B.C.’s native relations are complicated but positive news often gets overlooked
by Stewart Muir, posted with permission of Resource Works
The pundits suggest one result of the federal election will be, in time, clarity on our relationships with First Nations, and the impact on the resource sector.
Until then, most B.C. people see a confusing picture in the media, usually focused on protests and opposition to developments, on court challenges, and/or on divisions in the ranks of a First Nation.
Those things are happening, and are slowing development of pipelines and of the LNG sector.
But positive things are happening, too.
There was, for example, an example of harmony last week that offers one way forward for resource developments in First Nations territory.
In it, the Squamish Nation, after conducting its own independent review of the Woodfibre LNG proposal, gave it an environmental OK.
As part of it, the Squamish Nation gets the final say over some key decisions.
Byng Giraud, Woodfibre’s vice-president of corporate affairs, pointed to this: “Fundamentally, we are putting ourselves in their hands, which is pretty ground-breaking. Given how things are going in British Columbia and Canada, I think any progressive company needs to take a serious look at this approach.”
The B.C. government held a “reconciliation” summit meeting with First Nations in September. The parties now will seek to negotiate a legislative framework and a policy framework covering First Nations.
Meanwhile, B.C. premier Christy Clark notes there are already 61 agreements with 28 First Nations along proposed pipeline routes. In all, the government and First Nations have more than 300 assorted agreements signed.
The resource industry’s relations with First Nations in B.C. are indeed complicated. Through the Calder court case in 1969, the Delgamuukw case in 1997 and the Tsilhqot’in case in 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada has held that First Nations do have land rights and that, while Aboriginals may not have a 100% veto over development, resource companies have a serious duty of “consultation.”
What does “consultation” with B.C.’s 203 First Nation entities mean? There is no easy answer.
Certainly the day has gone when a company could walk into a meeting with a First Nation and announce: ‘Here’s the plan. Now we’ll explain it.’—Stewart Muir, executive director
of Resource Works
Certainly the day has gone when a company could walk into a meeting with a First Nation and announce: “Here’s the plan. Now we’ll explain it.”
But what about the company that has tried more than 50 times to set up a consultation on one B.C. project only to be told that the chief in question simply does not want to meet?
A recent judgment from the Federal Court of Appeal (in the Clyde River case) seems to apply there. The court said: “Good faith is required on both sides in the consultative process…. Aboriginal claimants must not frustrate the Crown’s reasonable good faith attempts, nor should they take unreasonable positions to thwart government from making decisions or acting in cases where, despite meaningful consultation, agreement is not reached.”
All in all, we have to be encouraged by our own landmark study, Becoming Partners. It found: “There has been a great deal of progress in Aboriginal-industrial relations in B.C. that has not been widely reported.”
We are encouraged, too, by those First Nations leaders who have come out in support of responsible development.
Among them are Ellis Ross of the Haisla Nation. He started out as no fan of industry but came to see responsible development as a way to lift his people out of “poverty, suicides and the hopelessness.” He has offered to share with other nations the Haislas’ 10 years of research on LNG development.
There is Karen Ogen of the Wet’suwet’en, who sees revenue from a natural gas pipeline as an alternative to “administering poverty.” She has formed the new First Nations LNG Alliance to “facilitate a balance between protecting the environment and increasing economic opportunities within First Nations communities.”
And among them there is John Jack of the Huu-ayaht First Nations, who wrote in a column about responsible development: “First Nations want in, and they want in meaningfully.”
What you can do
If you have First Nations friends and contacts, let them know that you favour responsible development—i.e., development that cares about the environment and views First Nations as working partners.
Let your MLA know that too, as the B.C. government works toward the desired “legislative framework and a policy framework.”
Stewart Muir is executive director of Resource Works, a non-profit society that encourages “respectful, fact-based dialogue on responsible resource development in British Columbia.”