Native empowerment (a very good week)

—January 20, 2018—

There’s just been a major uplift in the native empowerment movement nationally, as a result of a series of federal announcements that prioritizes Indigenous land-rights. Indeed, this should have been a major news story, yet it went unreported, as mainstream media got swept-up in the furor over Gerald Stanley’s acquittal in the death of Colton Boushie. Instead, here’s what newspapers might have ran as headlines to catch the native upswing:

Natives accorded priority status in future environmental reviews of resource projects,
Natives accorded priority status in Canada’s Oceans Protection Management strategy,
Natives accorded priority status in having the U.N. Declaration apply to Canadian Laws.

Those are made-up headlines, but the following ones are actual and from the same period:

B.C. First Nation wins top-court battle,
PM, Justice Minister meet with Boushies,
Trudeau promises new legal framework for Indigenous people.

These events happened, so all the headlines are true in terms of their import. Looking at the sequence in terms of the rise of native empowerment in the resources sector, it’s abundantly clear that natives are ‘top of mind’ in every political initiative in the country.

Of course, the federal government had readied these announcements and rushed them out the door to show natives that they no longer have to oppose resource projects in order to get Ottawa’s attention. It’s no coincidence that all this happened the same week that Alberta and British Columbia squared-off in a high-stakes contest over the fate of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which in turn put serious pressure on Ottawa to find a way forward. This is the PMO’s strategy: to encourage empowered natives to stand down in opposition to projects by making them major players in the decision-making nexus. It’s a worthwhile exercise and it deserves the opportunity to be allowed to work, even though its admittedly light in substance and details.

Some of the headlines should be seen as major native empowerment uplifts in their own right. That’s definitely the case with the regulatory reforms proposed by Minister McKenna. She’s presenting a serious paradigm shift, wherein the enhanced profile of native issues throughout the environmental review process has finally been recognized. Natives will soon be feeling vindicated after comprehending where they now fit in on future environmental reviews.

Who would have believed that the National Energy Board would lose its primary status as an energy project regulator? And who would have believed that Traditional Knowledge will now rank equally with hard science in weighing a project’s impacts? Ottawa has finally realized that natives are resource gatekeepers, and as a result it intends to incorporate them into the project review process in recognition of them as the key players that they are.

Likewise, Prime Minister Trudeau’s pledge to develop a legislative framework to recognize Indigenous land rights is another significant native empowerment uplift, in its own right.

Readers who have followed my tracking of the native legal winning-streak will be familiar with my preferred wording – land rights – being the catch all phrase whereby natives typically win in the resources sector since they have constitutionally-protected land rights that the rest of us don’t have. Now, Trudeau wants to codify these rulings into legislation, in order to take the guess-work out of advancing resource projects. This is another worthwhile exercise that clearly deserves the opportunity to be allowed to work. It’s the government’s response to gridlock.

When all these political initiatives are added-up: including the United Nations Declaration (Bill C-262) and another Supreme Court of Canada legal win (#254), they denote a major spike in the rise of native empowerment. In fact, this compressed sequence of events might be the most empowering experience that the native rights movement has had, since it won formal rights recognition in the Canadian Constitution in 1982. All these court rulings are still ‘out there’ tripping up project-after-project. So the government is right to find a way to make things work.

Because when it comes to resources, it’s apparent that nothing moves in Canada without native support. Now this recent sequence of events presents Canadians with the opportunity to fix it.

It’s too bad that mainstream media missed the mark on this; because it’s a pivotal moment for reconciliation on the economic front, where natives can make substantial gains as gatekeepers.

It should be clear by now, that the best area to focus on for realizing reconciliation and mutual economic uplift, is through collaboration on resource projects. So keep the momentum going.