Getting to yes with First Nations

There’s a prevailing perception among business leaders and investors and even within some First Nations communities that you can’t get a resource development project built in B.C.

Of course, that’s not necessarily the case. There are numerous examples of successful resource projects proceeding in B.C. with active participation from Indigenous communities. The Huu-ay-aht First Nations, for instance, recently signed an agreement with Western Forest Products to acquire a seven per cent stake in its Port Alberni forest operation. Last year, the Squamish Nation approved an economics benefits agreement with Woodfibre LNG providing the green light for the construction of a $1.6 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing and export facility.

However, these projects have been largely overshadowed by stark images of hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation blockading the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline near Houston last January.

These protests highlighted the rift between hereditary chiefs of the five Wet’suwet’en clans and the elected band council, which supports the pipeline. This situation is particularly troubling given that Coastal GasLink signed community and project agreements with all the elected Indigenous bands along the pipeline route in B.C.

Leading up to the upcoming Indigenous Resource Opportunities Conference in Nanaimo this month, many business leaders are telling me they’re concerned that the impending passage of federal Bill C-262 implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) will embolden activists further to challenge resource projects. They fear UNDRIP will herald a fundamental shift in the legal landscape governing Indigenous rights and title, potentially stopping resource projects in their tracks.

If the Senate passes Bill C-262, Canada would be the first country in the world to harmonize its federal laws with UNDRIP.

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