Politics

First Nations revenue sharing must be priority for Ottawa, panel argues

A new report from a joint First Nations and federal government working group makes a number of recommendations on how to ensure First Nations communties can better share in the benefits of natural resource projects.

Report also recommends First Nations be involved in planning, design, management and ownership

There are hundreds of major resource projects, such as this oilsands mine near Fort McMurray, Alta., worth billions planned in Western Canada over the next decade. A new report by a joint panel says the federal government must make resource revenue sharing with First Nations a priority. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

A joint First Nations and federal government working group on natural resources has issued its final report, urging Canada to make resource revenue sharing a priority going forward.

The panel identifies the sharing of resource revenue as the best means of eliminating socio-economic disparities.

"It is a national disgrace that we have deplorable living conditions and social conditions on so many First Nations,"  working group co-chair Douglas Turnbull said. "The opportunity to get it right, to use the wealth and prosperity that will accrue from these big projects ... is an opportunity we just can't squander.

The report urges that a roundtable be held, convening aboriginal and government leaders to focus exclusively on resource revenue sharing.

But the report argues First Nation participation goes beyond getting a share of the profits of projects. It says the credibility and ultimate success of extraction projects depends on the buy-in from First Nations. It urges the federal government and industry to realize that First Nations need to be directly involved in the planning, design, management, ownership and reclamation phases of projects.

And First Nations should be involved in the collection and management of environmental data and land use information, and be participants in the regulatory processes, the report suggests.

"The credibility of a natural resource development project depends on inclusive environmental decision-making, monitoring ... that take into account and involve First Nations," says the report.

"Having credibility in the eyes of community members requires addressing environmental issues in a transparent and fact-based manner, and staying accountable," the report continues.

Lack of consultation cited

The report echoes many of the recommendations and observations made by Doug Eyford, the prime minister's special envoy on West Coast energy issues in his report at the end of 2013.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he wants to make Canada an energy superpower. But many projects have been held up or thwarted by First Nations that have felt their land and treaty rights to be threatened or violated.

Douglas Eyford, special federal representative on West Coast energy infrastructure, delivered a report calling for more consultation with First Nations on energy projects in 2013. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Eyford's report essentially recognized that if the federal government had done more to truly listen to and consult First Nations, there might have been less opposition to key energy projects.

However, there are many First Nations that, regardless, are opposed to projects they worry will damage the environment irreversibly.

Former Northwest Territories MLA Richard Nerysoo was a member of today's joint panel.

"It wasn't our role to get into the political debate of what project should be supported, but rather that here is a bigger conversation that needed to take place," he said.

Today's working group report aims to chart a path forward, points out that natural resource development is a critical component of Canada's economic prosperity. It estimates that over the next decade, investments in Canada's natural resource industry could reach as high as $675 billion.

Other recommendations include holding an international forum to promote First Nations trade and international partnerships, and exploring financing options for addressing the capital needs of First Nations.

First Nations 'need to be involved'

The creation of the working group was one of the pledges to come out of the meeting between Harper and former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo in December 2013.

The working group is co-chaired by federal government appointee Turnbull, a former deputy chairman of TD Securities and AFN appointee, AFN Alberta Regional Chief Cameron Alexis. The group is made up of other federal government and AFN appointees.

The group held working sessions with business and First Nations leaders last fall.

Today's final report was submitted to AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt.

Bellegarde, who is in Geneva at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, welcomed the report in a statement Tuesday.

"First Nations need to be involved in resource development during all phases. We bring the added element of ensuring the protection of lands and waters," the statement said.

"Sustainable economic development is what we want. I encourage First Nations to review the report and consider next steps consistent with our right to self-determination."

In a statement Tuesday, Valcourt's office said the government is reviewing the report and is "committed to working to ensure that aboriginal communities are true partners in all aspects of resource development."

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