First Nations expect reconciliation to continue after federal election

The following commentary by our Alliance CEO, Karen Ogen-Toews, ran in The Province newspaper on 22 August 2019:

First Nations expect reconciliation to continue after federal election

From 1927 to 1951, First Nations people were not allowed to hire lawyers or pursue land claims. Others could be jailed for helping them raise legal funds.

Now, First Nations across Canada have racked up a winning streak of 209 successful court cases on land-title and rights — and other cases are in progress.

It all means that you really can’t do business on Indigenous land without consent. Courts have held that “consultation and accommodation” are vital elements to be delivered before governments can give a green light to a resource project.

First Nations have begun to move beyond just “having a say.” And we have moved beyond simple Impact Benefit Agreements. We First Nations now are becoming investors and partners in gas and LNG development.

One favourite example (although in oil, rather than gas) is the 900-member Fort McKay Nation in Alberta. Its three oilsands companies bring in $1.7 billion a year.

Take the Squamish Nation: It has a working partnership with Woodfibre LNG, which is on the verge of a final investment decision. The Squamish developed a unique environmental assessment agreement and issued its own environmental certificate for the project.

Take the Haisla Nation. It has a long list of non-Indigenous companies with whom the nation has working partnerships. Those include LNG Canada, Coastal GasLink, Kitimat LNG and Pacific Trails Pipeline.

Chief Councillor Crystal Smith of the Haisla says:

“The Haisla said yes to these projects because we have concluded they will be built responsibly for our environment and will allow our people to flourish. We said yes to LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink, because the proponents and the province of British Columbia have approached us from a position of respect for our nations and our people. They have respected our expertise when it comes to our territory and our culture.”

One group of nations in B.C. is actively pursuing buying a share in the Coastal GasLink pipeline that will feed the LNG Canada plant at Kitimat. TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, plans to divest up to 75 per cant of the line.

And three groups of First Nations are working on proposals to buy an interest of 51 per cent (or more) in the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion project.

All of these things contribute to economic reconciliation that goes — and must go — hand in hand with reconciliation, moving Canada forward together in a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

All of these processes are supported and assisted by the First Nations LNG Alliance, of which I am CEO.

It’s a far cry from the era of 1866 to 1953 when the Indian Act barred First Nations people from taking up land.

It’s also a far cry from the age when First Nations people weren’t allowed to vote. We didn’t get the full right to vote until 1960. Now, with a federal election coming up this fall, Indigenous votes could be important.

Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations notes that 61.5 per cent of eligible First Nations voters cast ballots in 2015 and he wants that number to increase during the October election.

“If you want to become prime minister or a member of Parliament, you’d better listen to our people and our concerns, because we vote now and have impact. That’s what’s going to happen in October. We’re not going to be pushed to the side anymore.”

Even though it’s 2019, we haven’t come far enough. Hopefully, we have embarked on a new era of reconciliation and that the results of the upcoming federal election this fall will not impact the momentum First Nations are achieving.

Karen Ogen-Toews is CEO of the First Nations LNG Alliance.

(Posted here 22 August 2019)