Published in 24 Hours Vancouver | December 6, 2013 | Circulation: 280,000+
Aboriginal leaders are applauding a report by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s special West Coast energy envoy that recommends meaningful consultation with First Nations is essential if development is to proceed.
On Thursday, Vancouver lawyer Doug Eyford released his recommendations, calling it an “opportunity” for dialogue between First Nations, the government and project proponents.
“I hope that my report is going to be perceived as providing objective and blunt advice for all of the parties that are engaged in this process,” he told reporters. “It’s never too late to engage and to do so in a process of good faith negotiations.”
Art Sterritt, Coastal First Nations executive director, praised Eyford for listening to roughly 80 aboriginal groups in B.C., a province that was largely never surrendered through treaties.
“It actually may be the first time the prime minister will understand what the legal landscape looks like (in B.C.),” he said. “If they want to move forward projects that threaten aboriginal rights, our title or our culture, they’re going to need our permission.
“If they want to look at development in B.C., they’ll have to build a much bigger relationship with First Nations, but it’s not just simple consultation – they’re going to have to re-think the way they talk to First Nations.”
Eyford said governments have to be more “nimble and flexible” to meet aboriginal needs. But Sterritt cautioned that First Nations will still never warm to Enbridge Inc.’s controversial Northern Gateway’s oil sands pipeline proposal.
“The feds would be well-served by putting it to bed, then First Nations would really believe they really want to build a new relationship,” he said.
Canada’s natural resources ministry didn’t return interview requests in time for publication.