Energy group says historic Supreme Court ruling brings clarity

An energy industry group says the Supreme Court ruling on aboriginal title brings clarity to government decisions on First Nations lands.

Supreme Court granted aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in B.C.

The federal government has agreed to let Enbridge build its Northern Gateway pipeline, subject to 209 conditions recommended by the National Energy Board and further talks with aboriginal communities. However, Wednesday's Supreme Court aboriginal title ruling could have implications for the project. (CBC)

An energy industry group says the Supreme Court ruling on aboriginal title brings clarity to government decisions on First Nations lands.

Speaking Thursday, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) said the ruling was easy to understand, and is an evolution of work that has been going through the courts for many years.

A spokesperson for the group also said the ruling gives project coordinators a better idea of the work they need to go through when consulting with First Nations to develop on land where there is aboriginal title.

"It does clarify in several cases that everything is project-specific so how you conduct yourself as a project proponent or in government on a project basis will guide [with] what kind of speed and efficiency you go through that process," said Alex Ferguson, vice president of policy and environment at CAPP. 

Ferguson said it's helpful that the ruling clarifies the role of governments, both federal and provincial, for those looking to develop on land claimed by First Nations — particularly in areas without treaties between the First Nations and the government.

The Tsilhqot'in First Nation is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to recognize its aboriginal title over a wide area to the south and west of Williams Lake and Alexis Creek, which it considers its traditional territory. (CBC)

The ruling places a greater burden on governments to justify economic development on aboriginal land, but Ferguson said it's hard to predict what the impact of that will be for development projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline, which has faced fierce opposition from First Nations.

However, one expert said it's likely the decision will be used by First Nations fighting the pipeline in court.

"The pipeline is going through many, many First Nations who have already declared that they do not want the Enbridge pipeline going through their territories," said Antonia Mills, a First Nations studies professor at the University of Northern B.C.

"This decision strengthens their rights to preserve their traditional territories."

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