The B.C. First Nations Leadership Council is being applauded for a new strategy aimed at building stronger relations with China.
Local First Nations say they are getting unprecedented inquiries from Chinese companies to develop projects on their territories and on Tuesday, the council — which represents numerous native groups in the province — set out a seven-point action plan to take advantage of those opportunities.
The strategy includes promoting trade missions, expanding market opportunities and setting up a China trade desk to help First Nations respond to business opportunities.
UBC forest resources management professor George Hoberg said it's a brilliant political play.
"First Nations want to make sure that they benefit from those economic opportunities, but also they want Chinese investors to be aware of the First Nations legal position in that they need to be dealt with directly by investors."
Hoberg said the provincial and federal governments still have to approve foreign projects on indigenous land, but the move forces the province to be more inclusive of First Nations interests around trade talks with China.
"What they're essentially doing is asserting their status as a government, on par with the government of British Columbia."
Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell has yet to comment on the strategy.
'Critical for Canada's economic prosperity'
At a press conference announcing the strategy on Tuesday, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said First Nations are tired of being sidelined by Ottawa and the province, and will now strive to negotiate directly with Chinese investors.
"So we have to move beyond this very parochial notions of the government of Canada and British Columbia when it comes to indigenous land rights."
Grand Chief Ed John with the First Nations Summit helped create the action plan.
"What we've seen in the past in our trips to China ... is that industry groups do present in China, but they present their views and we've seen governments present their views, but there was no one out their telling our stories," he said.
"Chinese authorities as well as the Chinese peoples are largely unaware of indigenous peoples, much less the rights of indigenous peoples."
John said the strategy educates Chinese investors about the legal interests First Nations have in their traditional territories.
Yuen Pau Woo with the Asia Pacific Foundation believes the strategy will streamline trade between China and Canada in the areas of energy, fisheries and forestry.
"It's going to be critical for Canada's economic prosperity," Woo said.
"We already know China has overtaken the United States in terms of lumber exports and for First Nations communities to be involved directly and to take an interest and a stake is critical because many deals will not happen unless First Nations are involved."
Woo said the strategy enables B.C.'s First Nations to take a proactive role in trade negotiations with China.