In the spirit of nation building, Treaty 7 Management Corporation and the Institute on Governance held a symposium in Calgary in October. Panelists and participants reflected on recent developments in case law, policy and First Nations-industry partnerships, and discussed how these frameworks can contribute to the establishment of effective relationships between industry and Indigenous communities.
The article “Beating the Constitutional Reform Drum” in the January 2013 edition of Canadian Government Executive magazine noted that “reconciliation [with Canada’s Indigenous peoples, is] based on the principles of ‘honour of the Crown,’ ‘duty to consult’ and negotiation.” As we know, the courts have affirmed constitutionally recognized Aboriginal rights and title, and, in particular, have articulated the requirement for consultation and accommodation of Indigenous communities whose rights and title may be affected by a proposed development.
While the development and exploitation of Canada’s natural resources continues to intensify, many have turned their attention toward building relationships between Indigenous communities, looking at the role the resource sector can play in closing the socio-economic gaps between Indigenous communities and other communities in Canada. Many Indigenous communities are concerned about developments and resource extraction occurring within or near their traditional territories while not being consulted about decisions made regarding those projects and not being included in the benefits that flow from them. Ignoring the “duty to consult” has led many Indigenous leaders to contest the legitimacy of approved developments in court, through blockades and other direct action such as the October anti-fracking protests in New Brunswick.
As Indigenous communities seek to assert their rights in meaningful ways and industry seeks greater certainty for their projects, the most likely prospect for success appears to be in the forming of effective relationships before a project is considered or developed.
Many Indigenous communities have developed and benefited from good relationships with resource sector enterprises, yet there remains a need to define processes and systems that meaningfully provide for the consultation and accommodation stemming from Section 35 that is owed to the communities on whose lands or territories many of these developments will proceed. The slow rate of changing relationships coupled with the increased rate of development threatens to keep First Nations at a disadvantage with respect to fiscal and human resources and capacity.
Indigenous leaders, industry and governments have begun to ask whether there is more we can be doing, at an earlier stage, to ensure Indigenous communities have a meaningful and empowered role in relation to resource and economic development. Industry has begun employing staff under various titles related to “Aboriginal Relations,” and creating policies or procedures for communicating with communities who may be affected by resource projects or exploration. Provincial governments such as Alberta and Newfoundland have developed policies that include those focused on increasing economic participation, as well as creating conditions for better communications, stronger relationships, and dispute resolution among parties.
At the Treaty 7 Management Corporation and the Institute on Governance symposium, former National Chief Phil Fontaine noted that he sees Aboriginal rights as the foundation of meaningful relationships. “At the very least, Section 35 provides us with a right to sit at the table…and we need to be willing to think of Section 35 as merely opening the door. With this we can choose any path…and the pathways can go in many directions.” He cites joint ventures, regional development plans, micro-finance support and long-term capacity planning and implementation among those routes to consider.
Professor Stephen Cornell, co-founder of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, noted that changes in law have “moved First Nations closer to the driver’s seat in economic development; it means they can shape development strategy, fitting it into their own priorities and objectives.” He urged Indigenous communities to focus not only on the rights battle, but to also be cognizant of what comes after this: the governance challenge. To adequately prepare for the real challenge of translating resource wealth into sustainable change for the community requires the development of a common vision, backed up by new tools and skills to achieve that vision.
Chief Shane Gottfriedson, of Tk’emlups situated in the heart of British Columbia’s interior, spoke to key pillars that drive his community’s success in resource development. These include involvement in decision-making at the senior management level, expecting a fair share of revenue, and acknowledging that partnerships must be struck to create balance.
Through dialogues such as the Beyond Section 35 series, governments, industry and Indigenous communities signal their commitment to moving forward together by establishing the partnerships that will result in sustainable prosperity and mutually beneficial opportunities for all. Success will be achieved through negotiation, mutual consent and agreement.