Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
I first wish to acknowledge the whose Territory we meet in.
I am here today as the acting CEO of the British Columbian First Nations Energy and Mining Council and have been asked to talk about the way forward for First Nations involvement in your industry. I want to thank you for this opportunity and wish to assure you it’s a topic that is of as much importance and interest to British Columbia’s First Nations as it is to all of you.
It has been estimated by the federal government that there is $350 billion worth of resource activities pending in First Nations territories in the coming years.
In BC, virtually every project now being pursued, proposed or envisioned, involves BC First Nations lands.
The challenge we all face is to recognize the leading role First Nations can play to ensure sustainable development occurs.
I hope the 2009 Indigenous Peoples Summit on Climate Change will provide an opportunity for us all to move closer to a working understanding.
To set the stage for where we are headed, I first want to explain a little about where we stand today.
I am proud of how the Chiefs of British Columbia have, over the past number of years, held major meetings to tackle the issues facing us in the fishery sector, the forestry sector, the energy sector, the health and social sectors and most recently, the mining sector. And during these meetings we have developed Action Plans to guide our way forward.
Our First Nations Mining Action Plan clarifies our interests in mining in BC and provides a basis for ongoing collaboration and engagement with key mining sector partners, including governments.
It is now in the process of being ratified and until such time as we complete that process the First Nations Energy and Mining Council has been asked to facilitate early discussions with the Crown, industry and First Nations regarding the mining sector. And in my view, our timing couldn’t be better.
In 2007 exploration expenditure in BC amounted to a record $416 million. This was followed in 2008 by summer exploration expenditures of over $300 million.
Before the dramatic meltdown in the markets this fall, your industry had experienced what some called a “golden age” of mining. But First Nations in British Columbia have not had any part of experiencing this “golden age” in mining even though most of the mining activity in this province happens in our territories and on our lands. That fact still stands but my emphasis today is rather different. It would be foolish not to acknowledge the impact of the present global financial crisis on the mining industry.
However, it also goes without saying that the markets will come about, senior mining companies will search out and find good deals to snap up the juniors who will not survive and more mergers and acquisitions will be the story in the future.
My point today is that this slow down, in my view, presents a timely opportunity to step back , engage and take some action together to determine common interests and a better way of doing business here in BC.
Indeed to do otherwise and perpetuate uncertainty, conflict and tension filled, unproductive relations makes no common, let alone financial sense. Both government and industry in British Columbia have got to understand that when the markets rally, as they will, and mining companies again come knocking on our doors some fundamental changes have got to take place if First Nations are to say “come on in”.
The silver lining to the present financial crisis may indeed be to help create momentum for fundamental change and I would suggest the time to start is now.
Central to creating less conflict, more certainty and the positive conditions for First Nations to welcome sustainable mining development are:
- Recognition of our Aboriginal rights and title,
- First Nations’ consent for exploration and development,
- Legislative changes to address the travesty of the free-entry system and to improve and include our input into environmental review processes,
- Revenue sharing; and
- Requirements for comprehensive IBAs.
A tall order, we don’t think so. We just have to look at other jurisdictions, most notably Ontario where these changes are now the order of the day. And they are being cautiously welcomed and supported by the mining industry in that province.
Granted it took the courage and commitment of First Nations’ leaders in Northern and Eastern Ontario to keep up the fight and yes go to jail for their struggle. Nevertheless, change is underway and both politicians and industry leaders are aware that securing investment dollars in the future depends on a new and better way of doing business with First Nations.
Consultations wrapped up this month in Ontario to develop a new Mining Act that addresses many contentious issues, from the free-entry system to First Nations involvement.
TheStar.com – Ontario – First Nations want more input on Mining Act While there are concerns the five-month process was rushed and that some of the timeframes may prove unrealistic, the initial reaction from Grand Council Chief John Beaucage in the Toronto Star was that the talks to update the antiquated act went relatively well.
I know we are all watching that process in Ontario with great interest.
I believe there is a will shared by everyone here to work together to create a new and productive environment and opportunities for successful mining ventures of benefit to our communities and all partners.
The 2005 New Relationship agreement between First Nations and the Province of BC states: “We agree to establish processes and institutions for shared decision-making about the land and resources and for revenue and benefit sharing, recognizing, as has been determined in court decisions, that the right to aboriginal title “in its full form”, including the inherent right for the community to make decisions as to the use of the land and therefore the right to have a political structure for making those decisions, is constitutionally guaranteed by Section 35. These inherent rights flow from First Nations’ historical and sacred relationship with their territories”.
The commitment to build these processes and institutions is moving forward.
What this means is that First Nations governments in BC are now more organized.
We are building our capacity to negotiate and work with other governments and the industry in regards to the development of natural resources that impact on our traditional lands.
Aboriginal rights and title include the ability to make decisions about the lands and resources and to benefit from the resources that are extracted.
In BC title no longer needs to be proven before consultation and accommodation occurs.
In British Columbia many modern treaties remain to be settled.This huge unresolved land question creates an even greater need to work in collaboration prior to any type of development.
No longer can governments and resource-based companies make unilateral decisions on First Nations lands.
First Nations are not against any development, but we are against development at any cost.
For us, the environment, the health of our lands and waters is the priority, and no one should underestimate First Nations’ resolve in this regard.
Indeed, our future as First Nations depends on finding sustainable, beneficial, environmentally sound ways to benefit from the resources on and in our lands.
But our environment and cultures must be key components of any such development.
And I am pleased to say there are signs that industry is beginning to understand the need to work with us – and to understand our title, rights, cultures and concerns.
I recently read an interesting article entitled “Cultural Sciences Help Build Bridges with Aboriginal Stakeholders” by Rebecca Balcom and Ross Mitchell.
It stressed the need for industry to work with First National from the outset – consultation should not be an afterthought – and to take into account all of the varying cultural factors and concerns that communities have.
The authors stated “Social and cultural values are potentially redefining not only how decisions are made about resource projects, but also the level of impacts considered acceptable, how impacts should be mitigated, how risks and benefits are distributed, and how long-term net gains might be achieved.”
What I found particularly interesting about this article is that it appeared not on a First Nations Website, but in the November 2008 Vancouver-based magazine Resource World. Indeed, I hope many of you here read it.
It is a sign that we may finally be getting this message across.
Again, some might query, “Isn’t this a strange time to be talking about mining and energy related opportunities for First Nations in BC?”
The economy is in recession – some say depression – and demand for minerals and energy is down.
For First Nations, however, this is exactly the right time for us to organize and plan to ensure that as First Nations we can fully participate in, and benefit from environmentally sustainable economic development on our lands.
As gloomy as the economic news may seem right now, we can be sure the old boom times will return.
For example, the Financial Post reported this month that the recession’s impact in the mining sector has been minimal when compared to other sectors.
Industry groups and corporations say that despite some short-term, relatively minor scaling back, the medium- and long-term job prospects in mining remain strong.
Gerry Atkinson, vice-president of human resources for Goldcorp Inc. was quoted as saying:
“Some organizations have made minor changes to their plans, but virtually everybody is moving ahead with what they planned. We’re just prudently moving ahead to develop our assets and continue to develop our people, while continuing to recruit expertise where needed…. We’re actually not in bad shape.”
So even now, the stakes are high.
Oil and gas land sales in the Northeast of BC broke records with more that $2.5 billion in transactions last year. Virtually none of this went to First Nations. This must change – and not only for the benefit of First Nations.
What we are really talking about here is potential. For it to be achieved a major obstacle must be removed. That obstacle is the past failure of government and industries to fully involve, recognized, and respect First Nations. Let there be no doubt – as First Nations we do hold the solution to economic diversification in BC. There is barely a proposed or existing project in BC that does not impact on First Nations lands, and as mentioned at the outset, court decision after court decision has backed our rights to full and meaningful consultation and accommodation in projects that would impact on our lands.
I believe everyone here in this room, whether you be a part of the industry, or the federal or provincial governments, knows that that failure to change will mean a continuation of confrontation, litigation and uncertainty.
Does anyone here really want to continue with a situation that has seen no new major metal mining project proceed in BC for the past 13 years?
Your challenge is to work with us as equals. Our challenge is to be ready and able to work with you in partnership.
The Road Ahead
To produce real change that expands on gains made and makes them the rule rather than the exception, we must be organized.
As First Nations governments, we face considerable challenges having to build the administrative resources that will allow us to deal with other governments and industry with their vast pool of experts, funding and experience.
We must continue to develop the human resources necessary to properly review proposals and engage in informed, effective participation in negotiation and planning processes.
We must have the resources to build business and market capacity, engage in research and development and apply our traditional knowledge to find environmentally sustainable solutions to economic development and diversification.
This is not just important for us as First Nations. It is in best interests of governments and industry, if they are to meet the requirements laid out by the courts.
If there is to be sustainable development of resources, with certainty for investors, then as First Nations we must have the capacity to be fully involved partners.
And we do have the foundations blocks on which we can build.
The New Relationship with the Province, while perhaps not always producing results as rapidly as one might hope, has led to tangible benefits and is laying the groundwork for more.
Our First Nations action plans and councils mentioned at the outset of this speech represent a crucial stage in our development.
The First Nations Energy Council is making progress with the province under the New Relationship and we are working together through a committee of deputy ministers on energy and mining issues.
It is also critical that we find ways to have the federal government engage with us. Recent meetings of our Leadership with the new Minister of NRCAN, Ms. Lisa Raitt were very positive in this regard.
The federal government economic stimulus package that everyone is waiting to see in next Tuesday’s budget must include First Nations, and in particular a plan to lay a foundation for our long-term economic growth.
It is also to be hoped the provincial government, as a demonstration of its ongoing commitment to the New Relationship, will use its next budget to provide the funding necessary to allow us to continue to grow.
We are feeling very encouraged by the Premier’s personal and political commitment and his determination to work through the difficulties with us and take advantage of the opportunities that these times, we think, provide.
And it is to be hoped that industry’s words and initial indications of a desire to work with us are the harbingers of a desire to create genuine partnerships with our First Nations.
As I wrap up my comments today I want also to take a moment to reflect on the wider events that have been such a big part of this week, namely the historic swearing in of President Obama and the place of our work together in that context.
I am sure that most of you were glued to a television or, as I was, listening to a radio to hear the inaugural speech on Tuesday and to celebrate with Americans and people around the globe this awesome event.
I can’t help but feel that President Obama’s message of hope and promise resonates here as much as it does in America.
His victory, his words and his promises of action are all about shared responsibility and “standing up” together to meet the challenges of these difficult times. They are about bringing everyone to the table in the tremendous task of forging a better tomorrow.
Now, as I look around this room I want to acknowledge the impressive industry leadership here and the good will that was in evidence when many of you met with us to begin discussions last October in Prince George at the First Nations Mining Summit.
I can’t help but be optimistic that if we persevere and commit together to build better relations between BC First Nations and your industry that we too can turn “Yes We Can” into “Yes We Did”.
It’s an exciting time. It is also a very difficult time. But I don’t feel shy about taking some of the inspiration that so many of us feel from this week’s historic events in Washington and applying it to the tasks ahead of us.
I wish you a very successful Cordilleran and hope we may together use this opportunity to continue the discussions that we began in Prince George, reach common understandings and have the courage to advance solutions for our mutual benefit and progress
I don’t think there is any other choice.
Thank you again for allowing me to be part of your deliberations today.