Will Canada Listen when First Nations say No?
The first thing you might notice about Doug Eyford’s report on West Coast energy infrastructure is that it goes to some length to avoid the term “nation” when talking about Aboriginal people.
Forging Partnerships, Building Relationships: Aboriginal Canadians and Energy Development was released on December 5, 2013. Author and Vancouver Lawyer, Douglas Eyford, prepared this Report to the Prime Minister to identify approaches that could meet Canada’s goals of expanding energy markets and increasing Aboriginal participation in the economy.
Mr. Eyford’s report points out that “Aboriginal communities” have constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty rights, and he recommends much needed refinements to Canada’s approach to consultation. The report suggests that “Aboriginal communities” be encouraged to resolve shared territorial issues. It even recommends that there be a process to engage Canada, British Columbia, and “Aboriginal communities” on a government-to-government basis. Mr. Eyford’s report is about the territories that extend far outside of Aboriginal communities.
Communities have hockey rinks. Nations have treaties, title to land, self-government, the powers to make their own laws, and must be consulted on a government-to-government basis when another government proposes industrial activity on their territory.
The first step to reconciliation requires that Canada recognize that First Nations are, in fact, nations. The governments and citizens of First Nations have the right to determine what can and can’t take place on their territories. They can say no.
The report has many recommendations for getting to yes. It mentions job creation, business and financing opportunities, and improving the means to deal with spills. It makes important recommendations for early consultation prior to the start of a regulatory process. The report provides a framework for much needed dialogue and activity required before, during, and after construction. But the report has little to say about respecting First Nations that do not want a project on their territory under any circumstances.
If Canada wants to foster good relationships, it must respect the fact that some energy projects are turning out to be too big of an environmental risk for many First Nations.
As First Nations citizens, we must recognize our own obligations. We must organize, act like nations, and build the institutions needed to govern our territories. In order to have a new and proper government-to-government relationship with the Crown, we must develop real governance based on our own legislation and beyond the Indian Act. And we must negotiate mutually beneficial partnerships with industry for the benefit of our people.
The rights we possess and the legal obligations of the Crown are constitutional. They are of the highest order.
Good relations and prosperity for Canadians can be achieved with a few less energy projects. Mr. Eyford’s report identifies that all of Canada’s energy exports make up only 6% of its GDP, therefore, walking away from a few contentious projects would have limited impact on the growth of Canada’s economy.
There are many economic benefits when First Nations are on side and projects are not delayed. Getting behind meaningful and respectful partnerships that work for everyone, and avoiding further decades of conflict, bitterness, and costly litigation is the most appropriate path.
Mr. Eyford is correct when suggesting that energy projects can lead to reconciliation and economic prosperity. Respecting the jurisdiction, title, and deeply held values of First Nation citizens will go a long way to forging prosperous partnerships that are in the best interest of all Canadians.
The Centre for First Nations Governance is a non-profit organization that offers nation rebuilding services to First Nations in Canada, assisting them as they develop effective day-to-day government operations and supporting them as they pursue self-governance and jurisdiction over their lands.
DOWNLOAD: Forging Partnerships, Building Relationships: Aboriginal Canadians and Energy Development