by Hilary Beaumont
Consent, when asked for and granted, is a beautiful thing. But as the Assembly of First Nations heard Thursday, industry and the Crown haven’t exactly been establishing consent before plowing forward with energy development on First Nations territory.
When it comes to extracting gas or developing land, chiefs and delegates voiced concern that First Nations aren’t involved in the decision-making process from the get go. In their experience, Crown governments and companies make plans for aboriginal territory, consult with First Nations government, and then do as originally planned, several speakers said.
The arrival of fracking in Fort Nelson First Nation “has been a turning point in our history,” FNFN chief Sharleen Gale told the assembly. Though shale gas is a powerful economic opportunity, her community has real worries about what fracking might do to the air, water, and land. However, their concerns weren’t taken seriously by the BC government, she said.
In April, Gale’s community stood their ground, asserting no shale gas development would happen until BC and Canada honour their treaty and address environmental concerns.
Now, FNFN has a seat at the table. They’re in talks about where development would be permissible and what precautions need to be taken if gas exploration continues. Fracking will change the landscape of the land over time, Gale said, and her First Nation must be fundamentally involved in the decision-making.
“Our elders tell us, if you don’t have the land, you don’t have nothing,” she added.
First Nations are not necessarily opposed to land development, but consent needs to come first, and treaties are at the heart of establishing that consent, Chief Perry Bellegarde told the conference Thursday morning. He called for further legal analysis of how the Tsilhqot’in land title ruling might affect other treaties and land claims across Canada.
The Supreme Court ruling, as well as FNFN’s success in fighting fracking in BC, could help other territories, including Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, which continues its fight against shale gas exploration.
The assembly passed a couple resolutions related to treaties and land use Thursday:
- Resolution 26: A demand for a fracking ban until independent inquiry satisfies First Nations concerns
- Resolution 10: Promote the importance of treaties to all Canadians, develop an advocacy strategy to achieve direct relations with the crown on treaty implementation strategies, work with the crown to engage in treaty-by-treaty implementation with groups that provide their fully informed and free consent