By KAREN OGEN-TOEWS
CEO, First Nations LNG Alliance
There are very many views of what reconciliation means. Here at the Alliance, we tend to focus on the economic aspects – but many reconciliation outcomes are connected.
In fact, I think reconciliation goals such as individual and community sustainability and wellness are linked to economic development and governance. And not everyone is ready to move forward at the same pace.
We see several setbacks every day to lofty goals of reconciliation – but, in my opinion – the LNG Canada Final Investment Decision is a key indicator of progress on reconciliation.
I don’t mean to oversimplify this – to say that reconciliation comes down to a LNG project, or that there is unanimity on support of the project at the grass-roots level, but I do think it shows that complicated projects can proceed in BC if the ingredients are right.
We are launching here a mini-series on how First Nations, government and industry can participate in economic reconciliation in BC. Everyone has a part to play.
Part One: First Nations participation in reconciliation
First of all, who is at the decision-making table for First Nations?
First Nation community governments come in many forms. There are hereditary systems, elected systems and some communities have a combination of both:
- Integrated systems where both traditional and elected systems’ roles and responsibilities are identified and working well;
- Independent systems where both traditional and elected systems work apart from each other with no overlap;
- Independent systems where one or both of the traditional or elected systems are struggling for power.
In addition to this we have other structures that First Nation governments use to organize – but this can provide for some additional confusion. Some examples include:
- Non-profit society
- Some hereditary systems use this for administrative purposes
- Tribal Councils are a number of First Nation councils working together
- Treaty societies are sometimes a combination of both traditional and elected First Nation governments, allowing them to participate as a larger group.
There can be a lot of disagreement amongst First Nations in some parts of the province as to who should be at the decision table. This is because of the history of colonization of this country, where the Indian Act system of governance was imposed on First Nations.
In the case of my nation, the Wet’suwet’en Nation, we have elected chief and council and hereditary government conflicting over LNG development.
Now, I may be biased because I’m a former elected chief, but in my experience, and my opinion, both systems are supported by the Wet’suwet’en citizens. And most citizens would like both systems to try to work together.
Both systems are not going anywhere, and have legitimacy with our citizens and government . So, hopefully ,our people will find a way to come together going forward. If one side excludes the other – we have winners and losers on different topics. It would be better if we had a respectful process going forward. If we aren’t able to reconcile with ourselves – how are we expected to reconcile with other governments?
‘Be careful what you ask for’
With decades of hard-fought rights won through the courts, we have asked for meaningful consultation, we have asked for shared decision-making, we have asked for meaningful participation in these projects in recognition of our rights and title. We have largely gotten what we’ve asked for. The next question is: now what?
We often hear concerns, many legitimate, about government and industry actions or broken promises. But, we also need to worry about our own communities maintaining a credible and consistent approach to advancing our interests. The courts have also found that First Nations have to seriously consider projects and can’t simply reject them without looking carefully at the impacts.
The main ingredients for First Nations’ success going forward need to include:
- First Nations being willing to take advantage of opportunities in a way that respects community values;
- First Nations ensuring there is enough capacity/continuity to have consistent participation:
- First Nations having a realistic view of what kind of agreement they can reach;
- First Nation setting out clear rules of engagement (internally with members, and externally with industry and government);
- First Nations abiding by the rules they set up, and living up to their commitments;
- First Nations having proper expertise available to them.
Part Two of the series: Government’s role
Part Three: Industry’s role
Part Four: The road ahead
(Posted here 20 October 2018)