A common question: Do First Nations communities impacted by resource development projects in B.C. have a legitimate voice in the environmental assessment process? If so, how?
Proposed LNG projects often come with the worry that the regulation decisions around environmental impacts to First Nations’ territories are made elsewhere, without the impacted nation’s input or involvement. Due to historical occurrences, this is a legitimate concern – but fortunately, times are starting to change.
In order to address this concern and provide engagement opportunities, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) has a program that provides funding to individuals, non-profit organizations, indigenous groups and communities to be a part of that process. This is called the Participant Funding Program, and ensures that local parties have the resources required to participate at the local level.
For example, earlier this month several communities were awarded the funding to participate in the environmental assessment of the proposed Aurora LNG project. This means that not only do the affected communities – Gitga’at, Gitxaala, Kitselas, Kitsumkalum, Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla, and Métis Provincial Council of B.C. – have the ability to voice their concerns, but they’re also now able to be apart the assessment process itself. In this case, these nations will be working together with both provincial and federal governments on the environmental assessment.
The CEAA has published a registry of projects that have both Participant Funding opportunities as well as public comment opportunities. The list currently only includes selected projects, however if assessment of the Aurora LNG project goes well we can hope to look for more opportunities with future projects.
This program provides an example of how other nations or environmental experts can look to better participate in the environmental review process. With that said, there is still a lot of work to be done. The CEAA is currently going through a review process in hopes that processes can be updated, improved upon and result in more surety that First Nations concerns and issues are adequately considered.
It’s also important to keep in mind that there are many regulatory processes that First Nations are tasked to participate in and the CEAA is just one of them. First Nations also have to consider what engaging with industry proponents can provide in terms of resources and funding to conduct these assessments.
Initiatives like the Participant Funding Program provide a good example of government and industry working with First Nations to move forward, however more changes are still needed. Hopefully as the CEAA review process continues, major changes to these processes are heard and implemented, providing better engagement and funding opportunities – all with the end goal of setting new precedents for First Nations involvement in these processes.