MAY 14TH? A WATERSHED MOMENT FOR BC FIRST NATIONS? OR JUST THE SAME OLD...?

 BC is now officially in campaign mode. Who will be the next Premier and lead this province for the next 4 years? NDP has been ahead in the polls, political pundits like Vaughn Palmer says that it is not in the bag yet. Hard to imagine the Liberals in for a 4th term but in an election anything is possible. This is especially true when Christy Clark and John Cummins are doing nothing but bashing Adrian Dix and not talking too much about what they can do for the province. Petty politics.

What are the big issues I see for First Nations that should be election issues?

1. Controversial Mega Projects with big potential to destroy or take away from aboriginal rights: Northern Gateway Project, Kinder Morgan Pipeline, Prosperity Mines (and probably several others), Site C, Jumbo Glacier Resort, Raven Coal and Fracking in North Eastern BC which affects water.
2. BC Hydro’s pull back on Standing Offer Program for projects up to 15 MW
3. Revenue and Benefit sharing
4. Shared Decision Making
5. Reconciliation and the New Relationship
6. Heritage Conservation and in particular removal of Human remains and protection of Sacred Sites.
7. A new Water Act

Major projects have been at the front of many protests, by First Nations and non First Nations alike. There have been many negative public communications. Will an NDP government back off on some or all of these major projects or stay the course? We certainly know where the Liberal governments stand on these projects and there have been clear indications from Green party candidates especially Andrew Weaver, an expert in climate change.

On the Northern Gateway, the NDP have said they will reconsider, but have not said the same on the Kinder Morgan project or pipelines generally. The Ktuxana have started a law suit against the Jumbo Glacier project for lack of proper consultation and the Crown not conducting itself honourably, again.

John Horgan , NDP Energy Critic has said he wants the environmental assessment to continue on Site C to see if it is possible and that we will need power from Site C at some point. The problem with Environmental Assessments of course is that they don’t take into account the cost of flooding thousands of acres of land, the loss of use to the land, the compensation that should be paid to First Nations for destruction of sacred sites, burial sites, destruction of hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering rights, etc. Not many First Nations have confidence in the BC Environmental Assessment process as no projects have ever been denied as economy is #1.

In March, BC Hydro’s pulled back on the Standing Offer Program (SOP) for projects under 15 MW’s. They have created two places in the process where they can delay a proposal under the SOP for two years, drawing out a viable business that usually takes 3-5 years from start to finish. This is a real business disincentive and creates uncertainty. The Clean Energy Act set an objective to create opportunities for First Nations and set up a Clean Energy Fund to enable First Nations to take advantage of opportunities under the SOP and other energy calls. Millions of dollars have been provided to First Nations through this fund and First Nations have been working on developing projects. Now this setback on the revised policy on SOP has occurred. BC Hydro says it has to work with uncertainties around the demand for power, yet this program has underperformed in BC Hydro expectations. There seems to be more uncertainty around whether LNG projects and Site C will pass environmental assessments and go ahead than the few under 15 MW projects that BC Hydro has contracted with. For First Nations involved in the production of power, this clearly is an issue to get the government to get back on track with promises to provide opportunity to First Nations in Clean Energy.

The New Relationship, reconciliation, revenue and benefit sharing, shared Decision Making, and LUP are also very important issues forirst Nations. The BC Government has delivered to a degree on these issues. But it is on a one off basis, and choosing to do deals with First Nations that are necessary for development to occur. The Haida Gwaii Reconciliation Act allows for shared decision making, LUP and protection of sacred/cultural/heritage sites. They have not offered similar legislation to any other First Nation in the province even if it is a model many others would want to operate under. The province has entered into varying degrees of shared decision making, or promises to negotiate shared decision making with First Nations such as the Taku River Tlingit, Sts’ailes, Ktuxana and Gitanyow. Not every First Nation has been given an opportunity to negotiate Shared Decision Making where the actual decision making is in the hands of the First Nation and the Minister and not just the Minister having final say in all decisions.

Revenue sharing agreements have occurred in the mining industry with Kamloops Indian Band, Skeetchesn, McLoed Lake First Nation and the Nlaka’pamux Nation. This has been for those First Nations who are in agreement with the mines in their territories. These agreements, and the Clean Energy Fund are the revenue sharing agreements the BC government has offered. Though First Nations collectively in the province tried to convince the Liberal government to share a mere 3% of gaming revenue in the province as an easy way to start down the path of reconciliation, they refused without an explanation as to why they would not. Not a lot of progress on this front and there needs to be.

The Musqueam Marpole site and the burial sites of their ancestors became a big issue in the past year highlighting that the Heritage Conservation Act is inadequate and outdated and left the province with no tools to deal with this contentious issue. This issue remains unresolved and the parties are still trying to find a solution. The Heritage Conservation Act s. 4 does allow for First Nations to enter into agreements with the province where they can manage their own spiritual, cultural, heritage sites. The province has been unwilling to use this section of the Act to help resolve these very important issues with First Nations even though a joint working group with the Leadership Council and BC has tried to come to agreement on how this could be done. The BC government backed off a pilot project that had been agreed to by the parties and left the group without motivation to move forward the only solution to issues which stops development and puts the issues on the front page. This should be an election issue as well.

The Water Act is over 100 years old and must be amended. Despite a very comprehensive consultation process with the public on the water act modernization, the province failed to engage First Nations in a way which would be considered adequate. Water is a very controversial issue and the Halalt First Nation is appealing a case to the Supreme Court of Canada over ground water. Fort Nelson First Nation is fighting water licenses for fracking. Scarcity of water and management of water are important issues that must be discussed and come to terms with. The aboriginal right to water has never been definitely defined and the BC government continues to claim they “own” the water. Aboriginal title to land must necessarily include the aboriginal right to water. Big, big issues yet to be tackled.

The BC election should have these issues front and center as many of these issues are stopping development, causing great uncertainty, and straining relations between First Nations and the BC Government. Christy Clark has not been able to move the agenda forward with First Nations and in fact has widened the gap. Can the NDP government do any better? The Green Party? I am not mentioning the conservative party as they do not give First Nations due regard and everything would be a fight if they were in power. This is the time for First Nations to be quizzing these parties and extracting promises on these and other issues from 3 parties and most importantly, make them election issues.

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