OTTAWA, July 1, 2016 /CNW/ – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde today congratulated the Gitxaala Nation, Gita’at First Nation, Haida Nation, Kitasoo Xai’Xais Band, Heiltsuk Tribal Council, Nadleh Whut’en and Nak’az-dli Whut’en for successfully defending the rights of their peoples following the decision by the Federal Court of Appeal to overturn approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline.
“This decision reinforces, yet again, that First Nations have rights as peoples that are recognized in the Constitution and that full and meaningful consultations with affected First Nations must be undertaken and respected by all, including the Federal Cabinet,” said AFN National Chief Bellegarde. “First Nations must be involved from the very beginning of any proposed projects or activities. This is why the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the path that must guide our way forward. It will ensure our peoples and our rights are respected and upheld. This standard must be met across the board.”
On Thursday June 30, 2016, the Federal Court of Appeal decided that the Canadian Government failed in its duty to consult with First Nations on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project. The government neglected to discuss subjects of critical importance to First Nations by ignoring many of the project’s impacts and offering only a “brief, hurried and inadequate” opportunity for consultation. The judgment calls for Canadian officials to engage on all subjects of interest to affected First Nations, and to exchange information freely and candidly, with explanations to the level of reasonable fulfilment. Eight First Nations, four environmental groups and one labour union launched the legal challenge in October 2015.
This decision demonstrates the need for substantial dialogue between First Nations and the Crown about the legal implications of project impacts on the inherent and Treaty rights of First Nations before any decisions are made that may negatively impact those rights. Each project must be assessed on a case-by-case basis in terms of its potential impacts on the rights and jurisdiction of each affected First Nation.
National Chief Bellegarde added: “We support First Nations in exercising their right to self-determination and economic development. First Nations will be part of the national dialogue on how the current regulatory system must be reformed because we’ve known for a long time that it is broken. The way to fix it is a new approach that reflects our values and our right to make decisions on any matters that could affect our lives, our lands or our people. The government says it is embarking on a new approach and the path forward will only be successful if First Nations are fully involved in an approach respects our rights.”