The Lower Nicola Indian Band (LNIB) voted to accept a Trans Mountain Expansion conditional agreement, in a referendum that saw 187 of 964 eligible members cast a ballot.
The results were shared through a Facebook post from the LNIB page on Saturday evening after polls closed, which showed that votes to accept the agreement prevailed over the “reject” side by a count of 111 to 75 (one ballot was spoiled).
LNIB Chief Aaron Sam confirmed the results to the Herald on Sunday afternoon. Although he expressed some disappointment in the voter turnout for the referendum, he said he would now be working with the LNIB council to figure out what comes next for the band.
“We’re happy that we’re done with the process,” said Sam. “What is going to happen now is chief and council are going to sit down and talk about our next steps.”
Though the Trans Mountain project has earned the approval of both the federal and provincial government, many First Nations groups along the proposed route have yet to sign agreements with Kinder Morgan, including some in the Nicola Valley.
The proposed route of the twinned pipeline would cross seven reserve territories in B.C., three of which are utilized by the Lower Nicola Indian Band.
As part of the agreement with the band, Kinder Morgan will make several payments over the life of the deal – including some already earmarked for upgrades to the community’s fire hall.
The agreement also contains benefits such as having LNIB-approved environmental monitors on site during all construction in LNIB territory, and employment and training opportunities for band members.
“One of the things we’ve had discussions with Kinder Morgan on, and one of the things we continue to talk about, is potential contracting and procurement opportunities,” said Sam. “But we’re also keeping in mind many of our environmental concerns. We’re going to continue to have discussions with the federal government as well as the company and we’ll see how it moves forward in the weeks and months ahead.”
The agreement will remain in place for 20 years with the possibility of an extension being negotiated after 18 years, Sam told the Herald last week.
However, the band may choose to terminate the agreement at any time, if they are not satisfied with the amount of work and contract opportunities.
Sam, who is vying to be the NDP candidate for the Fraser-Nicola riding in the upcoming provincial election, said he remains focused on how the results of the referendum will affect him in his role as chief.
“Currently I’m not yet the candidate for the NDP in the riding, however I am still the elected chief of the Lower Nicola Indian Band,” said Sam. “And as of now, I’m taking direction from my membership and the results of the referendum and I’ll act accordingly. That’s where my direction comes from.”
BC NDP leader John Horgan stated earlier this month that the Kinder Morgan pipeline is “not in B.C.’s best interest.”
Should he earn the NDP nomination, Sam has said that he will likely take a leave of absence as chief for the duration of the campaign. If elected MLA, he has pledged to step down as chief.