British Columbia

B.C. First Nations and business community set their sights on economic reconciliation

The Business Council of British Columbia and the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations signed a memorandum of understanding today to recognize economic reconciliation.

Parties from both communities signed a memorandum of understanding to recognize their commitment

Shane Gottfriedson (left) and Greg D'Avignon (right) have signed a memorandum of understanding recognizing economic reconciliation. (Charlie Cho/CBC)

British Columbia's business and First Nations communities have signed a memorandum of understanding to recognize their commitment to economic reconciliation.

Shane Gottfriedson, the B.C. regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations, and Greg D'Avignon, the president and chief executive officer of the Business Council of British Columbia, both signatories to the agreement, spoke to Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition.

Chief Gottfriedson said the agreement is about creating opportunities for sustainable economic development for First Nations communities.

"We're living in the 21st century now and it's time to look at collaboration and partnerships, and make sure that sustainable economic development and reconciliation is taking place."

This is about nation building.- Greg D'Avignon, president and CEO of the Business Council of British Columbia

He added that many First Nations communities are focused on educating their youth and increasing the quality of life for their future.

"Right now, it's about managing poverty, but we need to get into the game of managing wealth, creating a better quality of life for our people. We can't be left out from that."

Strong economy is 'reconciliation in action'

D'Avignon said the business community was eager to break down barriers in working with First Nations communities through this public declaration.

"If we can create certainty and clarity with a legal framework and structures in place to get decision making with transparency and understanding ... we're going to be quite unique in the world. That will be a competitive advantage for British Columbia going forward."

The gesture coincides with provincial funding that supports a number of initiatives supporting First Nations economic development including:

  • A roundtable to encourage dialogue between First Nations and the business community.
  • The creation of sustainable economic development guides.
  • Improving the quality of employment data for on-reserve communities.

Premier Christy Clark noted in a statement that "improving the quality of life of First Nations people and ensuring they see the benefits from Canada's strongest economy is reconciliation in action."

First Nations' opposition

However, the Business Council of British Columbia has Kinder Morgan, Enbridge, Pacific Northwest LNG, and BC Hydro among its members — companies which have projects that have faced stiff opposition from First Nations groups.

This totem pole on the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation frames the Chevron Burnaby Oil Refinery in the distance. The totem pole is meant to be a symbol of cross-border unity among Coast Salish nations opposing the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and expanded oil tanker traffic. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

D'Avignon downplayed these concerns.

"You don't get unanimity in British Columbia ever on anything. The reality is that all these companies have deep, longstanding relationships with many First Nations."

He added that the memorandum wasn't about a specific project.

"This is about nation building and the opportunity to lift up both Aboriginal communities and non-Aboriginal communities to make them better as a result of working together," he said.

Chief Gottfriedson said it was a new way forward.

"The reality is as First Nations, we're not going anywhere. The municipalities and the province are not going anywhere, and neither is Canada. It's a new way of doing business."

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the segment, click on the link labelled What does economic reconciliation look like?