On Dec. 5, Douglas Eyford, Special Federal Representative on West Coast Energy Infrastructure released his final report, “Forging Partnerships Building Relationships: Aboriginal Canadians and Energy Development” containing 29 recommendations outlining four themes – trust, inclusion, reconciliation and action.
In a letter addressed directly to the Prime Minister, Eyford made four key observations. Canada and Aboriginal communities need to build effective relationships and this is best achieved through sustained engagement. Aboriginal communities view natural resource development as linked to a broader reconciliation agenda. Aboriginal communities will consider supporting natural resource development if it is undertaken in an environmentally sustainable manner; and The West Coast infrastructure projects would contribute to improving the socio-economic conditions of Aboriginal communities.
He further stated that, in his opinion, progress requires leadership, commitment, and action by governments, Aboriginal communities, and industry and he expressed his optimism that collaborative efforts by each of the parties can advance their respective interests.
The report was issued following eight months of discussions with Aboriginal communities and other organizations, industry, and provincial and local governments in British Columbia and Alberta. It was welcomed in the Aboriginal communities but regarded with doubt that it would result in any meaningful change.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union B.C. Indian Chiefs stated, “It is clear that Mr. Eyford listened to our communities as many, if not all, of his recommendations reflect the public positions and statements of many First Nations standing against Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline and Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of their Trans Mountain pipeline. Unfortunately, many of his recommendations will be ignored. The Harper Government has time and time again demonstrated their jobs agenda trumped, ignored and arrogantly dismissed our constitutionally-enshrined, judicially-recognized inherent Title, Rights and Treaty Rights. The Harper government has consistently demonstrated a complete contempt for environmental values and concerns.”
Chief Bob Chamberlin, Vice-President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said, “To make way for these mega-projects, the Harper Government ripped apart federal legislation, greatly weakened federal policies and hacked the budgets of federal agencies responsible for the protection of lands, water and air. There are cumulative impacts of these large resource extraction mega-projects that will impact water, salmon, berries, trees – the environment we all share. The UBCIC expressly communicates opposition to any resource development in First Nations territories that does not meaningfully engage, consult and/or accommodate the affected First Nations’ stewardship responsibilities, inherent Title, Rights or Treaty Rights. The Federal Government must realize ‘No’ as a consultative process outcome must be respected as much as ‘Yes.'”
Eyford’s report makes recommendations across four themes:
“Building Trust identifies the efforts needed to establish constructive dialogue about energy development, to demonstrate commitment to environmental sustainability, and to enhance understanding of and participation in pipeline and marine safety.
Fostering Inclusion proposes focused efforts to realize Aboriginal employment and business opportunities, to establish collaborations among Aboriginal communities that allow for better outcomes, and to facilitate the financial participation of Aboriginal communities in energy projects.
Advancing Reconciliation recommends targeted efforts to build effective relationships including refinements to Canada’s current approach to consultation and engagement, to explore mutually beneficial initiatives that support reconciliation, and to encourage Aboriginal communities to resolve shared territory issues.
Taking Action recommends the establishment of a Crown-First Nations tripartite energy working group to create an open and sustained dialogue and action on energy projects. I have also identified a need for Canada to build its internal capacity and to adopt an integrated approach to address Aboriginal interests in relation to west coast energy projects.”
AFN National Chief Atleo stated, “As we have said, in order to ensure prosperity for Canada and First Nations, Canada must recognize First Nation rights, support First Nations through capacity support, access to capital, and engage in environmental planning that incorporates First Nations traditional knowledge and principles and must facilitate shared decision making that is respectful, inclusive and accountable.”
“The reality is that the federal government and all parties must understand that First Nations are not simply another interest group in this work. We have constitutionally protected rights and title and there is a legal obligation on the part of government to meaningfully consult and accommodate First Nations. For too long these realities have been ignored and they are holding all of us back. Now is the time for action. First Nations are not anti-development but if any project is going to proceed it must be responsible, sustainable, we must be involved, our rights must be respected and there must be meaningful engagement consistent with the principles of free, prior and informed consent as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
AFN BC Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould stated, “We are pleased Mr. Eyford’s report was made public as it provides a welcome insight into the hard work ahead of us to ensure true reconciliation can occur between our Nations and the Crown. Canada must ensure that our Nations are full partners in the decisions that affect our lands and resources including, and where our Nations support development, benefiting in a meaningful and substantive way from energy development. However, resource development for First Nations is a means to an end and not the end in itself. Accordingly, seeking First Nations support for resource development cannot be divorced from the broader issues of reconciliation to address long standing grievances and where the objective of our Nations is to ensure our peoples have an improved quality of life with practicing and thriving cultures. With so much at stake for not only our peoples but all Canadians, I truly hope that Mr. Eyford’s recommendations will be given the serious consideration they deserve and that the Prime Minister will continue to ensure a high level of oversight in the development of a new reconciliation framework for Canada that goes beyond the limitations and restrictions of the existing federal ‘comprehensive claims policy.'”
AFN Alberta Regional Chief Cameron Alexis said: “I welcome this report as action is needed for both the Alberta and BC regions on these issues. I was disappointed when Premier Redford and Premier Clark signed a pipeline agreement and did not consult with First Nations from both our respective regions. I believe that now is the time that all interested parties work together to finally achieve an agreement that can be consistent with the expectations of Treaties 6, 7 and 8.”
The National Chief concluded, “The AFN has been pressing for action on these matters for some time and it is important that this report help compel immediate action on these fundamental issues.”
In issuing his report Eyford was optimistic that his recommendations could have broad impact. He stated, “Although this report is being delivered to the Government of Canada, it is my hope that it will be viewed by interested parties as an objective assessment of the current environment, and that the proposed recommendations will be accepted as a constructive starting point.”