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Indigenous Groups Gain Clout on Resource Projects as Canada Endorses UN Declaration

Niteshift (talk)/Wikipedia
Niteshift (talk)/Wikipedia

Canada’s announcement last week that it will fully endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) means Ottawa will seek “full, prior, and informed consent” before approving resource projects on Indigenous lands, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett told a news conference in New York last week.

“What this allows is for us to proceed with a conversation with Canadians. It is a step for us pursuing a full reconciliation process that is based on the principles within the UNDRIP,” Bennett said. “If you don’t do that, if you wait until after the project is launched and started, this won’t be possible.” So “this is putting everyone on notice, you better get this done, or else the project will flounder.”

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She added that the process of codifying UNDRIP in Canadian law would include consultation with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis.

The Financial Post recalls the Harper government’s concern that UNDRIP would give Indigenous communities a veto over developments that affect them, suggesting that last week’s decision adds to those groups’ “unique influence” over projects that affect them.

“The prime minister has already frustrated the energy sector by adding extra complications to the federal review process to indulge the green lobby,” the Post states. “By endorsing the UN’s declaration, he may enhance his personal brand of being soft on issues where the Tories came off steely, but he will also certainly make it more difficult to get things built in this country.”

In New York, a First Nations leader from New Brunswick said Canada’s full adoption of UNDRIP would make it easier for communities to fight TransCanada Corporation’s controversial Energy East pipeline. “I’m very confident that by the Liberal federal government supporting the declaration…that we will have the opportunity to say no,” said Ron Tremblay, Grand Chief of the Wolastoq Grand Council, which identifies all of New Brunswick and parts of Quebec and Maine as its ancestral territory.

In December, meanwhile, Phil Fontaine, a former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations who has since worked as a consultant to Energy East, submitted a report to Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, proposing the Northwest Territories’ model of “collaborative consent” for sharing decision-making with First Nations. “The idea is that ‘free, prior and informed consent’ becomes essentially moot when First Nations are co-proposing and co-drafting laws in the first place,” the National Post reports, citing Fontaine’s text. “’It is an approach that leads to reconciliation.’”

The government’s “duty to consult” with Indigenous peoples was upheld most recently in a unanimous Supreme Court decision in June 2014 that “massively empowered” the “most disadvantaged communities in the country,” former treaty rights negotiator Bill Gallagher told CBC News at the time.