First Nations have right to block developments on territories: Atleo
Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of development projects across the country won’t ever break ground unless the federal government finally realizes First Nations have a final say over what happens on their territory, says Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo.
With about $400 billion worth of resource-based activity expected across the country in the coming years that impacts traditional First Nations territories, Atleo said it was time for Ottawa and industry to get serious about respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples to have final word over what happens on their land.
“We have much to gain by working together and a lot to lose if we don’t – because those projects cannot and will not take place without our agreement, without our involvement and without our active engagement from start to finish,” said Atleo Friday, during a Toronto speech to the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Indigenous Bar Association.
Canada’s First Nations have the right to reject projects that impact their territories and continued attempts to minimize or ignore that right will lead to conflict, said Atleo.
“We must not slide down the old slippery slope towards new conflicts. We must march forward on a new path,” he said.
The stiff First Nations opposition facing Enbridge’s Keystone pipeline project and mining firm Taseko Mine’s gold and copper project in the British Columbia Interior comes from ignoring First Nations’ right to “free, prior and informed consent,” said Atleo.
Atleo said the right is “established in international human rights standards,” but Canada, despite endorsing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, continues to fight it both on the home and international front.
“Canada and other states have said they want to constrict this standard saying that it is an impossible threshold, too close to a ‘veto’ and therefore unacceptable,” said Atleo, according to the text of his speech. “The right of Indigenous peoples to approve or reject activities that affect their rights is a fundamental element of self-determination.”