Economic Reconciliation, Part 4: The road ahead

Last of a four-part series

By KAREN OGEN-TOEWS

CEO, First Nations LNG Alliance

I’ve written on the roles in reconciliation of First Nations, government and industry. I’ve primarily focused on economic reconciliation. Now I want to conclude the series with some final thoughts.

The negative impacts to First Nations have been suffered for several generations – over a century in fact. To overcome this will take great effort and resolve. And we will see some setbacks. I don’t think there is a way around this fact. The systemic change will take time – especially before it is felt at a grass-roots level.

We are all still coming to terms with our shocking history in this country and this is a key foundational first step. The path forward for all of us is murky. But I do think we all, Indigenous and non-Indigenous share some important values:

  • The importance of family and community
  • The importance of our environment
  • Prosperity
  • Equal access to the benefits of Canada
  • Inclusiveness

It it is clear that there is a high level of inequality in Canada, one only has to look at the appalling statistics that plague Indigenous communities to see it. While we are embarking on a brave new journey forward, we are starting a new chapter of history in Canada. One that is more inclusive and equitable, I hope.

Ultimately, it will come down to all of us individually as well. We have to be open to learning about each other and have compassion and understanding for each other. It’s basic dignity we need to provide to each other as we move through uncertain times.

And for those successes we have reached at an institutional lever, such as the recent Final Investment Decision for the LNG Canada project, and for the Coastal Gaslink pipeline that will bring LNG to Kitimat, we all must be diligent in ensuring the agreements reached between government, industry and First Nations are implemented fully.

Now is not the time to become complacent. Implementing something is always more challenging than negotiating it. We must work hard on realizing the economic, procurement, and employment benefits through this project. We must continue to work hard on rigorous environmental monitoring. We must continue to engage on these topics and to learn from each other.

We will see, too, what impact the BC government will have with its proposed new Environmental Assessment Act, which would require from developers a commitment to seek free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous communities for major resource projects.

The change is based on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). And Environment Minister George Heyman says it will reflect the reality that the success of any major industrial project in BC rests on meaningful partnerships with Indigenous communities.

The First Nations Leadership Council sees significant improvements in the new law (while objecting that it does not propose veto-power for First Nations) and says it “begins to make space for proper relations between Indigenous laws and legal orders, and those of the Crown.”

We don’t know yet how the new law will technically define and apply “a commitment to seek free, prior and informed consent.”

But we are already seeing strenuous efforts by developers in BC to bring about what looks to us very much like free, prior and informed consent.

That’s a most encouraging sign, of willingness to learn, of willingness to be true and considerate partners, and of willingness to acknowledge the negative impacts of the colonial settlement of BC that began 160 years ago.

But the many negative reactions to what we post online here, both by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, show how far we in BC and Canada have to go to see eye-to-eye on what reconciliation means. This shows how much further dialogue is needed on these topics.

We are at the beginning of a new journey to reconciliation in Canada. Please join me in being committed to this goal, even though it will be a challenging journey.