Indigenous communities should be prominent players at the resource table: leaders

Three Indigenous leaders say when it comes to resource development and clean energy in Canada, the communities they represent need a prominent seat at the table.

The comments came during a Wednesday panel discussion titled Inclusive Prosperity for a Shared Energy Future, moderated by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr.

The panel was part of the Generation Energy conference in Winnipeg, itself part of a broader federal government campaign focused on generating discussion about climate change and energy.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said repeatedly during the discussion that industry needs to consider climate change in its plans and include First Nations in the transition to a renewable-energy economy.

“It was a very powerful message from the three speakers about the need to move and transition faster from our dependency globally on fossil fuels to clean energy, renewable energy,” Bellegarde said to CBC after the panel.

“There’s huge opportunities and huge jobs that await when we can do that quicker.”

Bellegarde said while First Nations want to create wealth and jobs, and be involved as partners in future developments, they will not do that without protecting Indigenous values.

‘There’s going to be a lot of jobs in the renewable-energy sector, so I think there’s a huge opportunity that we’ve got to capitalize on and take advantage of.’ – Perry Bellegarde

“First Nations people need to be involved every step of the way in this transition and to incorporate our world view and our value system into the whole business-planning model locally, regionally, nationally and internationally,” said Bellegarde.

He also mentioned Canada’s skilled-labour shortage, and urged the hundreds in attendance to look to First Nations youth to fill the labour gap.

“The message is to invest in training and development and education so that our young First Nations men and women get those good jobs,” he said.

“There’s going to be a lot of jobs in the renewable-energy sector, so I think there’s a huge opportunity that we’ve got to capitalize on and take advantage of.”

The AFN represents 634 First Nation communities in Canada, some of which are in favour of energy development like pipelines, and some of which are not.

“What we [AFN] do is the respect the right to self-determination and the right to say yes, and say no,” Bellegarde added.

“We’re the advocates. We advocate for the recognition of rights and title, and inherent rights and treaty rights.”

‘We have been pro-development since our inception’: Métis president

Clément Chartier, president of the Métis National Council, echoed Bellegarde’s words and concerns.

“As we move forward we’ll look at how can we be part of this whole [energy] initiative. At the current time, we’re not quite there yet, but we do have an economic development strategy which will incorporate some of these initiatives,” said Chartier.

Industry also needs to be highly aware of the consequences of climate change, he added.

“As a Métis people, we are pro-development. We have been pro-development since our inception but again, not blindly going forward. There needs to be safeguards in place.

“For the Métis nation, we’ve been excluded from a lot of the duty to consult, because governments say our rights were extinguished,” Chartier added.

“Industry doesn’t follow the rules too much in terms of negotiations with the Métis. They treat us as a good neighbour as opposed to a rights holder.”

‘We want to work with you’: Duane Smith

The Northwest Territories is sitting on about “nine trillion litres of gas,” but lacks infrastructure to extract it, said Duane Smith, chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation — which represents the interests of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in Canada’s western Arctic.

He stressed the cost to develop infrastructure in the North is prohibitive for communities there to take it on alone.

So he sent out an invitation to the business people in the room.

“We want to work with you,” said Smith.

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