Working together

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][mk_image src=”” image_width=”800″ image_height=”1638″ crop=”false” lightbox=”false” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” title=”Art Sterritt is the executive director of Coastal First Nations, an alliance of nine First Nations on B.C.’s north and central coast and Haida Gwaii.” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″][mk_dropcaps style=”simple-style”]O[/mk_dropcaps]ne morning last June, chiefs and officials from Coastal First Nations gathered in Vancouver. We had invited Doug Eyford, the prime minister’s emissary, to talk with us about the future of oil and gas projects in British Columbia. That conversation opened the door to a landmark opportunity.

Eyford’s task was to help the federal government understand First Nations’ perspectives. Why were our communities — some tackling high unemployment — not universally embracing these projects? How had the review of the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline become so adversarial? What was the path forward?

Coastal First Nations are not generally opposed to development. Since 2000, we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars toward local ventures and international partnerships in a range of economic sectors — from forestry and fishing to renewable energy. As we grow our economy, however, the health of our environment and people always comes first.

First Nations’ responsibility to look after our lands, waters and communities flows from our aboriginal rights and title. Our rights and title are embedded in the Constitution and have been affirmed by over 200 court decisions since the 1970s.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]First Nations are always open to discussing development proposals, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in British Columbia. As we do, it will be important to look not just at individual projects, but also the bigger picture. Our experience with valley-by-valley confrontations over logging throughout the 1990s taught First Nations, the B.C. government, forest industry and environmental organizations that the solution to these conflicts is to design shared regional plans that mesh environmental, economic and cultural values. The resulting Great Bear Rainforest Agreement is recognized as a world-leading model of large-scale ecosystem management.

It is time to extend this model to energy developments. Regional coastal and marine use plans will enable us all to see where and how LNG projects and tanker traffic fit with environmental and cultural values, and with existing economic activities. Without this broader framework, we will remain trapped in project-by-project conflict.

The Northern Gateway proposal is an instructive case in point. Currently, cleaning up a heavy oil or bitumen spill at sea would be extremely costly and difficult, if not impossible. And no amount of money could restore our rich and globally significant coastal ecosystems, or the cultures and jobs they sustain, if such a spill did occur. That’s why Coastal First Nations, along with many others, continue to oppose this project.

However, it need not turn out this way. We still have the opportunity to choose collaboration. For projects
and proposals that follow that path, the door will be open for First Nations and Canada to build a new relationship.
Eyford spent months listening to First Nations across B.C., and his final report, Forging Partnerships,
Building Relationships, outlines the way forward.

First, Canada must engage First Nations in a respectful conversation that acknowledges our rights and title.
Engagement must happen early, before lines are drawn over specific projects. Second, engagement must include
the development of regional plans to guide development as well as investments in research, monitoring
and emergency response. Finally, engagement must be sustained and formalized in government-to-government

This is an important moment. The stakes are high. First Nations will continue to work to protect our lands, waters and communities. Our preference is that the federal government will join us, along with provincial governments, in the shared work of building a sustainable and prosperous future. [mk_font_icons icon=”icon-stop” size=”small” padding_horizental=”4″ padding_vertical=”4″ circle=”false” align=”none”][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″ el_class=”Story-Author”]— Art Sterritt[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]