helped found the First Nations LNG Alliance in 2015 with the goal to educate communities about the potential benefits of development.  

As construction on Coastal GasLink winds down, crews are working to cleanup and reclaim the land. Clay and topsoil removed during construction has been stored on site and will now be used to contour the land to its previous shape to re-establish original drainage patterns. Photo courtesy Coastal GasLink

“I’ve learned a lot in this job. Being a girl from the rez, being a social worker, and then getting into this field, it’s something I didn’t aspire to. But for me, I’m passionate about it because of what it means to our people on the ground,” she said.  

Ogen has shared that message internationally, including during a trade mission to China last fall. The smog from burning coal in Beijing heightened her conviction about the benefits of Canadian LNG in Asia, she said.  

“We were given a presentation on how China still wants B.C.’s natural resources; they still want our LNG,” Ogen said.  

“B.C. and Canada need to hear those loud messages because we’re at an economic opportunity that’ll help us address the greenhouse gas emissions globally.” 

Clayton said she has heard the same thing.  

“The messaging that I get from the international world is that they need our LNG. The Germans, Japanese, all of them are wondering why they’re not getting gas from their allies. We have a responsibility as Canadians to help the world get off of coal,” she said. 

“We are working together for the benefit of our children. These major projects, every decision that we make is for the future of our children, the future of Canada, the world really when you think about the kind of industry we’re getting into, LNG.” 

Rendering courtesy Cedar LNG

Smith’s Cedar LNG could be the first Indigenous-led project in the world. Pembina Pipeline plans to spend up to $300 million advancing it to a final investment decision by mid-year.  

“Every time I hear about it, I literally start shaking and getting goosebumps. I’ll have many sleepless nights from now until that decision is made,” Smith said. 


“Our nation has had the ability to benefit from LNG development in our territory, but let’s not let it be the last.  

“There are so many other LNG projects with indigenous leadership in B.C. that have the potential to make a significant impact on the future of Indigenous people and also help fight climate change.”

by Deborah Jaremko