Resource development in B.C. isn’t stalled, as many appear to fear, but rather is proceeding at a historic pace, according to a new report from Resource Works, a business funded, Vancouver-based think-tank that focuses on economic and environmental issues.
And, far from impeding development, First Nations are playing increasingly important roles in moving it forward, the report argues.
If the optimistic tone of the report is unusual, so is its structure. It is long on anecdotes and short on data, with its 21 pages brightened by nearly three dozen mostly upbeat quotes in large, coloured type, and nary a table or graph.
Unlike most think-tank reports that are based on number crunching, this one is derived from interviews with key players in various partnerships between First Nations and industry – people like Lana Eagle of the Industry Council for Aboriginal Business, and Garry Merkel, president of the Tahltan Development Corp. from the First Nations side of the table; former mines minister Blair Lekstrom and former forestry minister Roger Harris, who both used to represent the province on these issues; and Bruce Falstead of Fortis BC and Sally Thorpe of BC Hydro from the business community.
But, although the anecdotes were no doubt cherry-picked to bolster arguments being advanced, they are both interesting and instructive.
Key conclusions flowing from the examples in the report include:
Go slow and build long-term relationships with First Nations, don’t just try to conclude quick deals. How resources are developed is a technical question, Huu-ay-aht councillor John Jack is quoted as saying. But, “Why and whether it gets done is a question of will and communication and relationship building.”
Establish meaningful partnerships with First Nations. “A number of years ago, some companies engaged with First Nations because the courts said you had to,” said Lekstrom, who now works with both mining companies and the Duz Cho companies owned by McLeod Lake Indian Band. “Today, I see they are coming to First Nations enterprises because the quality matches that of non-First Nation companies.”
Help build business capacity when dealing with bands that lack the experience and expertise to participate fully in such partnerships.
Try to build relationships that can withstand changes in band governance following elections, which are held every two years. The participants noted that bands’ administrative structures can be set up to weather a change in the chief and band council – the trouble is, they sometimes aren’t set up appropriately.
Move beyond competing claims by recognizing all of them, not waiting for an outcome to be negotiated or adjudicated. For example, Harris said, when the Pacific Trails Pipeline agreement was reached with 15 bands, the solution was to simply take all land claims, overlapping or not, and divide the total length of pipeline right-of-way into the amount of money the proponent, Apache Canada, was offering.
Reach agreement on environmental protection. “When we’re dealing with a First Nation, it’s usually environment, employment and money, in that order,” said Falstead. “If we get pushback anywhere – if there’s what we call a ‘show stopper’, something that can stop a project – it’s around the environment.” The report both lauds and pans the province’s role in building industry-First Nations partnerships.
It applauds the province’s 2008 decision to share mining revenue with bands, and a subsequent forestry revenuesharing deal that also gave First Nations a greater role in forest management. And it notes the Clean Energy Act of 2010 not only includes revenue-sharing, but also establishes a fund to support First Nations who want to participate in this growing industry.
“These government initiatives have had a profound impact on how resource industries operate in British Columbia,” it said. But on a sour note, “When it comes to consultation, I would just consider the government to be absent,” said Falstead. “It’s entirely left up to industry. The government basically says, Let us know when it’s done.