The Indian Act? Welcome to 2019


For 24 years, from 1927 to 1951, First Nations people were not allowed to hire lawyers or pursue land claims. And others could be jailed for helping them raise legal funds.

How things have changed: By our count, First Nations across Canada have a ‘winning streak’ in recent years of 209 successful cases on title and rights, and other cases are in process.

Another example: For 52 years (1871 to 1923) First Nations people were banned from commercial fishing. Now, of course, First Nations people are leading fishers, and the five Nuu-chah-nulth nations in BC won in court this year the right to their own commercial fishery.

This is not to gloat, but to note that the times are changing. From coast to coast to coast, First Nations and their people are becoming known as business leaders, and as solid partners to non-Indigenous companies in natural-resource development.

One favourite example (although it’s in oil, rather than BC natural gas or LNG) is the 900-member Fort McKay nation in Alberta, whose three oilsands companies have been bringing in $1.7 billion a year for the last five years. They call it ‘community capitalism.’

Take the Squamish Nation in BC, which has a working partnership with Woodfibre LNG on Howe Sound, developed a unique environmental assessment agreement, and issued its own environmental certificate for the project.

Take the Haisla nation here in BC, who have a long list of non-Indigenous companies with whom the nation has working partnerships. That, of course, includes LNG developers: LNG Canada, Coastal GasLink, Kitimat LNG, and Pacific Trails Pipeline.

Chief Councillor Crystal Smith of the Haisla:

“I want First Nations members to have the same quality of life that every other person in Canada has. I want B.C.’s First Nations to be heard and be included in the discussions which impact our territories. I want us and other First Nations to achieve their independence in order to properly and effectively care for the future of our people.

“First Nations have been left out of resource development for too long, and it would be easy to say no to projects, but now we are involved, we have been consulted, and will ensure there are benefits to all First Nations involved in these projects. We do have a share, and we will have our say on how these projects are developed.

“And so 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 these projects because we believe they will provide employment not only for ourselves but for the north. . . .

“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.”

First Nations interests in doing business don’t stop there. One group of nations in BC 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% of the line.

And you may already know that three groups of First Nations are working on proposals to buy an interest of 51% (or more) in the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion project.

All of these things contribute to “Economic Reconciliation” which, to us, goes and must go hand in hand with “Reconciliation” — moving Canada forward together in a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

It’s all a far cry from the era when (1866 to 1953) the Indian Act forbade First Nations people from taking up land in BC.

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 play an important part in the results:

Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations notes that 61.5% of eligible First Nations voters cast their ballots in 2015, and he wants that number to increase during the upcoming election.

“If you want to become prime minister or member of Parliament, you 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 any more.”

There will, no doubt, be more promises from candidates about further reform of — or full abolition of — the current (and supposedly ‘modernized’) Indian Act.

Until then, remember these sad points:

  • From 1869 to 1985, a First Nations woman marrying a non-Indigenous man lost her status as an “Indian.” This law did not apply to First Nations men. (See footnote below.)
  • From 1876 to 1985, a First Nations member who earned a university degree, or became a church minister, or joined the military, lost their status rights. First Nations veterans who returned from World War II were stripped of their Indian status.
  • From 1885 to 1951, the Act banned the potlatch, that important ceremony among BC coastal people. Thus 22 people were actually sent to prison in 1921 for a potlatch held at Alert Bay.
  • Under various sections of the Act, and at various times, First Nations people were barred from buying or using alcohol, could not go into pool halls or bars, could not buy ammunition, and were not allowed to leave the reserve (or wear traditional regalia off the reserve) without permission of the federal “Indian Agent” there.

And remember that the last Residential School in Canada remained open until 1996.
Even though it’s 2019 we haven’t come far enough.  Hopefully, we have embarked on a new era of reconciliation, and hopefully the results of the upcoming federal election this fall will not impact the momentum First Nations are achieving.

Footnote: On 15 August 2019, the federal government announced the final provisions of Bill S-3 now are in force. This provides for registration by First Nations descendants born before April 17, 1985 who lost their status or were removed from band lists due to marriages to non-Indigenous men.

Recommended reading:

(Posted here 09 August 2019)

BC LNG: Why we call it ‘clean’


Some 78 countries burn coal to generate electricity, including Canada (which still produces 9% of its power from coal.)

But if you burn coal in a power plant, the atmosphere is hit with more than a few emissions:

  • Sulphur/sulfur dioxide (SO2), which contributes to acid rain and respiratory illnesses;
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx), which contribute to smog and respiratory illnesses;
  • Tiny particulates, which contribute to smog, haze, respiratory illnesses, and lung disease;
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the primary greenhouse gas produced from burning fossil fuels;
  • Mercury and other heavy metals, which have been linked to both nerve and developmental damage in humans and animals;
  • Fly ash and bottom ash, residues created when power plants burn coal, and, when stored on land, can leach pollution.

It’s a different, and much cleaner, story with natural gas, which is increasingly being used instead of coal to generate power. This graphic shows the result:

Which is why supporters of natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) often call the product “clean.”

Natural gas is mostly made up of methane, a colourless, odourless flammable gas. It’s not regarded as a health risk on its own.

But it is a “greenhouse gas” and governments and scientists tell us that’s not so clean. And if it is burned, it does produce some carbon dioxide, which is a more problematic greenhouse gas.

There is much heated argument and debate on whether the world’s continued use of fossil fuels is causing a greenhouse problem and over-heating the globe, and, if it is, what we can or should do about it.

What the natural-gas and LNG developers in BC are doing is tackling and reducing emissions wherever they can.

When we drill for natural gas, and produce and process and transport it, we may leak methane into the atmosphere through unwanted “fugitive emissions.”

The LNG and gas industries are working hard to reduce these, both for environmental reasons and for business reasons: Such fugitive emissions are losses of product that the developers would prefer to sell.

And then there are the emissions from LNG export plants themselves, carbon dioxide being one if a plant burns some of its incoming natural gas to drive turbines to produce electricity for the facility.

Two proposed BC plants, Kitimat LNG and Woodfibre LNG, have committed to using electricity from BC Hydro.  And more than 90% of BC Hydro’s power is produced by “renewable” hydroelectric generation.

LNG Canada has designed its export facility to have among the lowest carbon emissions of any LNG facility currently operating anywhere in the world – 50% lower than the average facility and 30% lower than the best performing facility.

LNG Canada will achieve these carbon reductions by using a combination of high-efficiency gas-turbine engines — and using hydro power from the BC grid — to power its operations.

And finally come emissions from the LNG carriers, the vessels that will deliver BC’s LNG to overseas markets. The International Maritime Organization has adopted mandatory measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from international shipping. And many LNG carriers use “boil-off” natural gas from their LNG cargoes as part of their fuel.

All in all, while the production of natural gas and LNG may add to BC’s greenhouse-gas emissions, the use of our LNG to replace coal-burning power plants in Asia will reduce over-all global emissions. The world benefits; and greenhouse gases do not recognize national boundaries.

Thus LNG Canada notes that if its LNG is used this way, global carbon emissions could be reduced by 60 to 90 million tonnes a year. That’s is equal to all of the carbon emissions produced in BC each year, and 10% of Canadian emissions.

And as BC environmental consultant Rob Seeley says: “This reduction is equivalent to taking 12 million to 18 million cars off the road.”

(Posted here 06 June 2019)

Blog: Leading the drive for LNG in BC


Chief Councillor Crystal Smith of the Haisla Nation has become a huge hit in social media, and a go-to person for reporters seeking intelligent comment on LNG and resource news, and the involvement of First Nations.
She’s been a big draw, too, at LNG-related events, including the Haisla LNG Conference and Trade Show in Kitimat earlier this month. There, as you see below, she won a standing ovation after her keynote speech.



















She spoke first of “a new era of responsible resource development, an era that finally includes true partnership, balanced participation and, most importantly, the inclusion of First Nations in responsible and sustainable resource development in BC and Canada.”
She continued:
“Our ancestors have been here since time immemorial. And while industry built their projects in our back yard, we became spectators to the development of our unceded territories and our resources. All this development occurred without meaningful consultation, consent, nor accommodation of our unceded rights and title for our lands. For many decades we were on the outside, witnessing the success of many, and absolutely disregarded as inherent landlords of our own territories.
“The social impacts that result from managing poverty that has been delegated to our First Nations governments, not having a share nor a say in development of our own lands and resources, are well known in many First Nations communities. . . .
“Companies benefitted financially, communities benefitted from employment, municipalities gained tax revenue, and for 50-plus years we sat as spectators in our own unceded land and witnessed our resources deplete, our oolichan disappear from our rivers, our fish and other ocean wildlife contaminated to the point of not being able to harvest . . .  for our families and our members. Our members had little to no employment or educational opportunities.”
And now?
“Today we can confidently say we have achieved a share, and a say; doing so with the approach of the LNG industry who have respected, and continue to respect, that we are not your regular stakeholders, and treat our roles within their development as the landlord of our unceded territory.”
There was a message to governments at all levels: “Reconciliation is much more than a buzzword. We are no longer deemed as spectators.”
And there was much more in her powerful and moving speech. Watch the video here.

She is not the only leader of the Alliance who has been making public appearances and supporting responsible LNG development. More on them in future blogs.
Chief Crystal also got national attention when she spoke at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s 2019 gala dinner in Ottawa, saying:
“There isn’t a process for instant success. There are, however two components that I can share with you tonight that are crucial in potentially acquiring and maintaining a successful relationship between First Nations and industry to which has allowed the success that our Nation has experienced thus far:
1. A project which meets environmental standards; and,
2. A project that meets the criteria to benefit our community today and for future generations.
“I thoroughly agree with Chief Councillor Clarence Louie that we are not to be considered your average stakeholder, we are rights holders, and therefore, we should be treated in a manner that allows full participation that respects our expertise and cultural relevance to our lands.
“As First Nations people we are physically and spiritually connected to our territories. Therefore we defend and protect our lands as you would your backyard. The environment within our territories is the most important matter when it comes to any development, as we have lived on our lands for thousands of years and will continue to reside in our territories for centuries after your project has come and gone
“What does this mean for a proponent for a major project? It means that you need to demonstrate how your project addresses the environmental concerns of the First Nation, and how you will accommodate any impacts and where possible, enhance the environment within the territory.”
And here’s a full video of that speech

  • Chief Crystal also led off a special report on the LNG Canada project from Natural Gas World magazine.
  • Earlier, she wrote a guest column in The Vancouver Sun: Haisla supports gas pipeline because it means opportunities for First Nations
  • And she was a part of this story (with video) from CKPG News in Prince George: LNG Canada updates Kitimat residents













Chief Crystal will now be a speaker at the Canadian Gas Dialogues event in Calgary April 23, and then a keynote speaker at the BC Chamber of Commerce conference and AGM in May.

To add to all that: She is also an active member of the board of directors of our First Nations LNG Alliance. She has spoken at many of our public events.

(And she didn’t know about or see this blog before it went online today.)


(Posted here 17 April 2019)

Resources and reconciliation


For the record, there are 634 First Nations in Canada, 198 of them in British Columbia. There are 1.3 million First Nations people in Canada, 5.6% of the population. More than 275,000 of them are in British Columbia, 6% of the provincial population.

Also for the record, their past is one of colonization and repression, and of some 70 treaties with First Nations — many of those treaties thereafter broken by “the settlers.”

Thus Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission declared in 2015:

  • “For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada.”

In more than 200 court cases won by Indigenous people, Aboriginal rights and title have been steadily recognized and established. And the higher courts in some recent cases have held that the federal government failed in its “duty to consult and accommodate” when supporting proposals for major resource developments on Indigenous territory.

The future, I hope, is in one word, Reconciliation.

The federal government is moving toward what it calls a “Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework.” It promises to, somehow, build principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into Canadian law. And the BC government promises to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples “to embrace and implement UNDRIP.”

If those are steps toward Reconciliation, they will be welcome.

The First Nations LNG Alliance of BC wholeheartedly supports Reconciliation, although we recognize that it is a process that will take decades to become a given.

Our Alliance’s mission is to help to bring about what Grand Chief Abel Bosum of the Cree Nation called “the economic development partnership” and we at the Alliance call “Economic Reconciliation.”

The goal is to “close the gap” between the low standard of living of Indigenous people, and that of non-Indigenous Canadians in general.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde notes that Canada and its standard of living ranks sixth in the world according to the UN Human Development Index. Apply that index to Canada’s Indigenous people, and they rank 63rd.

We support responsible development of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas), and its export, as a way for First Nations people in BC to begin to close that gap.

BC has vast areas of resource-rich territory that was never ceded by its Indigenous owners. It has enough natural gas to supply domestic and export demand for well over 150 years.

LNG is often called a “transition fuel”, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by displacing coal and diesel for generating power, during a global transition to renewable energies. So be it. But that transition may well take decades; 30, 40 or 50 years.

During that transition, natural-gas and LNG production and associated pipelines promise huge benefits for our First Nations communities and peoples. And thus an important tool to help close that gap.

That would be a vital contribution to “Economic Reconciliation.”

Karen Ogen-Toews
CEO, First Nations LNG Alliance



















(Posted here 03 December 2018)

Economic Reconciliation, Part 4: The road ahead


Last of a four-part series


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.

Economic Reconciliation, Part 3: Industry’s role


Third in a series


CEO, First Nations LNG Alliance

So far, I’ve talked about First Nations and governments’ role in reconciliation. This piece will describe industry’s role.

First, of course there are many legal reasons that industry has to interact with First Nations that are impacted by development projects. In fact, I would argue that companies have had to step up their game with First Nation relationship-building because governments have been slower to engage in a way that meets First Nation expectations.

Navigating these waters has been challenging for everyone – but especially for businesses that are looking for legal certainty to advance their projects. Companies need to ensure that First Nations are on side with projects. Courts have found that there is a duty to consult on both government and proponents.

Both federal and BC governments have spoken of building the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into their laws, but neither has fully explained just what that will mean in practice.

The key principles, of course, are Articles 19 and 32.2 of UNDRIP:

Article 19:

“States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”

Article 32.2:

“States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.”

Canadian courts to date have stopped a hair short of saying that First Nations have legal veto power over resource developments, and so have governments.

But some leading resource companies have accepted that (no matter what their corporate lawyers say) such consent is essential, and that bona fide “consultation and accommodation” is the way to get there.

In spite of these obligations, I believe there are other reasons why companies will play an important role in reconciliation in this country. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission uncovered some ugly truths about Canada. But it ended with 94 recommendations that will contribute towards reconciliation. For example:

Business and Reconciliation

92. We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources. This would include, but not be limited to, the following:

(i) Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.

(ii) Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.

(iii) Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

Ultimately, I believe, Corporate Canada has a huge amount of capacity to contribute towards one of our country’s greatest challenges – poverty on First Nation reserves.

There is so much that corporate Canada can contribute. Companies are ‘way more nimble than governments and have many ways they can contribute to sustainable Indigenous people, families and communities.

Companies also have great power to provide education to their own employees, but in some cases can contribute to broader education campaigns in Canada, because the other huge challenge in this country is the lack of knowledge on reconciliation, which requires huge public education efforts.

I believe there is so much more that companies can contribute outside the ‘letter of the law’ when it comes to reconciliation. And it can include all companies in this country, not just ones impacting First Nation territories.

Some companies have believed in implementing United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples standards, such as “free and informed prior consent” to projects long before these principles will be put into legislation. It’s just the best way to ensure First Nations support of projects.

Ultimately, change will come when all leaders of our country, First Nation, government, industry, and non-government organizations, come together to chart a way forward that ensures everyone can enjoy the quality of life that most Canadians take for granted.

Part 4, the next and final instalment in this series, will highlight my views on why I believe economic reconciliation is important to everyone in this country.

Part One of the series: First Nations participation in reconciliation

Part Two: Government’s role

Part Four: The road ahead












(This item posted here 31 Oct. 2018)

Economic Reconciliation, Part 2: Government’s role


Second in a series


CEO, First Nations LNG Alliance

We introduced this series by talking about the role of First Nations in reconciliation and the fact that some are ready for it and some aren’t.

The reason we even need reconciliation is based on the shameful foundation of this country and province, in which Canada and British Columbia excluded First Nations from political, legal, cultural and economic rights.

Laws, policy and institutions were created to disallow First Nations from voting, dispossess First Nations from owning land, and to make them wards of the Crown on Indian Reserves.

Further institutions, such as the Indian Act governance system of band councils, were imposed on communities, and children were apprehended and forced into residential schools.

In the case of BC, the government maintained a position of denying Indigenous rights and title until the early 1990s. Much of the legal uncertainty we find in BC is based on these positions – positions that the courts found incorrect – culminating in the Tsilhqot’in decision of 2014, establishing Aboriginal Title in BC.

These policies have undermined our communities, and have made many of them unsustainable economically or otherwise.

Multigenerational trauma has led to some serious wellness issues in our communities. Poverty has meant half to three quarters of our people, depending on the community , have moved to urban centres, because their homeland can’t sustain them in the way it had for thousands of years. I could go on about the atrocities but won’t.

The point is: Both governments have a large role to rectify this situation. But their actions can’t be unilateral. They have to be in collaboration with the peoples they’ve impacted so drastically.

I applaud to the federal government for advancing:

However, all this is just scratching the surface.

One can only see how the latest court decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline project decision found the federal government failed in proper consultation with First Nations.

Many companies and First Nations have commented on the fact that the government has left it up to industry and communities to sort these complex issues themselves. It’s clear now that governments are responsible for the respect of Indigenous rights and the path to reconciliation needs to be jointly created by First Nations and Governments.

The provincial government in BC is also trying to make headway in relation to reconciliation:

  • Mandate letters have been given to all Ministers on how to implement the principles of UNDRIP;
  • Treaty Negotiation mandates are being reviewed;
  • Now approaches to reconciliation are being attempted;
  • Agreements were reached with First Nations impacted by liquefied natural gas (LNG), to deal with environmental remediation and training issues.

Congratulations to the provincial government for its contributions to ensure a high level of support for the LNG Canada terminal and the associated Coastal GasLink pipeline. But this is only one project out of many in BC.

Clearly with 203 First Nations – most of them without treaties or other long-term agreements dealing with rights, title and jurisdiction — we have a long way to go with the BC government as well.

I believe we are at the beginning of reconciliation between First Nations and governments in Canada.

We can only hope that we will see more and more examples of success to ensure First Nations can enjoy a good quality of life in their home territory.

It will take concerted efforts to engage our citizens and British Columbians on these topics, and here at the Alliance, we hope to continue to contribute to the dialogue, particularly as it relates to economic issues.












(This item posted here 26 October 2018) 


Economic Reconciliation in Canada: a series



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:
    • Environmental
    • Legal
    • Economic
    • Negotiating
  • 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)

Blog: From LNG, ‘real benefits’ needed


“For First Nations to be true partners in LNG development, real benefits must materialize.”

That was one of the key issues explored in the major Joint Engagement Report that we published earlier this year with the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources.

The report notes: “Many ideas were generated about First Nations views around benefits, understanding that the choices differ from community to community.”

Some of the challenges:

  • Equity participation capital is challenging to raise and not all proponents are supportive for those First Nations wanting equity participation.
  • Concerns were raised about different approaches by proponents (inequitable treatment from one proponent dealing with different First Nations or proponents that do not have a good track record in dealing with First Nations).
  • First Nation businesses need support to have the necessary skills, training and human resources and capacity to respond to business opportunities.

And here are some suggestions from the regional sessions that led to the report:

  • BC and First Nations should explore tools to equalize First Nation benefits from major projects (i.e. resource tax).
  • BC should explore ways to increase First Nation participation in spinoff benefits for major projects.
  • BC should continue to provide consistent capacity funding to First Nations to negotiate benefits agreements with the Province.
  • BC should consider incentives for proponents to engage early, and often, with First Nations throughout the development proposals so First Nations can plan appropriately for taking advantage of economic opportunities but also for managing impacts. Incentives could enable proactive proponents to move through the regulatory processes quicker.
  • BC should look for strategies to improve First Nation and industry relations. And First Nations and proponents need tools to successfully implement Impact Benefit Agreements.
  • BC should continue to provide consistent capacity funding to First Nations to negotiate benefits agreements with the Province.
  • Create more transparency and equity around government-First Nations benefit agreement negotiations processes.
  • Some thought there should be a minimum standard that ensures proponents who impact First Nation territories are compelled to engage with the First Nations impacted.
  • Camp facilities could be converted to First Nation community uses after they are no longer needed for project development work.

There’s much more in the full report.

For one thing, the report notes: “If LNG projects are done in a way that respects First Nation interests, they will be the most safe, environmentally rigorous, and human-rights-compliant projects in the world.”

The report’s lead researcher, Kim Baird, also wrote about lessons learned from the First Nations procurement experience in BC’s LNG industry. See pages 34-35 of the Aboriginal Business Report magazine.