The House

Pipeline projects need 'indigenous licence', says AFN National Chief

What role should First Nations play in the development of energy projects? That's been one of the questions at the heart of this country's ongoing pipeline debate. We ask the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, if we're getting any closer to a solution.
Assembly of First Nations national Chief Perry Bellegarde holds a news conference in Ottawa on Monday, June 1, 2015. (Photo: CP/Sean Kilpatrick) (The Canadian Press)

Some pipeline projects should be allowed to proceed if they have an "indigenous licence" according to the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.​

"We need to make sure that there is, I call this the indigenous licence, not just social but indigenous licence," Perry Bellegarde told Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House.

The AFN hosted its First Nations Forum on Energy this week in Vancouver to allow First Nations leaders, politicians, environmentalists and key industry players to talk about how to develop some of the country's natural resources 

Perry Bellegarde's language about major energy projects now almost mirrors that of the prime minister. "Yes, we have to look at ways to get things to the international markets, in a meaningful, substantive way," he said.

Last month, Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons: "We are working very, very hard right across the country with municipal leaders, with provincial leaders, to make sure we're creating the social licence, the oversight, the environmental responsibility and the partnership with communities to get our resources to market in a responsible way."

"We have to find that balance between the economy and the environment. That's what it's all about," Bellegarde said.

Ottawa's role​

The federal government has been clear: proper consultations will be a necessary element of energy projects.

"If we're going to attract the investments we need to sustainably develop our energy resources, then we have to better engage Canadians, conduct deeper consultations with indigenous peoples and base decisions on science, facts and evidence," Natural Minister Jim Carr said last month as he was unveiling a new environmental assessment process for energy projects.

Now Bellegarde wants to see that translated into reality. "Great to hear the words, but we have to see some action," he said.

One way to do that, he suggested, would be to include First Nations in the review process, including the National Energy Board.

"Expand the Energy Board! I always say if they are full, well, expand it to include indigenous people."

Budget must include "billions" for First Nations

The Liberals made several key commitments to First Nations during the election campaign. 

Despite concerns about the state of the economy and the prime minister suggesting that the deficit in their upcoming budget could be bigger than promised, the National Chief of the AFN says he needs to see the government follow through on its promises.

"What we expect is billions of dollars in investment," he said.

Bellegarde argued there's a small window of opportunity to get things done in order to close the gap between First Nations and the rest of the country.

"We basically have to influence the first two budgeting cycles because they go into a political process in th third and fourth ones," he said.