First Nations want in, meaningfully

In this Vancouver Sun comment article, First Nations council member John Jack evaluates resource development and the recent Becoming Partners report from Resource Works

First Nations are often in the news because they are opposed to resource and industrial development. There was a time when resource industries avoided First Nations for fear of what the First Nations might do to stop things from happening.

All too often, the reasons for opposition have been inadequately portrayed. Dozens of stories confirm how value was generated on First Nations lands without First Nations involvement or benefit.

It is true First Nations leaders stand for environmental protection and preservation but they also stand for principled and sustainable economic development in which their people benefit as well.

First Nations have the same challenges and duties as any other community in B.C. and Canada today. Without being meaningfully involved in realistic economic development projects, the options for any First Nation are severely limited. Leaders are all too aware of the need to reconcile the need for environmental protection with the need for their people to achieve collective and individual progress in life.

If we agree on the notion that capital transfers from the Crown will not suffice in aiding First Nations in their pursuit of self-reliance, we must contemplate what First Nations can do to achieve more independence.

If we agree that First Nations' best options lie in economic development, we must address questions of resource development on their lands.

The Tsilhqot’in decision showed in 2014 how to determine aboriginal title and whether provincial laws apply to lands subject to outstanding land claims. Since the ruling, there has been further growth in awareness of the need for businesses to focus on building healthy and productive relationships with First Nations.

First Nations and business leaders realize they probably should work together in creating value from the land and find arrangements that are mutually beneficial. This is how First Nations can best have access to the value created on and from their lands and resources in a meaningful way.

First Nations want in, and they want in meaningfully.

We have an impetus for changing how we, as a society, approach and relate to First Nations peoples, leaders and organizations. All it will take is the will to pick up the phone, meet in the light of day, and truly interact with one-another on equal and respectful terms.

What is the way to build those relationships? Consider what a template could look like going into a post-Tsilhqot’in world. Resource Works recently released a report entitled Becoming Partners, touching on this issue.

The report shows why it is necessary to move away from divisive rhetoric on all sides, and move toward respectfully, realistically conducted province-wide dialogue on the importance of resource development within B.C.

Friction occurs not in economic development itself, but in how development initiatives are conducted. First Nations are too often excluded from involvement.

The path forward lies in building functional and healthy relationships between First Nations and businesses. It will not suffice to simply offer funds for non-interference. Prospective partners need to spend time and effort, alongside other resources, to build understanding and trust at the very beginning to do business together in a way that is compatible with both cultures.

First Nations, with increasingly defined interests in land and resource development, should be involved on the front end of resource development projects. Waiting too long creates uncertainty and ill-will, both of which occur when First Nations are bypassed.

Seeking First Nations involvement in good faith, without being legally coerced to do so, would create the best chance for productive and collaborative relationships.

We can all benefit from principled, sustainable resource development. Let’s make sure we do it right, for present and future generations.

John Jack is an elected member of council for the Huu-ayaht First Nations, a director for the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, and tribal representative to the joint HFN-Steelhead LNG governing panel overseeing the Sarita Bay LNG project on Vancouver Island.

Read this article where it was originally published:

Do you like this?