Why are First Nations usually on the losing end of big development?
Why are First Nations rights and title always run roughshod over in the ‘greater public interest’?
Why do governments fling around the word “reconciliation” around things they think are reconciliation when First Nations don’t agree?
Why are the federal and provincial government proclaiming they are adopting and implementing the Universal Declaration on Indigenous Rights (UNDRIP) and the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Calls to Action and then pick and chose when they will follow those documents or give their own definition to what consent means?
Why are First Nations always in court against government actions or protesting on the land against government decisions to go ahead with development?
What are the underlying causes to all the unrest and lack of progress with First Nations?
There are many answers to these compelling questions but the point that needs to be made is that this capitalistic approval of developments without First Nations consent must be stopped or their will be no ability by First Nations to exercise their rights if the ecosystems that sustain the ability to practice right are decimated. Cumulative impacts are a harsh reality in the territories of First Nations.
First Nations should be first, we were here first. It is in our name. We are not the last Nations. We are Nations with inherent rights and title to our territories. We are Nations with constitutionally protected rights. We are Nations that still own the lands and resources in our territories. Yet we are constantly undermined in our rights and title by settler governments that have been here for such a short time and we have been around since time immemorial.
This is 2017, and both the federal and provincial governments have promised a new relationship based on a Nation to Nation relationship and that they would implement UNDRIP but First Nations are continually battling decisions that erode or destroy their rights. So far we have not seen actions that upholds the commitments they have made.
Based on these commitments one would think that there would be a more positive working relationship between First Nations and government and that issues could be worked through and not just imposed on by a government who sees the “greater public benefit” more important than constitutionally protected rights and reconciliation.
The two court wins recently by First Nations included a case in the BC Supreme Court challenging the Oil and Gas Commission over a pipeline. The court called the conduct of the Commission unreasonable and intransigent while finding the Fort Nelson First Nation acted reasonably and appropriately in its efforts to engage OGC in meaningful discussion of project impacts on the caribou herd.
The Supreme Court of Canada on Dec. 1st quashed the Yukon government's decision to dramatically weaken a commission's plan to preserve a vast wilderness area in the Peel Watershed, handing a victory to First Nations communities in the territory.
Out of court, the BC Government decided not to ok the Ajax mine that First Nations were opposed to after they did their environmental assessment. Now it is in the hands of the federal government and we will see if they agree with BC.
On the other hand there have been devastating losses for First Nations that have been handed down by the courts that raises the question if the courts are the answer.
The Supreme Court of Canada agreed to allow the development on Jumbo Glacier to go ahead which is in the territory of the Ktunaxa where they had a spiritual/sacred site. They said the freedom of religion did not include protecting the site but only included the ability to carry out the practice. Without the specific site the practice is meaningless but the court missed that.
The most recent decision by the BC Government to proceed with the construction of the Site C dam is one of the most devastating and destructive decisions against First Nations Treaty rights and sacred sites. Granted, Site C was initiated and started by the BC Liberal Government, but the current NDP government had the opportunity to cancel a decision they said they did not want or agree with. How does that make sense? They didn’t want Site C or agree with it but they are willing to invest billions of taxpayers money to build something that isn’t needed in BC as it produces more power than they will need.
They are trying to rationalize this decision by saying they fulfilled their election promise by holding a review by the BC Utilities Corporation(BCUC). They also justify their decision by saying some of the First Nations approved the project by signing agreements with them for benefits. Some First Nations are opposed, others told the government they did not want the dam but signed agreements because they knew it would go ahead without them. Only one First Nation came out in the media saying they were happy with the decision.
One must always remember, where the First Nations are located and the impact on their particular rights and sacred sites will differ. Some are more impacted than others and you can't have a score sheet of those that signed agreements against those that did not. This is just using First Nations for their own purposes. One First Nations who's rights are abrogated could stop the project.
They are also saying to cancel Site C would mean depriving British Columbians of services in day care, education and health. All of which is an accounting exercise, as they did away with bridge tolls that would have brought in billions just to get the votes. We can argue all day about the costs of the project but suffice it to say that many people do not believe the accounting of the BC Government.
These developments are only examples of the underlying issues between First Nations and the provincial and federal governments. That they cannot agree on development shows the great difference in values and that there is no agreement on what is important and that the lack of respect by the governments to work with First Nations to preserve their way of life is not there.
There are several provision in UNDRIP that says First nation consent must be obtained before development. We know that Trudeau said that consent is not a veto. Consent is yes or no, there is no other category yet Trudeau seems to think so.
Horgan said that in the decision of Site C, consent was not required as the decision to build the dam had already been made. I sometimes wonder if these leaders know how silly they sound with the semantics they use. The BC NDP government was making a critical decision on whether to cancel or proceed with the project. They made the motions of sending Ministers Mungall and Fraser to talk to the treaty 8 Nations. But they didn’t bother talking to or meeting with First Nation in the province on the impact on them in not being able to produce clean energy because of Site C. Billions of dollars in lost investment. They didn’t calculate that in the cost of Site C and the money that would go into education, day care and hospitals from those projects.
How long will First Nations and governments continue to clash on development?
Until the governments seriously implement UNDRIP and require consent for developments. It is very simple and the bottom line. I am not sure we will ever have a government that will agree to consent as they feel they have the power to make whatever decisions they want. I just don’t believe that they are serious when they talk about reconciliation. If you look at their agenda for reconciliation it is everything but resolving issues relating to the land, water and resources, the most important things to First Nations.
In the past, shared decision making, co-management, or joint management has been proposed but never effectively adopted or implemented. The government always feels they have to have the final say and that final say is never in First Nations favour. In the Tsilhq’otin title case before the Supreme Court of Canada the court did say that any decisions made with the public benefit in mind had to be considered with First Nations views in mind.
As we end 2017, I look to 2018 and don’t see much of a positive future where First Nations and governments have a meeting of minds on land and resource developments, especially as the Federal governments pushes free trade around the globe.
I see more conflict, more stress, more energy spent in fighting the governments, on the land, in the courts and at the United Nations if First Nations consent is not obtained. Life hasn’t changed too much even with efforts at reconciliation. What I do know is that many First Nations territories cannot withstand the continual assault of development and if we can’t turn the tide, there will be nothing for s. 35 of the constitution to protect. I also know First Nations will not give up their rights and it is time for governments to live up to their words and seek First Nations consent. Unrest and uncertainty will never end if this is not done.