Ideas for Ottawa about First Nations

  • Dec. 11, 2013 5:00 a.m.

The federal government must do a better job of engaging, consulting and sharing with First Nations in BC and Alberta if it wants to reap the economic benefits of Canada’s oil and natural gas, according to a report prepared for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The report, “Forging Partnerships, Building Relationships: Aboriginal Canadians and Energy Development”, was written by lawyer Douglas Eyford, who spent eight months talking to aboriginal groups, industry, local and provincial governments about west coast energy projects and the current state of crown-aboriginal relations. He found that so far, there has not been a “constructive dialogue” about energy projects, but that the people he spoke to are interested in working together. “Canada must take decisive steps to build trust with Aboriginal Canadians, to foster their inclusion into the economy, and to advance the reconciliation of Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people in Canadian society,” the report says. Mr. Eyford’s key findings are that Canada and aboriginal communities need to build effective relationships, that aboriginal communities will consider supporting natural resource development if it is done in an environmentally sustainable way, and that these projects could help improve socio-economic conditions in aboriginal communities. The number of projects proposed for the west coast is surprisingly large. The report lists 19 projects worth billions of dollars, including the $6.5 billion Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, an $18 billion Kitimat Clean oil refinery, four natural gas projects in the Prince Rupert area, and five natural gas projects in the Kitimat area. Mr. Eyford outlines the economic stakes for Canada, noting that the country currently sells almost all its natural resources to the US. This market will shrink as the US continues to develop its own resources. Canada will need to build pipelines to get its oil and natural gas to west coast ports if it is to capitalize on global demand for these products. But significant hurdles are posed by a poor federal relationship with First Nations who will be affected by these projects and unresolved aboriginal rights claims in BC, Mr. Eyford says. His recommendations include:• Canada should work with industry and other levels of government to organized more conferences, workshops and community forums to improve knowledge about the energy sector and major projects.• Canada should establish a joint initiative with aboriginal groups for environmental stewardship and habitat enhancement to address concerns about the cumulative effects of major resource projects.• Canada should get more aboriginal groups involved in marine traffic management, emergency response planning, and marine management.• Canada should enter into negotiations to advance reconciliation measures in areas like fisheries and marine planning, in response to proposals from the Coastal First Nations and the Haida Nation. The 58-page report contains many photos from Haida Gwaii and several references to the Supreme Court’s 2004 Haida Nation vs British Columbia decision, which outlined the nature of aboriginal title and the crown’s duty to consult.