There can be room for responsible, carefully managed, well regulated development that recognizes Aboriginal rights and title.
We’ve been following an online debate over LNG development in BC that applies to all natural resource development in BC.
It’s all about First Nations’ thoughts on development, and contains lessons for all who are not of First Nations descent.
The debate begins with Chief Joe Bevan of the Kitselas First Nation. In this recent video, he sees responsible development as a path away from “crushing poverty” “Instead of saying no to every economic development opportunity that came, why don't we try to say yes?”
Then came a frequently heated debate:
- “Chief Joe Bevan, smart man! Say yes while you can and take advantage and prosper, or say no and lose everything.”
- “Ask Joe Bevan to produce the consent from the hereditary chiefs that have title to the Kitselas territories. He is a mayor, nothing like a true chief.”
- “Refreshing to see. Let's all pull together and get things done. Everyone benefits from projects done responsibly.”
- “(Joe Bevan) is a sell-out.”
Sadly, the debate was marred by many shocking racist comments denigrating First Nations.
And in the end, as in many online debates, there was no conclusion.
Our own conclusion from the discussion is that applying old thinking and old business models to today’s relations with First Nations is a non-starter.
The message we keep hearing from First Nations is that there can be room for resource development—as long as it is indeed responsible, carefully managed, well regulated, and (of course) recognizes today’s reality of Aboriginal rights and title.
But it can take much time and a lot of listening to reach understanding and agreements on projects. Many developers are simply not used to doing business this way, which requires considerable consultation in good faith, and accommodation.
And there can always be complications, such as conflict between the positions of elected band councillors and the hereditary chiefs. One current example affects the Pacific NorthWest LNG project near Prince Rupert.
We remain encouraged by our own study, Becoming Partners, that found: “There has been a great deal of progress in Aboriginal-industrial relations in BC that has not been widely reported.” (We also noted that there are 86 major projects in BC with First Nations partners.)
And we are encouraged by those First Nations leaders who have come out in support of responsible development.
Among them are Ellis Ross of the Haisla Nation. He started out as no fan of industry but came to see responsible development as a way to lift his people out of “poverty, suicides, and the hopelessness.” He has offered to share with other nations the Haisla’s 10 years of research on LNG development.
There is Karen Ogen of the Wet’suwet’en, a member of our Resource Works Advisory Council. She sees revenue from a natural gas pipeline as an alternative to “administering poverty.” She formed the First Nations LNG Alliance to “facilitate a balance between protecting the environment and increasing economic opportunities within First Nations communities.”
And among them there is John Jack of the Huu-ayaht First Nations, who wrote in a column about responsible development: “First Nations want in, and they want in meaningfully.”